Anxiety at Christmas
Christmas can be an overwhelming and stressful time for everyone. But for those suffering from an anxiety disorder, the anxiety at Christmas can be almost unbearable.
I sit here on Christmas Eve with my daughter beside me on the sofa. She’s singing along to a Christmas song, “snow is falling, all around me, children playing, having fun”. Her sweet little voice sounds out around the living room, a compliment to the wood crackling on the stove and the Christmas tree lights twinkling in the corner of the room. It sounds lovely, doesn’t it? So why is it that I’m not enjoying it the way I should? Instead of taking it all in, I’m going over things in my head, anxiety at a high.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that Christmas is often stressful whether you are suffering from a mental health condition or not. I’m sure across the world people are worrying about not having everything they need for the big Christmas dinner, or if they have enough wrapping paper or if they have forgotten to buy a gift for someone. But for me, and many other people suffering with anxiety, it goes so much deeper than that.
Christmas is family time, and there’s an overwhelming pressure at this time of year for us to live in the moment and enjoy the magic that is the festive season. We’re encouraged to do things together, crafts, baking cookies, taking part in Christmas traditions. And sometimes, that pressure feels overbearing for me. I’m sure you may read this and wonder what pressure I’m talking about, that surely spending time with the family shouldn’t be a ‘pressure’. But you see, every day that goes by I worry that I haven’t done enough. What if my children hear about all of the fun things their friends have done with their families during the holidays and what we’ve done doesn’t live up? Will my daughter grow up and think negativeley upon her childhood because we didn’t do enough crafty things together. If I don’t do enough, will that negatively impact on their memories of childhood? It’s common for parents to experience this kind of ‘guilt’ as it’s often called, but with generalised anxiety disorder, these thoughts are multiplied to a point where they begin to take over.
Right now, as my daughter sings her sweet songs and excitedly tells me about the new Pokemon she’s caught, my mind is wandering. A voice in my head tells me I’m a terrible parent because I’m not fully taking in what she’s telling me. I feel awful for not being completely present, but my thoughts can’t help but wander. I’m thinking about the worst things that could happen between now and Christmas morning. What happens if the cats climb the Christmas tree, somehow breaking the cord that we have tying the Christmas tree to the wall (so it can’t fall over, because I’ve already spent hours thinking about the possible dangers of that happening), the tree may fall and somehow touch the wood burner, going up in flames and killing us all while we sleep. Maybe someone will break in to the front window and steal all of the presents while we lie oblivious in our bed. Maybe I’ll undercook the Turkey and leave us all seriously ill. Every possible thing that can go wrong, and all of the things that probably will never ever happen have gone through my head.
The worst of it is, not everyone understands. If you aren’t suffering from anxiety, it can be hard to see things from the same point of view. Hearing things like ‘chill out, it’s Christmas’ and ‘don’t be mental’ when you voice your concerns about the elaborate Christmas tree falling in to the fire scenario, can only help to fuel the anxiety. I often start to worry that I’m ruining Christmas for everyone else by worrying about other things, or that I’m a freak because I can’t just chill out and enjoy myself like other people can.
To anyone reading this who doesn’t have anxiety, I urge you to just be a bit more careful with your words this holiday season. What seems silly to you may be a genuine concern for someone else.
So while I should be enjoying Christmas with my family, my head is filled with a deafening amount of thoughts and worries which make it hard for me to enjoy anything. Don’t get me wrong, it will be lovely to watch the kids open their presents on Christmas morning. I’ll share some laughter around the dinner table as we eat our Christmas feast. I will enjoy the day, but not without a constant stream of anxious thoughts that those around me won’t see. And that’s the reality of my Anxiety at Christmas.
This is a part of my regular series ‘The Anxiety Diaries’, to see more posts in the series click here. As part of this series I will be featuring guest posts, get in touch if you’d like to be involved!