You may not thank me for pointing out Christmas is just around the corner but I know there of plenty of people out there who are already feeling a knot in their stomach, and maybe you’re one?
Pre-Christmas anxiety is often a reaction to the fairly substantial changes that occur around that time of year, coupled with the expectation that everyone should be happy, relaxed and full of Christmas spirit. Even with pre-Christmas anxiety it’s quite possible this will all settle down and you’ll have a nice time.
So, how do you know whether things are getting on top of you. Well the symptoms of stress are varied but typically involve headaches, nausea, upset stomach and bowel problems, worrying, feeling tired yet getting poor sleep, or conversely sleeping for lengthy periods of time. Let’s take a look at some of the main stressors.
People are almost inevitably a key stressor around Christmas. These days its not uncommon to find yourself having to work right up to Christmas and then work more to feed and entertain others. At this point you haven’t had time to settle yourself and neither perhaps have they. Then of course we often have ‘history’ with relatives which has a habit of emerging during get-togethers. When something makes us stressed its usually the case that our perspective on it becomes distorted. Those bottled up resentments and memories begin to come to the surface and the danger is we read more into them than is justified. Of course it takes two to Tango and sometimes the most you can do is check your own behavior and try to ensure you aren’t adding fuel to the fire. When we sit on tensions it’s often the case that a passing comment can trigger our anger. To try and avoid this it can be worth deciding your strategy in advance as to how to keep the peace.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever had the opportunity to look over a life events stress scale? If you have you’ll see that certain events such as Christmas carry a stress weighting in the form of a number. The idea is the higher the tally the more of a stress burden you’re carrying. If you add together money issues, unfamiliar surroundings, change in routine and diet, travel and more, it quickly becomes clear that if you’re someone predisposed to anxiety or stress, Christmas come pretty high up the list of ‘could do without’ moments. I have to confess that my wife and I escaped one year to a hotel and it was blissful. A couple of years later we hosted a big family and friends Christmas over three days and it was great. Your frame of mind is a really big thing over Christmas and it’s clear if we anticipate things will go wrong there’s a good chance it will happen. Far better to keep an open mind and not impose or be constrained by what is supposed to be good or bad, right or wrong.
A good way to manage pre-Christmas anxiety is become your own psychologist and begin the process of coping by beginning with an assessment. Think about the issues that press your buttons and then think about how you tend to deal with them. Do you fly into a rage, bottle it up, hide in the shed, drink more than normal? One approach is to target something that, perhaps above all others, really gets to you and decide that’s the thing you’ll reframe in terms of your perspective and your reaction. If nothing else it will make you feel better and could even work to your advantage.
I often go on about nutrition and exercise because I believe it has such a powerful effect on our mood. Christmas is a time of excess, but it doesn’t have to be for you. You can build stamina by taking a little light daily exercise, backing away from processed and fatty foods and easing off the things that make you twitchy - like coffee. Couple this with time for yourself, a place where you can truly relax if only for half-an-hour a day. The old adage, ‘a trouble shared is a trouble halved,’ is good to remember. Sitting on your anxieties doesn’t help, but if you can talk to others it can. That’s partly what friends are for.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.