Oh Holidays… How I Love Thee
To begin this festive post, I would like to first tell you all Happy Thanksgiving! And to those of you not in the USA, Happy Thursday!
And now, for how I really feel. I am not a fan of Holidays. Yes, I love my family and friends. Yes, I do like to spend time with them. But if you are an anxious person by nature, you will understand how all the fun and time with loved ones can be a double-edged sword. I have anxiety. I am a person with an Anxiety Disorder. There is a mean little monster who has been living behind my ear and telling me all sorts of nonsense since I was a child. He loves to begin his monologue first thing on a holiday morning just as I am getting out of bed. My particular monster likes to whisper sweet nothings like ‘You know they’re talking about you’ and ‘I told you everyone would think you didn’t do a good enough job at .’ Sound familiar? What does your Monster tell you?
Yes, I like the holidays. But they also kind of suck. Days that are big stand-outs throughout the year can be particularly difficult for people with an Anxiety Disorder. Not only do you have to manage your normal day-to-day interactions with people, there is a large group of people around you all at the same time. And you are supposed to be happy and positive. If you’re anything like me, on most of these days all you want to do is put your head in a hole and wait it out. Of course, you can’t do that, so here are some tips from this Anxious Mom on how to survive Thanksgiving.
It’s OK to Acknowledge Today Might Be Hard
I spent many years thinking that there was something wrong with me. Why would anyone not like the idea of their whole family being together and sharing a meal and good times? I come from a large Lebanese family, and holidays and meals have always been a big deal. For the longest time, I felt that if I was feeling negative or unenthusiastic about spending time with my family that I wasn’t being a good daughter, granddaughter or cousin. This is simply not true. For those of us who are anxious people, large groups and activities where there is an expectation of enjoyment can be a setup. You feel like you’re supposed to have a great time, and then you feel like a total jerk for NOT having a great time. Have you been there?
My first piece of advice is to tell yourself that it’s alright if you aren’t feeling like life is all cookies and whipped cream when you wake up Thanksgiving morning. Allow yourself to comfort your anxious inner self. Instead of telling yourself, ‘It’s going to be great this year,’ try starting with ‘This is probably going to be challenging, and here are ways I can be kind to myself.’
Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
If you know that spending eight hours at Grandma’s house is going to feel like playing Twister on a bed of hot coals, then limit your time. Maybe you are one of those people who have multiple invites for the Holiday. Instead of choosing where to spend the whole day, try splitting your time between different locations. For example, if your Dear Auntie reminds you of Rachel’s sister Zelda from the movie Pet Semetary, cut your cringe-fest in half and accept the invite to a Friends-Giving for desserts. I would suggest making these plans known ahead of time so you don’t hurt Dear Auntie Zelda’s feelings, though.
Small Breaks Can Be Your Respite
Don’t be afraid to step away from the group! This is one of my personal lifesaving tactics. Rather than sitting with a fragile smile when my internal seismograph is going insane, I like to step outside for some fresh air for a couple minutes, or take an extra bathroom break even if I don’t have to. (Hey Moms, this can be extra fun for you because with all those helpful relatives out there, you might actually be able to be in the bathroom ALONE for 5 minutes!)
Uh-Oh! Uncle Tim forgot to bring the dinner rolls? Heck yeah, I’ll run to the store to grab them! Being the volunteer for last minute errands not only gives you the chance to break away for a couple minutes, you’re also the Hero for being the one who so willingly leaves to go to the store.
If you do decide to step away or run out on some errands, try not to make it a big production. There is nothing more anxiety-provoking to me than when someone asks “What’s wrong, are you ok?” No, everything is great, I’m fine. Do I seem like I’m not fine? Why are you still looking at me? Alright, maybe this is a bit of an exaggeration. But if concern from someone makes your anxiety spike, try to avoid it by being discrete. When you do take a moment for yourself, try a mini grounding technique to bring yourself back to baseline. Try whatever works for you, whether that is repeating affirmations or mantras, deep breathing, counting or centering on the physical sensations of your body to get away from the chaos in your mind. Little things add up, dear friend.
Your Anxiety is Not a Dirty Secret
I don’t want any of you to think that my above suggestions mean that you should hide your anxiety like is is something to be ashamed of. Many of us with anxiety feel like the less attention we can draw to ourselves is the best laid plan. When you already feel like all eyes are on you, the last thing you want to do is make them look closer. If you feel comfortable sharing your anxiety with your friends and family, try talking about it with them before the holidays and let them know that if you step away for a few or leave a little early, it is the best way for you to practice good self care. Practicing self care and being attuned to what you need is the best way to make sure that you will have the best day you can. Allowing your family and friends to be familiar with this part of you will help remove some of the stigma about mental illness. And, it also could help them understand that when you take a break it doesn’t mean you don’t want to be there sharing the day with them.
Give Your Little Monster Some Love
As much as I hate that Little Monster named Anxiety who lives inside me, I know that it is just a part of me that needs as much love and attention as the other facets of myself. Yeah, my Monster can be a total pain in the ass, but I wouldn’t be who I am without it. One of the most powerful DBT techniques is Radical Acceptance. I interpret this tactic as understanding that there are more things that I can’t change than those that I can. So, to help myself not go completely insane, I accept those static variables and change how I work around them, rather than try to change the variable. At the end of the day, leave some time to decompress yourself. Congratulate yourself for making it through another Thanksgiving with as few bumps and bruises as possible, and bring an extra piece of pie home to enjoy with your Little Monster by candlelight when everyone else has gone to bed. Be kind to yourself. You got this.
Ok, so Now What? I would love to hear your tips for making it through a holiday event! Share in the comments below, and please subscribe to Heymomnowwhat.com and to Pointless.overthinking.wordpress.com!