A Clinical Psychologist's 5 top tips to help
Christmas is typically a time of year that can bring on unwanted anxiety and stress for many different reasons. But with 2022 having been a tumultuous year with continuing COVID-19 restrictions, the War in Ukraine, political instability in the UK and a cost-of-living crisis, our stress and anxiety levels are likely to be higher than ever before.
Here we outline our top five tips for coping with anxiety and stress over the Christmas period.
Tip #1 - Take the pressure off
People usually ask after the festivities, "did you have a good Christmas". There is an implicit message that we 'should' be having a joyful time over Christmas, enjoying every minute of present giving and spending time with family. The pressure to have a good Christmas is heightened this year because Covid-19 severely impacted the last two Christmases. It is also easy to compare yourself to others, especially with the picture-perfect Christmases posted on social media. In this context, it is easy to see how this can lead to mounting internal pressure that results in lots of 'shoulds', 'oughts' and rules about how your Christmas should be.
Identify your 'shoulds' and unhelpful rules about Christmas this year. Remember that these rules are unhelpful and add to your anxiety and stress because they dictate your actions.
For example, the rule: 'I must get the best presents' leads you to spend lots of money on presents, which may add to money worries and anxiety over Christmas in the context of the cost-of-living crisis.
Tip #2 - Pace yourself & prioritise
Christmas can be a hectic time of year with lots of Christmas get together and parties, school and work events. And all at a time when it can be difficult to travel due to cold weather and the usual winter illnesses that further deplete your energy levels. It can be tempting to cram in lots of social events when so much is going on, but this can easily lead to an ever-increasing rise in stress levels and anxiety. If you experience social anxiety, then an increase in invitations to social events and things to do will likely trigger more anxiety for you.
Pace yourself with social events. Prioritise by asking yourself: which events do I want to go to? Then, give yourself permission to miss some things, and only focus on the events you wish to attend.
Tip #3 - Prioritise sleep & rest
Although there is a lot to do and a lot going on over Christmas, it can also be a time to slow down and rest. Shops shut on Christmas day, a large proportion of the workforce takes time off, and the world slows down. So now is your time to prioritise sleep and rest.
Use the time over the Christmas period to rest, to prioritise good quality sleep through good sleep hygiene such as a consistent bedtime, no screens before or in bed, and keeping bedrooms at a cooler temperature.
Tip #4 - Create moments of calm
If you are feeling anxious over the Christmas period, it is essential to build in moments of calm; whether it be 30 seconds or 20 minutes, intentionally pausing what you are doing to create a moment of calm or soothing is vital.
Identify what helps you feel calm. Some ideas include a simple breathing exercise, listening to calming music, doing mindfulness exercises or creating mindful moments during your day, and journaling in a quiet space.
Tip #5 - What’s really important?
It can be easy to lose sight of what Christmas is really about. So our minds become filled with to-do lists, 'shoulds' and 'must dos', that what is important to us about Christmas, deep down, get lost.
Check in with your values around Christmas: what is important about Christmas to you? What sort of partner, son, daughter, friend, mother, or father do you want to be over the Christmas period?
It may be that you value connection and spending time with others, or perhaps Christmas is an opportunity to be caring and kind to others. On the other hand, as discussed above, Christmas may be more about creating calm and peace for yourself. Whatever is important to you about Christmas, identifying your intentions around your values is essential. So, if connection is meaningful, ask yourself, how can I connect with others over Christmas? What might that look like during your day?
Putting it all together - how to cope in moments of acute anxiety
We have outlined several areas to focus on if you are experiencing anxiety about Christmas to help reduce the stress associated with Christmas, which will help reduce general anxiety levels. But if there are moments over Christmas when your anxiety is heightened, there are a few things you can do that might help, depending on the specific thing you are experiencing.
If you are experiencing lots of anxious thoughts or worries, learning how to step back from or defuse from your thoughts is helpful.
If self-criticism, or your inner critic, is causing you to feel anxious, try these three powerful ways to help manage.
If you worry a lot over the Christmas period, identifying the three unhelpful beliefs that keep the worry going may help you manage worry better.
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