Many people see Christmas as a time when old friends and families can get together and where childhood memories are filled full of joy and warmth. While some may not have seen one another in a while, others welcome new members into their growing families; others might not have seen them for a while. Others may have less fond memories of Christmas. They might remember it as a time when the fights never seem to stop. Christmas can be when relationships have been strained, and Christmas adverts and Christmas music may seem like constant reminders of these changes.
Whether Christmas is your favorite time of year or not, there is one thing certain: this year will be different because of the nature of the pandemic that we all are experiencing. Even if Christmas is your favorite time of year, this may cause some anxiety or fear. Many people will struggle with large gatherings’ uncertainty, keeping traditions and catching up with old acquaintances.
Before we get into managing anxiety, it might help to understand what anxiety is. Some people will feel nervousness or an increased heart rate, nausea or sweating, and it may be accompanied by a feeling that something is about to happen. Anxiety is a survival mechanism that alerts us to danger. Many people talk about the fight-flight or freeze response. Recently, however, they added a fourth response: flop. Our bodies respond in nanoseconds to fight or flight. We feel a surge in heart rate, digestive slowdown, adrenaline release, and tremble. Our minds scan the environment for potential threats or zone in on them. This was especially useful for cave dwellers who had to co-exist with many hungry animals. Our perceptions of threats might have changed from wild hungry bears to worry about our finances, second-guessing ourselves, or being fearful of large groups. Although threats have changed, so have our bodily reactions to them. They cause the same physical responses within our bodies. Some will fight, others will run, while some may freeze or even fall prey to anxiety. This affects our thoughts, emotions and physical bodies.
It would be impossible for me to list all the techniques that can be used to manage anxiety. However, I hope you find these strategies helpful in managing your fears, worries and anxieties.
COPING WITH PHYSICAL SIGNS OF ANXIETY
Some people experience anxiety, panic, worry, or panic attacks that cause their breathing to change. This can cause light-headedness, dizziness, or visual changes. If you have difficulty breathing or struggle with over-breathing, controlling your breathing can be a great help. Pay attention to how your breath feels. One hand should be placed on your belly, the other one on your chest. Your hands should rise and fall with your breath. Do not change your breathing, allow your breath to flow naturally and exhale slowly and gently.
Some people prefer to deal with anxiety by using a more physical strategy. While progressive muscle relaxation can be very beneficial, it is not recommended to focus on your breath.
Progressive muscle relaxation
- Relax and enjoy a quiet environment.
- Take a few deep breaths, and then allow yourself to be still.
- Pay attention to your body’s position wherever you are
- Concentrate your attention on your feet, lower legs and tense your muscles for five seconds. Then release the tension. Pay attention to the tensions and feel how it feels when you let go.
- It is important to be able to tell the difference between tension and when the muscle is relaxed.
- You can continue the same process for your thighs and stomach. These body parts can be gently strained and released one at a time.
COPING WITH COGNITIVE SIGNNS OF ANXIETY
It can be hard to recognize your anxious thoughts. This will usually take practice, lots of work and effort. Don’t get discouraged if this is difficult.
Identify anxious thoughts. These thoughts can be easy to spot as they often start with “what if?” or “I cannot.” Sometimes, writing down these thoughts or recording them can help you notice them. What was the thought going through your head before you saw it? What are you afraid of? You should look for evidence in support and against this thought, as well as how you feel about it.
Situation: Your relatives have asked you to organize Christmas dinner.
What’s going on in your head? : I won’t be able do this, I’ll disappoint everybody
How did you feel about that? : Anxious 50%, Worried 50%
Facts to support the thought: My kitchen is small and I have never cooked for large groups before.
Evidence against the idea: I have previously cooked for family and friends, and have also enjoyed meals at the homes of my relatives.
Outcome: Re-rate your worry/anxiety.
The following questions may help you to think about what you would say to a friend if they had the same thought. What do you think a friend would say to you if they knew that you were thinking this way? What have I thought about in the past to help me cope with these thoughts? Is there anything that could be used to help me? How can I feel if I don’t feel this way?
The nature of our relationships and families will impact how we experience Christmas. However, we also have to consider the pandemic. It may not be possible to get together, which may be good news for some and a bad thing for others. While some of these suggestions may help with anxiety, worries or concerns, reaching out to professionals for support is a great gift for yourself this Christmas.