If you’ve been living with anxiety for a while, chances are you know whether a day like Christmas day will phase you. If you think it will, you might need some of my 5 tips for managing Christmas Day anxiety.
For some people, being out of the house for the whole day and not having a comfortable place to rest or have time out is the most anxiety-provoking part of Christmas.
For others, it’s being with family or extended family who don’t really understand your physical or mental health condition, and you really don’t want to have to go through the story again. This lack of information sharing leaves you in a bind though, because if they understood, then perhaps they’d make appropriate accommodations. But without knowing, how can they?
And for others still, it’s having to talk to people, even if they are family. It can be hard work having to be “switched on” and talkative for an entire day, especially when the lead up to Christmas has been full of social activities, all of which have a drained a little bit from your “fake it happy” tank. It’s exhausting.
Planning ahead, is, therefore, the only sensible option.
What are your triggers?
What sends you into a spin, or causes you to meltdown?
How likely are these triggers to be present or happen on Christmas Day?
What can you do about it?
Here are my 5 tips for managing anxiety (and depression) on Christmas Day:
1. Prepare some conversation topics
Prepping conversation starters is something that I do a lot of! Since medical appointments, healthcare and our bodies can become our whole world, it can be hard to find topics of conversation that don’t focus on our health.
I try to find out who is going to be there, and mentally prepare some potential questions to ask them about their lives, so that we can focus on them, not me. Once those more personal questions run out, I try more topical issues, like something that has been in the media of late.
My questions generally sound like these:
“Are you having much time off over Christmas?” “How are you going to spend it? Are you going away?”
“How’s work going?” “Do you enjoy what you do?”
“Got any trips planned?” / “Where was your last trip to? How was it?” – as an Aussie, I find travel plans a great topic to talk about.
However, you have to be prepared to answer those questions too, as they will often be asked in return! Thankfully, they are easy ones for me to answer and don’t go too deep into my health.
2. Choose a safe person
Once you know who is going to be there, find a safe person for the day. It might be your partner, a parent, or a sibling. Let them know that you’re feeling uncomfortable about Christmas, and that you might be hanging around with them a lot that day. You’re probably going to want to sit next to them at Christmas Lunch (Dinner), and you’re probably going to be keen to know where they are, at all times (if you are feeling super anxious). (Please just don’t follow them into the bathroom – personal space!!!)
Explain to them what you need them to do for you if things start getting out of control – it might be shutting down a particular conversation topic that’s triggering, or not leaving you alone talking to cousin Fred. Communicate with your safe person, so they know how to best help you get through the day.
3. Have an exit strategy
Exit strategies can be complicated on Christmas Day, and it can be hard to walk out mid-way through a family gathering, especially when the expectation was that you were staying much longer. However, Christmas is as much about you & your wellbeing as it is Auntie Floss’ ideal Christmas Day. If you need to leave, you need to leave. That is called self-preservation, self-care and boundaries. That is to be applauded, not frowned upon.
And even if your family don’t get it, you can come back to Hypermobility Connect and tell us about it, and we will applaud you. That’s strength, not weakness.
How do you go about it? Well, you’re probably going to need your safe-person in on your exit plan, unless you are driving and you’re still safe to do so at exit time.
It takes some self-awareness and mindfulness to know when to implement the exit strategy. You want to do it BEFORE you get to meltdown stage. I’m sure you would rather have the meltdown outside in the car or when you get home, or preferably not at all, rather than in front of the entire Christmas gathering. The aim to get out before you meltdown.
Do you use a rating scale for your anxiety? You can use the thermometer idea, and when you start approaching the red zone, you start getting ready to leave.
You need to be out of there before you reach a 9 because the space between 9 and 10 disappears very quickly when you’re feeling super anxious.
Work out in advance what you’re going to say. Crisis situations like this don’t let your brain think very clearly, so if you have something prepared beforehand, it will be easier. It can be something as simple as “I’m sorry to cut things short, but I’m not feeling well, I need to go home”. If people try to delay your leaving, you can say: “I really need to go now, so that I can get home and take my medication”… and then if they’re still trying to get you to stay, you just walk to the door and say “I have to go, I will talk to you soon”, and leave.
If your safe person is on board with all of this, you could get them to do the talking for you, and to usher you out the door.
If God-forbid, the gathering is at YOUR house, then you just need to hand over the reigns to someone else in the family and go to your room, and perhaps use your self-soothing box, talked about below.
4. Take a self-sooth kit with you & use it
We talked about self-soothing boxes in this post – it would be a great idea (and I will be doing it myself) to take a self-soothing kit with you. I’m going to use a little ziplock bag and put a few bits and pieces in there.
Mine will have:
• Stress Away Essential Oil
• Frankincense Essential Oil
• (I will have my phone on me anyway)
• Earphones, so I can go outside or to a bedroom and listen to some music or a meditation track
• A fidget toy
• A soft feather (I find them so calming)
What can you put in yours? Go back to this post and read some suggestions and look for things that are portable.
5. Don’t forget your meds – and watch how many glasses of wine you have!
Obviously, not everyone will be on medication for anxiety, but you may be on other medications, which, if skipped, are going to turn your day into a living hell. Remember to take them when they are due. If you have PRN medication (meds you take when you need them), make sure you take enough of that with you. Notice how meds
If you have PRN medication (meds you take when you need them), make sure you take enough of that with you for however long you plan to be out. Notice how meds is tip number 5? That’s because I think we should be using other strategies first before reaching for the PRN medication.
Ease up on the alcohol. It’s a tricky situation because sometimes alcohol helps us to relax and not feel so anxious, but it can also interact with medications AND cause a massive downer the next day. If you experience depression, then alcohol really isn’t a good idea, because the consequences the next day will be a lower mood than before you had a drink.
Having said that, if you’re of legal drinking age, you get to decide what you drink. If you want to have an alcoholic beverage or two, that’s fine. If you want to have 5+ drinks, that’s OK, but don’t expect much sympathy from those around you the next day.
You are free to choose how bad your hangover will be the next day, and just remember, alcohol + fatigue + pain + anxiety + depression + medication = a disgusting Dec 26th, and probably Dec 27th.
Now some of these strategies (e.g. having a safe person) are not recommended for day-to-day management of anxiety. Having a safe person at the event is actually a “safety behaviour” that is not helpful in learning to challenge anxiety. However, if a safe person is what you feel you need, in order to do Christmas Day without that safe-person, you would need to have been working on exposure tasks for months beforehand (there is currently 4 days until Christmas). If you are interested in learning more about this concept of safety behaviours, go here. Ideally, you would work through anxiety & plan exposure exercises with a therapist.
So, which of these skills are you going to be using come Christmas Day? Got some more to share? We would love to hear them if they are helpful, hopeful & healthy!