This is the third December that My Brain’s Not Broken has been around, so we’re now at the third time I get to write about mental health around the holidays. The first year I wrote about how mental health does not take time off for the holidays, even if you do. Last year I focused on using that quality time with friends and family to check in and see how your people are doing. Since I don’t want to get repetitive, I’d like to take a different direction, about the anxiety the holidays can bring and what you can about it.
December is a complicated time for a ton of reasons, but the most prominent one for me is that it might have the most chaotic timing out of any part of the year. There isn’t much order going on in terms of what people do outside of their immediate plans. Schools are on winter vacations, all with different types of breaks (especially colleges). Offices are ghost towns depending on who has the days to afford a vacation. You don’t really know when people are in town or are going somewhere else until they’ve arrived or already left. It can be a mess of a time, leading to a ton of stress.
Part of this is also an obsession (by some) to ‘get things done by the end of the year.’ What are those things? It doesn’t matter much. Do they always need to be done by the end of the year? Not always. But since we’re reaching the end of something, we must be done with things. And the urgency and finality that springs forth can be frustrating, bringing anxiety to even the most self-assured person. That’s on top of any anxiety produced by having to visit family or loved ones during this time (which can be……a lot. To say the least).
How do we combat it? How do we go with the flow of the disorder and chaos that this time of year can bring? I don’t have all the answers, but there are three things I work to remember when I’m feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated this time of year.
Spending time with some of these people is a privilege, not a right
Every year, who you see and where you go during this season can be different. Sometimes it’s good, other times it isn’t. If you’re fortunate enough to actually be with the friends and family you want to be with, try to appreciate it. That might relieve some tension you feel.
If you’re not a certain type of person, make peace with that
I am not a big gift person, giving or receiving. So yeah, this time of the year is super stressful. But instead of continuing to feel bad because it’s not my thing, I tried to just accept that part of me and find meaning somewhere else. It doesn’t take all the pressure off, but it helps (especially during Secret Santa). I can still enjoy a gift exchange because instead of enjoying what’s given to me, I look to see how others react to things given to them. They have access to that bit of joy, and sharing in that joy is more helpful than trying to produce it.
Reflection might be a better use of your time than looking forward
Yes, the year is coming to an end. 2020 is coming up, so of course, we have to think about New Year’s Resolutions. And what kind of anxiety could that possibly produce? Instead, I think about how my year went. Did I do what I said I would do? Did I become the person I want to be, or at least take the right steps to get there? Depending on what gets you anxious, this might be a better step. For people who get stressed over the unknown, it’s better to reflect before trying to wading into the unknown of the new year.
Will these strategies get rid of all the stress and anxiety of the holidays? Of course not! But hopefully, they can put you in a mindset to re-set your brain and approach this time of year in a different way. Happy Holidays to everyone!