Christmas, the Holidays, and your mental health with Martha Norris

As bright and merry as the holiday season is, sometimes it can be a little…overwhelming. Especially for folks whose guts aren’t taking too kindly to the whirl of social events that are often anchored around food and drink.

Here’s Martha of Simply Martha to give her thoughts on keeping your mental health tip-top during Christmas!

Simply Martha in Bristol.jpg

Gathered around a festive filled table with piles of food, smiles, laughter, mulled wine and all you can think is ‘how do I leave? This is too overwhelming’.

A feeling I’ve endured far too often around this time of year. It may be Christmas time, but anxiety doesn’t allow you to have days off just because it’s the holiday season. And sadly, the little niggle in your head won’t leave today. You try and try to carry on, but the enjoyment is being wiped from your face and everyone can tell you’re looking differently. ‘Oh no, I’ve ruined Christmas… I can’t leave, I can’t breathe.’

Why today? Why now?

Anxiety. Sadly, not a seasonally thing that can take a day of rest and especially during a season that may require many social gatherings, expectations (for yourself and others) it can be such an overwhelming time of year.

Most wonderful time of year?

To start, what gets me anxious about Christmas is that it is SO hyped up that everything has a massive expectations to be magical, wonderful, best time ever!

…It’s okay that its not.

Stop and let go of worrying that you NEED to be having a great time right now. The expectation can actually take all the fun out of the season. Ease some pressure off yourself and that way you can fully enjoy the time. Even if Christmas sucks… That’s okay too! Although today feels very ‘EXTRA’, if you take away the tinsel, Bucksfizz breakfast and jolly music, it’s just another day, as good as last week, as good as next month.

The Season of Social Stresses

Personally, the thing I struggle the most about this time of year with are the social stresses of the season. I appreciate (and love) that this time of year is about connecting with family big or small. Everyone is welcome! However, even if family are a big part of the day – it can be the most emotionally draining and exhausting. Especially if your family are people who (if you had a choice) you wouldn’t normally socialise with.

A room full of different personalities, different relationships, bring different feelings out of you than perhaps you would usually feel or show.

And although I still find this part challenging about the season, what works for me is, finding a family member that makes you feel comfortable and you know that if you need a minute or two to leave the situation you can give them a little nudge, and they get exactly how you feel without having to say a word. Having that trust and support without using words is a way to bring down those stresses of figuring a way out of the situation without causing even more stress.

Even if you tactfully avoid a family member or two, do not feel ashamed or guilty because if you know they don’t bring out the best in yourself (or make you feel worst after socialising with them) it’s not worth your mental health.

The build-up/ aftermath

The build-up and aftermath can be both exciting but also anti-climactic. Which can be both anxiety building and low mood stimulating.

The build up is a tricky time because its completely focusing all your energy on that ONE DAY… as discussed before, its bringing that pressure of the expectation for how you should feel/ be feeling. If you feel you aren’t matching everyone’s excitement for the day, do you feel you’re being a humbug. YOU ARE NOT. Take each day as a separate day. Focus on the part of each day that is in your control.

If you are feeling that you can share your anxiety with someone, then do! It will help others understand how you are feeling as well as bringing suggestions on how you can manage the build up pressures. They might also be feeling the same, because you are not alone in feeling this way at this time of year.

And in the aftermath…after all that hyped energy has been zapped, now you’re left feeling a little empty and lost. Understandable. If your anxiety has left you feeling so exhausted from the build- up, now it is all finished – what do you do?

It may take you a few days or weeks to recover from the day. Take some time to ease yourself back into your routine. I LOVE A ROUTINE. Part of me doesn’t like this time of year because it takes me out of my routine for a few days, which throws me off track with my normal mental health. Routine is always there to pick up right where you left off, and if you have a routine you LOVE the excitement to get back to a ‘mundane’ life will actually be a little joyous for you (who cares if that sounds boring!!!).

In that vein, find a key part of your every day routine that you can bring back with you for the holidays and use as a ‘grounding’ part of your day, to bring you back to yourself. It may be getting on your trainers and going for a run, or making a specific breakfast that sets you up for the day, or taking ten minutes alone with your meditation app or a favourite book. Plus, keeping up this one habit will make it that much easier to slip back into your comforting routine when all the hubbub is over!

Anxiety reduces…when you increase it.

It probably sounds counter-intuitive, but when you keep pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, you manage your mental health better. FACT.

By increasing the time in which you place yourself in a situation you may feel anxious about, you learn how to manage it better, which then reduces symptoms in the future. That’s not to say, you will no longer feel anxious, but the intensity at which you feel it will weaken. Christmas comes around once a year, however all the fundamentals of the day (the meal, the company, enjoyment of a BIG day) are something we can experience any day of the year, if we allow ourselves to be exposed to it.

You can potentially have a meal with your family (or the ones you feel more comfortable with) any day. You can celebrate any day of the week (whether there is something big to celebrate or not is irrelevant – there is always something to celebrate!) and a ‘just because’ day is also special (maybe even more so because you have chosen to make it more special than a social calendar). Everything ‘Christmassy’ doesn’t need to be done at Christmas. So, practice!

Christmas is beyond presents, family, food, Christmas music, snow, Santa. Anxiety doesn’t understand ‘days off’. But it doesn’t mean you need to have the day off to enjoy Christmas. Managing mental health is a daily battle, but no matter what day, when you challenge your anxiety you learn, grow and become stronger. Christmas is just another day to challenge your mental health.

And let’s not forget Social Media…

Social media. Deck the Instagram halls with bells of notifications of everyone's 'perfect day'. I think Christmas is the actually (ironically) the perfect day to get away from social media, and it really is the perfect excuse not to be on your phone.

As I hear all far too often 'comparison is the thief of joy'. I couldn't express that sentence better myself and it completely relates so well to Christmas. Focus on YOUR day. Everyone has a different Christmas, you may even see someones day and think 'thank goodness I am not having that day!' and the the same might be said for yourself.

I guess, in a way, Christmas is the one time of year where it really doesn't matter how everyone else’s day is going. No one is going to care about your day because they are far to focused on trying to have a jolly time themselves. It's a blunt but truthful way to look at it. I hope that might ease the idea that everyone will be expecting to see you having the most amazing time, because they won't be.

If anything, I don't like seeing people on social media on the one day of the year where there is just so much going on; use this day as a well-earned break from the digital world. Be mindful of the moments, even if you hate the day. Scrolling through feeds is only going to upset you more. Nothing will change dramatically if you take a day off. Use the day as an excuse to be OFFLINE.

If you would like to follow me for how I am dealing with my anxiety during this Christmas time you can find me on Instagram @simplymarthan or my blog – Simply Martha

Thank you so much Martha for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us around anxiety at Christmas! We hope it was helpful to people out there who may be experiencing something similar.

And if you loved Martha’s positivity and can-do attitude, be sure to follow her on Instagram - she’s one of the most uplifting people on there! You can also find her on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter ❤️