Anxiety At Christmas

The festive season comes with all sorts of pressures and expectations which is a shame because these details detract from what should be a relaxing time in the company of loved ones. The ideal Christmas image leads us to think that we have to achieve perfection in everything we do; in how we decorate our homes, buying expensive ornaments and gifts, maintaining completely harmonious family ties, being a social butterfly and flitting from one Christmas party to another and immersing ourselves in an environment centred around food, alcohol and indulgence. Whilst all of these things are part of the Christmas image we are sold and look good in the Instagram pictures we are inundated with, they can also produce a lot of anxiety in the many people who worry that they cannot achieve or keep-up with this level of so-called perfection.

Christmas isn’t supposed to be about competition; who’s got the best Christmas tree or how many designer gifts someone has received but the airbrushed images we are presented with lead us to believe that there is a certain standard we have to live-up to, no matter how unattainable it really is. For many, anxiety can be produced as a result of fearing failure or worrying about external expectations. When it is expected for people to attend their big work Christmas parties, for example, fear of being overwhelmed by the hectic environment and the unnecessary pressure to do everything in excess are not a part of the conversation. So, each person who struggles with anxiety at this time of year feels isolated and alone, like no-one else is going through the same things as them.

The following can be sources of anxiety during the festive period:

  • Christmas shopping in busy areas
  • Seeing relatives you do not meet with often
  • Christmas parties
  • The expectation to be festive and merry in all of your interactions
  • Buying gifts and worrying if they are adequate
  • Receiving gifts and stressing about opening them in front of the giver
  • The expectation to indulge in food and alcohol when, for many, our relationships with these things are complex

And so many, many more situations, which others may view as tiny details in the bigger picture of their Christmas, can be anxiety-provoking.

Christmas is meant to be a time we feel the opposite of isolated and fearful of judgement. So, let’s make mental health and inclusion a part of the discussion within the bigger picture of Christmas this year and make sure that no-one feels iced-out of the celebrations.

 

If you want to hear my daily ramblings, follow me on Twitter: @RyanBInNature

 

Here are some more of my Christmas-related posts:

The Christmas Tag

Unpopular Opinions – Christmas Edition

 

Don’t feel alone this Christmas (resources about the festive period and mental health):

Support at Christmas – Mind, the mental health charity

Coping at Christmas – The Priory Group

Real Christmas – Samaritans

Advertisements

The Christmas Tag

I first saw this tag the other day when Nicole Eloise did it for her Blogmas Day Two. I thought it was really fun so, even though I haven’t been tagged by anyone to do it, I decided to gatecrash the tag and do it anyway! So, without further ado, here is my Christmas Tag.

1. Do you prefer giving or receiving gifts?

I’d say that I prefer giving gifts. I always feel awkward and embarrassed opening gifts that people have given to me, especially if they watch me do it because I’m anxious that I don’t look happy or grateful enough (I have a naturally grumpy face!). 

2. Do you make and stick to New Year’s Resolutions?

I do make New Year’s Resolutions, however I have the terrible habit of scrawling them at the back of a notebook and then forgetting about them after the first few months of the year! I generally find it more helpful to set smaller short-term goals each month or week, for example. Although, New Year’s Resolutions are a bit of a tradition in my life now, so I don’t see myself not making some this year.

3. Have you ever made a snowman?

Yes, I remember making them with my brothers when I was younger and I would become overly attached to the little people I created, so much so that I would get emotional over watching them melt away. I can’t say that I have made any snowmen in recent years as the snow usually gives me a headache so I tend to bundle-up inside and watch the snow fall through a window!

4. Is your Christmas tree real or fake, and what theme do you prefer?

We have always had a real Christmas tree ever since I can remember which, with the benefit of hindsight, seems rather wasteful looking back. I actually have nothing to do with putting the Christmas tree-up or decorating it anymore; once my family stopped putting on chocolate decorations wrapped in foil, the tree suddenly became a lot less interesting to me!

