This time of year can bring such joy to many, but there’s also another side to it; the holidays can sometimes come with a slew of negative emotions or fear – for some people. If you suffer from anxiety or panic disorders, you know exactly what I mean.
You typically hear that every person on the planet falls into either one of these two categories:
1) They love Christmas with all of their beings.
2) They despise everything Christmas-related.
But I’m here to tell you, there IS another category, an important category of people, that gets forgotten in the midst of upbeat Christmas songs and holiday shopping.
Those of us who suffer in silence with debilitating anxiety may love Christmas, but getting through it is another thing entirely.
Just because someone may appear to ‘’have it together’’, does not mean they do. There may be a whole other person underneath the over-achieving persona we put on. I say this from personal experience.
You may not know this about me..
What most people don’t know about me is that I have had a horrendous anxiety and panic disorder for most of my life. Though some days are better than others; Christmas is always a difficult one for me. Like many of you.
While on the outside we may appear to be ‘’normal’’, on the inside we usually are feeling something different altogether. And we are constantly trying to be and look ‘’normal’’, which ends up being the greatest anxiety-inducing thing of all.
It’s like being choked, held underwater, and not being able to breathe – all at once.
It’s like being trapped in a tiny room that is closing in on you, and you don’t know where to go, or what to do.
It’s like a thousand different thoughts screaming inside your head that you’re not good enough, you forget something, people are looking at you, or there’s something wrong with you.
And the holidays are no different.
If anything, the holidays increase the level of panic and anxiety for that category of people who love Christmas but find it very, very hard.
I have always adored Christmas. Perhaps it’s because I can distract myself for a few weeks out of the year, with decorating, holiday parties, and gift-giving.
But the pressure and expectations of this magnificent time of year can sometimes be too much to bear.
And when your loved ones or friends don’t have anxiety, it can be quite difficult for them to understand what you’re going through.
Stress and anxiety are not the same things.
I’m not saying that people don’t suffer from stress, but what I am saying is that there is an immense difference.
Anxiety is feeling like you’re dying in the moment because your heart is racing so fast, you’re hyperventilating, sweating, and sometimes pass out altogether. And sometimes anxiety is just overanalyzing every single thing that comes out of your mouth, and avoiding everything in your life that you used to enjoy.
There are things that our loved ones (or even acquaintances), can do this holiday season to help us ease through this time of year, and make it a little less difficult.
Here are SIX things that people living with debilitating anxiety need from their loved ones this Christmas.
1) Don’t expect us to attend every single holiday function.
I’m sure for most of us suffering from any anxiety disorder; the thought of attending even one holiday party, or get-together, can be extremely challenging. So, when we are faced with several in a period of a week – this can be quite problematic.
Allow us the choice to attend which ones we are comfortable with. Some family gatherings may be more triggering than others; therefore it may be better for our mental health to skip some of them altogether.
It’s not that we don’t want to come to your house and enjoy your company, it’s just that we physically can’t in that moment.
Don’t make us feel guilty for making this decision, either.
Instead, support our decision – whatever that may be.
2) Understand when we need to keep some resemblance of our ‘routine.’
If you’re anything like me, then you plan your schedule and life to the extreme, so having your routine changed up during the holidays (or anytime!), can be nerve-racking.
I cannot explain this, other than to say that when you have your day planned out, and something changes (big or small), this is like our brain being put in a blender. We are left confused, irritated, and in tremendous fear.
This may seem completely irrational for most people, but this is how we feel, so please respect it.
This may mean that we need to leave the holiday function early or change up some other detail so that we feel we have some control over our routine that day.
3) Let us have our space, if we need it.
If we feel the need to take a moment to ourselves (or an hour!), please do not take this personally.
Sometimes we just need to get away for a minute or two and collect ourselves, and sometimes we are in the midst of an agonizing anxiety attack that you may not even notice.
The worst thing you could do is try to force us to participate in whatever is going on. One of the worst parts of having an anxiety or panic disorder is that we want to socialize with you.
But we often need something to channel the never-ending energy and thoughts inside our heads. This may come out in completing mindless tasks; whatever keeps us busy. We may choose to do that instead of socializing with you.
But it’s not personal. It’s not about you.
Just allow us some space if it looks like we need it.
One of the ”cons” of having an anxiety disorder is that you are constantly overanalyzing every.little.thing. This means, when we need to take some time to ourselves, we are already beating ourselves up about it internally, and feeling guilty and judged as it is.
5) Please, please do not tell us to ‘’Calm Down.’’
This is the absolute worst thing you could say to someone who is suffering from gut-wrenching anxiety or a panic disorder, Christmas or not.
Another thing never to say to someone who suffers from anxiety, of any kind is: ‘’take a deep breath.’’ When someone utters those words, I know I want to throat punch them, because if it were that darn easy, nobody would have an anxiety disorder.
Just don’t do say it, please.
Instead, show us love and support. Sometimes all that means is sitting with us in silence, holding our hand or giving us a hug.
You have no idea what that will mean to your loved one or friend.
6) Don’t expect us to be ‘’present’’ in every single moment.
This one is similar to #3, but at the same time – completely different.
Sometimes we are having an internal war inside our head, or over analyzing everything we just said to you. Perhaps we are zoning out at our cell phone or the TV.
If this is the case, please don’t Hector us for not being “present.” We are trying our best, but maybe at that moment, this is the best we can do.
As a friend who doesn’t suffer from anxiety, this may seem rude to you, but I assure you that your friend wants to be social with you and converse – but perhaps at that moment they are having a full-on panic attack and need space.
You just never know. So be kind.
Christmas is supposed to be a magical time of year, and for those of us who suffer on a daily basis with anxiety or panic disorders, we want to enjoy it too.
These few things you can do will make a world of difference to your loved one who is suffering. It is a difficult thing to understand and come to grips with if you don’t have these conditions.
I hope you found this post helpful! Merry Christmas, loves. I hope each and every one of you has a lovely holiday.
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