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5 ways to manage your anxiety at Christmas

Christmas time can be a magical time with sparkly lights, brightly decorated Christmas tress trees and presents gaily wrapped under the tree, the excitement of Santa's visit.

However it can also be a very stressful time, especially for people with anxiety, unsure about being around people, anxious about what you say or do and feeling the pressure of getting things right.

If you have anxiety it can lead you to looking at the negative and worrying about things such as getting the presents right, is there enough food or drink? have I decorated the house right? what if the family don’t like being with me at Christmas?

Anxious thoughts can lead you to withdraw or avoid and feel overwhelmed with all that is happening around you, amongst all this you can be so concerned about everyone else having a good time that you forget about yourself. Or worry so much about getting things right that you find it difficult to relax and enjoy yourself.

xmas tree with presents
Christmas can cause anxiety for some

You may feel anxious about the social gatherings, about the financial implications or that being with family is not the happy and relaxed affair that we see in the

Christmas films.

Some families have difficult histories that can make Christmas stressful or sad and some may not have family or friends to spend Christmas with and it becomes a lonely affair.

Take some time to think about what Christmas means for you and how you would like to spend your time.

It can be a time when it is difficult to have time to yourself and to do the things that you enjoy most, this year may have made things even more difficult for some due to the covid-19 rules, although this could be an opportunity to move away from traditions that didn’t work for you and move towards a Christmas that feels more comfortable and less anxiety provoking for you.

Whatever the reason for your anxiety at Christmas it is good to have some coping strategies when you need them so here are some tips to hopefully help you manage your anxiety better in the lead up to Christmas and on the day itself.

1. Focus on the Christmas of today

Focusing on difficult Christmas's past or worrying about how this Christmas might turn out and lots of 'what if’s' can lead you to feeling guilty, apprehensive or many other emotions that prevent you enjoying the moment.

Being more mindful of things that are happening around you, being grateful for the things that are happening in the moment helps you to enjoy the day more.

Often we can be here but not present, dwelling too much on other things.

Take your time to do things you enjoy and say no to the things that you don’t.

By being more present in the moment you can engage in the Christmas as it happens rather than trying to recreate Christmas's of the past or create the perfect Christmas this year.

Enjoying the moment you are in can lead to less anxious moments.

Christmas tree with santas
Share your anxious feelings with someone you trust

2. Share how you are feeling with someone you trust

It can be difficult to share with others what you are feeling, especially at Christmas when it is thought everyone should be enjoying themselves, but if you are able to share with someone how you are feeling, you can have an ally and a friend to help you through those anxious moments.

It's not about needing someone to lean on or look after you, but to have someone who understands what things mean for you and if you needed them you know they are there for you,

Maybe when you leave the room, if you become overwhelmed, they can be the one to tell others not to worry or if you feel you need to get out for a breather you have someone you can ask to accompany you.

It takes the pressure off yourself of being afraid to do things that feel right for you in case you offend someone or it feels uncomfortable for you.

Xmas dinner
Don't overindulge at xmas

3. Practice your breathing techniques

Breathing is a simple and effective way to calm yourself down, you can discreetly do it where you are sitting or you can take yourself off to the toilet or another room and take a few moments to just calm yourself.

Use a breathing techniques you have been practicing that you feel comfortable with.

If you are not sure of any techniques then download my free relaxation worksheet

Controlled breathing slows down your heart rate, increases your oxygen levels, and clams you down

4. Try not to over indulge

We all like to over indulge at Christmas, but unfortunately anxiety can be exacerbated by over indulgence.

Food and drink can have a big impact on mood, high sugar levels and caffeine & alcohol can lead to highs and lows that can be difficult to manage.

I'm not saying avoid the Ferrero Roche or the Quality Street, but try to moderate your intake, rather than indulging try to spread out your chocolate intake so you don’t get a sugar spike.

Avoiding the coffee is a good plan, although you might feel like a coffee to keep you alert, the caffeine is not good for your anxiety.

The same applies with alcohol, again I don’t want to be a spoilsport, alcohol in moderation is ok, and plenty of water alongside your alcohol helps to keep you hydrated.

Anxiety can lead to over indulgence of alcohol as a way of calming yourself down, try to find more healthy ways to keep calm such as breathing and grounding exercises.

hot chocolate drink with marshmallows
Too much sugar can increase anxiety

A hangover the next day is also no fun and alcohol can increase your anxiety the following day, you may get what we call an anxiety hangover.

Alcohol and caffeine can also increase your heart rate, this could lead to you mistaking this for anxiety and could lead to you starting to panic, be aware how alcohol and caffeine can do this,

5. Get enough sleep

In the run up to Christmas you may find you get less sleep or over the Christmas period you may have later nights or may find the Christmas overwhelm makes you feel more exhausted.

When you are tired it gets more difficult to cope, when you are more alert your ability to cope increases.

A lack of sleep can lead to raised cortisol levels, cortisol increases your stress levels and stress can lead to anxiety.

If you find your not getting enough sleep at night or you start to feel the strain of the day then take an afternoon nap.

A nap can help to reset your body, calm you down and slow down your heart rate, it can also help you switch off your mind for a short time.

A mid day 20 minute power nap can be good for you when you are feeling tired or stressed, you can always nap on the sofa and blame the Christmas dinner.

I hope that some of these tips help you to enjoy your Christmas.

Laura Knight is a qualified and experienced Counsellor and a registered member of BACP (The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy)

She is an approved Anxiety UK Therapist and has her own private practice SeeClear Counselling, in Poole Dorset.

She can offer face to face, telephone and video counselling sessions

Laura Knight is a qualified and experienced Counsellor and a registered member of BACP (The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy)

She is an approved Anxiety UK Therapist and has her own private practice SeeClear Counselling, in Poole Dorset.

She can offer face to face, telephone and video counselling sessions

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