5. Most memorable holiday moment?

This is so hard, primarily because my memory is terrible and I don’t remember any of the Christmases I’ve had distinctly, so there are only a few snapshots which have stayed with me. I think my most memorable moment would have to be my grandpa tucking into his Christmas dinner with a colourful paper hat on his head or tearing open his presents like a excited little boy even though he was past 90 years old! Now that he is gone, the memories of his fun-loving nature pop-up from time-to-time and remind me how much he loved a family occasion (especially if there were sweets or chocolate involved!). 

6. What holiday traditions are you looking forward to this year?

Probably seeing my dogs ripping-open the paper around their presents and then running off to their beds to enjoy their new treasure. My dogs’ enthusiasm for Christmas is hilarious! 

7. What is the best Christmas present you have ever received?

When I was younger I got tickets to see my then-favourite band McFly in concert and seeing those tickets felt completely surreal as I was blown-away that I was going to see these people that I had idolised on stage in front of my eyes.

8. What are your favourite holiday foods?

Well, I don’t have Christmas dinner, so I’d probably have to say whatever sweets people gift me (I have a very sweet tooth!).

9. What is your favourite Christmas film?

Sorry to sound Grinch-like but I actually don’t have one, although the Harry Potter films always make me feel Christmassy for some reason!

10. What is your favourite Christmas song?

Again, I actually don’t have one – I just listen to whatever my brother puts on.

11. What is your favourite thing about Christmas?

The way time feels like it stands still on Christmas Day – you feel like it is a day which completely stands alone from any other on the calendar and it seems to pass in a very surreal way.

12. What would be your dream place to visit at Christmas time?

Copenhagen, Denmark. I have been there before and I thought it was the most stunningly beautiful city, so I bet it would be a very special place to be at Christmas.

13. Who do you spend Christmas with?

Usually it would be my parents, my two brothers and my dogs and then either side (paternal or maternal) of my extended family. However, this year will be different, I think, in that my immediate family will be visiting my extended family without me this year. I find Christmas difficult mental health wise and I think it will be good for me to try and handle it in my own way this year in just the company of my dogs for the majority of the day. Although, I believe I will still be opening my presents with my parents and brothers. 

14. When do you start getting excited for Christmas?

I don’t get excited until classes at University end for me because, up until then, I am so immersed in the Uni bubble and removed from what is outside of campus that Christmas does not feel like it arrives until teaching finishes and I leave campus. I sort of get quite nervous for Christmas really, so it is a combination of nerves and excitement which start to peak around the nights of the 23rd probably.

15. You have one Christmas wish – what will it be?

I’m going to take it that the wish has to be Christmas-related rather than encompassing anything bigger than Christmas Day. So, my wish would be that everyone in the world feels loved and cared for this Christmas Day. 

 

I’m not going to tag anyone specific to do this tag. Instead, if you are reading this and want to do this tag, please do! It would be fun to see as many different responses to these questions as possible.

 

If you want to hear my daily ramblings please follow me on Twitter – @RyanBInNature

 

Unpopular Opinions – Christmas Edition

I don’t know why but I love writing ‘Unpopular Opinion’ posts so much! Sorry if you are sick of all the different versions I have done by now but I cannot get enough of creating them, so here’s another one all to do with the festive season and Christmas itself.

1. There is too much pressure put on giving someone the perfect present

It feels like people view the presents they are given as a signifier of how much they are valued by the giver. However, presents should be all about the sentiment, not the price tag or what designer label it comes from. Giving presents these days feels like you are having to prove to the person how much you cherish them but that feels impossible to encompass in an item or two, so it ends-up simply being an unnecessarily pressurising process.

2. Opening presents in front of the person who gifted them to you is tense

When I am opening presents, I am way too aware of my facial expression! I worry that I’m either looking unimpressed or that I’m making too much of an effort to look happy with the present which means that I end-up looking like I’m faking my reaction. There is no satisfactory way to open a present and I wish people would accept that I am being truthful when I tell them that I am really grateful for their present rather than seeing the look on my face as the real signifier of truth.

3. Crackers are a disaster waiting to happen

Who thought that having multiple contests of strength occurring at the same time around a dinner table loaded with glasses, plates and drinks was a good idea? The males in my family especially really like to muscle-in on the crackers, so much so that their arms end-up flying back when they break and I live in worry that a glass of wine is going to go flying!

