The festive season is not one that everyone looks forward to; in fact for a lot of people suffering with mental illness, Christmas can be a time that heightens the symptoms they feel. The pressure around making these weeks ‘the best/most relaxed/most fun time of the year’, the stacking up of social events, the build up to one ‘perfect’ day, the stress of organising gifts and planning various things… Everything, from the small to the big, can have an impact on an individual’s mental health and shouldn’t be ignored or taken lightly.
The coping methods people work on during the rest of the year might not be so effective during the festive season, when they’re likely to be facing situations that are out of the ordinary, and facing a diary that’s more stuffed than a Christmas turkey (or, for all my fellow vegans/vegetarians, whatever veggie option you’re going for this year). For all of these reasons, and many more I haven’t covered, I think it’s important to be mindful of the struggles others may be encountering.
Whilst the general population hypes up at the first few notes of that certain Mariah Carey song, the flip side to this is that others will instead hear chimes of dread, signifying the start of a festive period that’s more like an endurance race rather than a post-dinner nap in front of the Dr. Who Christmas special.
In this post I’m going to be talking specifically about social anxiety, as this is something I have personal experience with and feel able to give my opinion on. For me, anxious feelings have never particularly flared up around December, but I think that’s mainly due to the fact that I have a small family and the social occasions we attend are similar every year. It is almost like we’ve developed an annual routine, and I think this has been helpful for me.
However, I know that’s not the case for many people, so I thought I’d offer a few tips for how to manage social anxiety during the Christmas season:
Telling other people that you’re suffering can be really hard, especially if it seems like the world around you is having such an amazing, carefree time. However, letting people know how you’re feeling and the limitations that might grow from those feelings is important; it has the potential to lower other people’s frustration or hurt feelings towards you if they know that you’re behaving a certain way due to anxiety.
Surround yourself with understanding people
This very much links with the first point. Once you’ve been honest with people, it is important to take note of who handles that information well and who doesn’t. If possible, you want to spend more of the holiday season around the people who are understanding and accepting of your limitations and can help you feel more able to join in.
Don’t overbook your calendar
At this time of year, there can be a lot of pressure to attend multiple social events: gatherings of people that haven’t met up in a while, annual occasions and of course, the work Christmas party. You shouldn’t feel pressurised to attend everything that’s on offer: pick what you feel is a reasonable amount for you and focus on following through with those plans.
If huge crowds plus the pushing and shoving attitude of town centres in December flares up your anxiety, then turn to the internet. You can buy almost anything online these days, so you can still get the presents you want but you don’t have to face the crowds.
Make handmade and food related gifts
If online shopping isn’t your thing, then there are many gifts you can create at home with your own hands. Search for ‘DIY Christmas presents’ online and you’ll usually be directed to Pinterest boards of crafty inspiration. Homemade treats can also make nice gifts if they’re wrapped in a thoughtful way; it just has to be something that keeps well for a week or so, like the biscotti I made on Blogmas Day 3.
Schedule in alone time
Social anxiety can often make people feel easily overwhelmed or drained by socialising, so remember to schedule in ‘alone time’ moments for yourself. For example, you could have a pamper morning the day after your work Christmas party, by treating yourself to a relaxed start involving a bath, a book and some yummy snacks.
Maintain basic self-care routines
Keeping yourself hydrated, well fed and rested will allow your body the best chance it has to face situations that make you anxious. Basic self-care routines help stabilise your mood and rule out a lack of these as the trigger for your anxious thoughts.
To everyone out there struggling with their mental health this year, know that you’re not alone and there’s always someone you can talk to who will listen.
Want to read more Blogmas posts? Scroll to the bottom of Day One for the full list.