Our wellness expert Caroline Foran explains how important it is to take the pressure off yourself and shares her coping strategies.
'It's the most wonderful time of the year', blah blah blah. While Christmas can indeed be magical, it also has a dark underbelly that's rarely discussed. The thing is, Christmas has the power to magnify whatever it is you're experiencing, good or bad. If all the plates of your life are spinning and things are going well for you, or you've received some good news, it somehow feels ten times more exciting at Christmas time. Say a wedding engagement for example. But for every yin there's a yang too and Christmas can also make things that aren't great seem a whole lot worse. If you've lost a loved one, it's infinitely harder at Christmas time. If you're unwell, it's ten times more sucky in December.
So much to do...
From October onwards, we are on the receiving end of an unrelenting onslaught of advertisements coming at us through every medium, reinforcing the idea that Christmas must be the best time of the year and we must be all smiles and happy and grateful and we should be doing this and we should be doing that and meeting this person and that person and partying our socks off and decorating our house and getting together with the extended family and fending off vomiting bugs and two-week long flus and maybe squeezing in a foreign trip to a Christmas market and watching every Hallmark Christmas movie ever made and reaching every end of year deadline in work and... I could go on but even just writing it, it's exhausting.
As a kid, Christmas couldn't come quick enough. I LIVED for it. I used to listen to Christmas music in secret in November and turn it off just before my dad came home from work. But ever since I began to struggle with anxiety, Christmas has been a bit of a double-edged sword for me. I look forward to the mince pies and the twinkly lights, but I dread the pressure to be and do all of the things. I feel pressure - both internally and externally - to be in great form and I worry that I will feel below par or have anxiety around Christmas. And with that worry, what happens? I guarantee that I feel anxious around this time every year. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The important thing with anxiety at Christmas is to normalise it and vocalise it. The more I chat with friends, the more I realise we're all feeling it, some of us just more than others. My advice? Look at your schedule for December and make sure that most of what you are doing is stuff you actually want to be doing. You can't go to all of the parties - well, you can but you will be wrecked. Pencil in lots of immovable time spent doing what makes you feel good. It's not that you're doing nothing, it's that you're looking after yourself. Take it as time to take your foot off the gas rather than ramp it up. Zone out of everyone else's plans and do your own thing. Make plans to see people in January - not before Christmas. What difference does it make? And January is boring and miserable anyway. There is no need to pressure yourself to catch up with people just because it's Christmas when you wouldn't think to meet them for a coffee in the middle of the year.
Don't throw the kitchen sink at Christmas and resolve to deal with everything in January when you feel as though you're emerging from a long coma. The start of the new year is arbitrary and you may as well start enjoying yourself and being good to yourself now. Eat the nice food but exercise too because it makes you feel good. Have the few glasses of bubbles if you want to but don't down festive shots because everyone else is doing it and you think you should. Know that Christmas can magnify things and accept it. Good things will feel better, bad things will feel worse, and that's just the nature of it - it's okay. Understanding that Christmas pressure is a real thing is key. Things aren't necessarily worse, they just feel it.
Let yourself off the hook
Personally, my anxiety is a lot better when I don't make a million plans. I have a few set plans over Christmas - such as my girls' get together and heading down to Dingle where my family live, but for the rest, I'm going to see how I am and what I feel like doing as each day comes. If I want to go out and party hard, I will. If I want to say no and curl up, I will. Take Christmas as it comes and be willing to say no at times and suit yourself. And most importantly, if you're feeling low at Christmas, tell your friends and your family. For me, vocalising it makes it less of a big deal in my head. My family tell me 'you don't have to feel good, we can still sit and watch movies and eat nice food if you feel crappy too'. And when I let myself off the hook, no longer forcing myself to smile and do cartwheels, I can be my most real self. And at that point, I start to actually enjoy it and have a good time.
So if you do one thing for yourself this Christmas, just take the pressure off.
Read Caroline's articleS: The Difference Between Healthy Perfectionism and Unhealthy Perfectionism; Confidence Techniques to Help You Fake It Till You Make It; The Secret to Confidence Around Public Speaking; How to Understand the Power of Positive Affirmations; Why Are We So Afraid To Fail?; What is Stoicism and Why Should We Embrace it in Daily Life?