4. Flashing Christmas lights are too intense

I much prefer the softer type of lights where they either fade in and out or just stay the same. Some of the flashing Christmas lights around where I live look they are trying to replicate a secondary school rave more than be festive!

5. There are no Christmas-specific films that I love to watch

To be fair, I’m not really a big film fan anyway (except for the in the case of the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts films!). Although, I distinctly remember the Grinch absolutely terrifying me when I was a child to the point where I would simply avoid watching it when it inevitably came on every year. It wasn’t even the fact that he was trying to steal people’s Christmas presents from their own houses which scared me, it was more about the way he walked around and his creepy fingers!

6. People who put cold cream on top of their Christmas pudding are going too far!

Every single year at Christmas, I will look around me as people tuck into their Christmas pudding and see people pouring cold cream (fresh from the fridge) onto their hot puddings and it continues to make no sense to me!

7. The expectations people have for Christmas Day are too high and put an unfair amount of stress on the host

Every year people stress about making Christmas Day absolutely flawless. People get so caught-up in trying to make everything look picture-perfect and ensure that everything goes off without a hitch that they forget to enjoy the moment. I feel sorry for all of the people who run around their kitchens, boiling hot and flustered, on Christmas Day and miss out simply relaxing with everyone else and enjoying the day for what it is. 

 

Find my other ‘Unpopular Opinions’ posts below:

Unpopular Opinions – University Edition

Unpopular Opinions – Harry Potter Edition

Unpopular Opinions – USA Travel Edition

Unpopular Opinions Part 2

Unpopular Opinions

 

If you want to hear more of my daily ramblings, follow me on Twitter – @RyanBInNature

 

Protecting Factors – What Saves You?

TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE AND SUICIDAL IDEATION

It was not until very recently that I heard the term ‘protecting factors’ but immediately it made sense to me. I was having a mental health assessment and I admitted to having suicidal thoughts on a regular basis. The nurse then asked me what stopped me acting on those thoughts and attempting suicide. I asked myself this question and was slightly embarrassed to give my honest answer. However, I knew the truth and this was that my dogs are what stops me from acting on my suicidal impulses and thoughts. I felt embarrassed about saying this out loud to a mental health professional because human relationships with pets are so often trivialised and I thought that they wouldn’t take my bond with my dogs seriously. I thought that giving this answer would leave them to believe that my suicidal ideation could not be that strong in the first place – none of which is true.

Instead, the nurse told me that my dogs are what is called my ‘protecting factors’. They act as a release valve for my stress because playing with them is uplifting. They comfort me when I am low by nuzzling and cuddling me, letting me know that I am not alone. When I get anxious about having social contact with humans, they remind me I am capable of having a functional relationship because of the ways I have bonded with them. When I think about leaving this world, they tether me to it because I could not bear to leave them; my desire to protect them and watch them grow-up are what, at this moment at least, is still keeping me fighting for life.

The World Health Organisation works on the definition of ‘protecting factors’ as being those which “enhance the likelihood of positive outcomes and lessen the likelihood of negative consequences from exposure to risk.” They use this definition in relation to physical as well as mental health risks but ‘protective factors’ are always seen as what stops an individual’s situation from escalating to a dangerous or drastic level.

So, I would encourage you to think about what your protecting factors are, especially in the lead-up to the festive period which, for me, always adds extra stress onto my shoulders and makes my mood dip because I am hyper-aware of the fact that I am supposed to be happy. Hold your protecting factors dear and be grateful for their existence and what they mean to you. Feel free to share what your protecting factors are in the comments below!

 

Information And Resources About Managing Mental Health At Christmas:

Christmas and mental health – Mind, the mental health charity

Coping at Christmas (5 ways to look after your mental health) – Priory Group

Depression At Christmas Guide – Mental Health in the UK

 

Some Related Blog Posts Of Mine:

How Mental Health Stigma Has Hurt Me

Six of the Most Harmful Mental Health Narratives