Social expectations at Christmas can trigger an anxiety flare-up. Claire Eastham shares six ways to avoid anxiety burnout over the holiday period.
Christmas is upon us. The season of great joy, families reunited, laughter, love, good food, and (most importantly) gifts! The COVID-19 pandemic meant low-key celebrations for both 2020 and 2021. Zoom quizzes replaced office parties, and Christmas markets remained in storage. In 2020, all non-essential travel was banned in the UK (where I’m from), forcing some people to spend the holidays alone.
So, it's not surprising many of us want Christmas to be extra-special from 2022 onwards.
Personally, I’ll be making the five-hour car journey to London, UK, to stay with my husband's family - I'm excited and nervous about this.
The threat of "social burnout" is a real threat for many people with anxiety. Burnout has become a popular buzzword associated with mental wellbeing in the last couple of years, with sites such as Psychology Today circulating content on the topic.
According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the definition of burnout is as follows:
Exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually due to prolonged stress or frustration.
After two years of on-and-off hibernation, traveling to the other side of the country to stay in an unfamiliar house feels daunting. My brain isn't used to that kind of stimulation. It's like joining a gym after years of being a couch potato – there are bound to be some issues.
But I refuse to beat myself up over any alleged “asocial" behavior this time. I now understand that self-kindness and patience are vital for good mental health. And this epiphany has come just in time for Christmas!
A friend of mine once told me, "Much like a car, you only have so much room in the 'mental fuel tank' that runs your brain. Once that fuel has depleted, your 'engine' will spark and fizzle before coming to a juddering halt."
As much as you want to attend every lunch and party (anxious people get FOMO, too!), be mindful of your energy reserves. Remember what my friend said about “brain fuel”?
In previous years, I’ve agreed to do four Boxing Day visits, with varying degrees of travel. As much as I enjoyed seeing everyone, I was so exhausted that I spent the next day crying on the couch.
So, rather than immediately saying "Yes" to every invitation, try, "I'll get back to you." Take the time to consider what else you're doing that week and how it may affect your energy levels.
People tend to be more understanding if you're honest. If (like me) spending seven hours in social company depletes your energy reserves, request a period of "downtime." A solo walk, reading a few book chapters, or having a thirty-minute nap can work wonders.
Recharging alone is much better than pushing through and being miserable in front of your loved ones.
Many people with anxiety have a perfectionism complex. Worries about decorating, gift-buying, and cooking Christmas dinner can pile on the pressure.
But perfection is an impossible goal. Trust me; you can spend a lifetime obsessing about being "perfect." And you’ll never make it even then – not in your eyes, anyway.
Self-care remains a must over the holidays, so use any tried-and-tested anxiety-reducing tools. In my case, I have to keep tabs on how much alcohol I drink and push myself to exercise.
We all go a little "Christmas crazy" without considering the brutality of the January come-down. It's called the “January Blues" for a reason!
In my experience, having some pre-planned "tricks" will get you through the unhappiest month of the year. As soon as I wake up on January 1st, I do an inventory of all my "depression distractions," like so:
After the excess of Christmas, many people subconsciously punish themselves. As "New Year, New Me!" pops up on social media, we call ourselves "failures" if we don't immediately lose the holiday weight or start training for a marathon.
It's dark, it's cold, and both of those things can feel relentless. The first months of the year are punishing enough on mental health without you punishing yourself further.
Self-kindness is great, but don't forget to extend that kindness to everyone. While you may prefer privacy and alone time, other people’s batteries get charged with revelry, chatting, and hugs. Don't sour the vibe because you're struggling to cope.
So, if you find yourself snapping at people, employ one of the techniques above, STAT. Relentless social interaction can be overstimulating and downright annoying. But if you lose your temper, you’ll be known as this year’s Christmas Grinch. Believe me, that’s much worse than taking a few minutes alone to catch hold of your sanity.
Note: The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for mental health management. Please consult with a professional who can apply best practices and appropriate resources to your situation.
NPS-ALL-NP-00661 November 2022