Surviving the holidays with your mental health intact

I don’t love Christmas.

Yah, that’s right. I said it.

To the die-hard Christmas fanatics, I know what you’re thinking. What’s not to like? The twinkling lights, the festive food, the spirit of giving, the magic of Santa, the awe and wonder reflected on every innocent child’s face – it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

And to that I say…Meh.

Here’s the thing: I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder which means I have the super power of simultaneously worrying about everything imaginable and yet nothing in particular. It’s like there’s a hamster frantically running on a wheel of worry in my brain that just won’t stop. On good days, the wheel slows down just enough for me to manage my anxious thoughts.  On bad days…well, let’s just say that hamster gets one hell of a workout.

Holiday pressures add a whole new layer of anxiety to my spinning brain, and it’s tough to feel any kind of Christmas spirit when I’m completely overwhelmed.

I know I’m not alone, so I thought I’d share a few of my own holiday survival tips:

1.    Lower your expectations. Then lower them again.

Last year I brought home one of those boxed gingerbread house kits, foolishly thinking that it would be a fun activity to do with my two little boys. I envisioned us gathered around the table, listening to carols, decorating our house with gumdrops and candy canes and making magical, Pinterest-worthy memories.

In reality, it was a complete shit show. The cheap icing wouldn’t hold the gingerbread together and I quickly lost my patience trying in vain to attach the walls to the roof. In a matter of minutes there was icing everywhere, I was seething, the kids were disappointed and I felt like a complete failure. Not exactly a Hallmark moment.

Someone once told me to keep my expectations low so that I’d always be pleasantly surprised.

Lesson learned.

2.    Draw your line in the sand and guard it with your life.

The weeks leading up to Christmas are hectic and the calendar fills up quickly. If you feel like you’re being pulled in a million directions and all the socializing is draining your energy, take a break. Seriously – just say no. If you’re worried about disappointing people (and let’s face it, when are you not?), remember that saying no is a powerful and necessary form of self-care. The more you do it, the easier it gets. So for the sake of your sanity, set your boundaries and stick with them.

While I’m on the subject, you know what else gets a hard NO from me? Elf on the Shelf. The last thing I need to add to my endless to-do list is remember to move that creepy little fucker to a new spot every night. Nope, not in my house.

3.    Avoid shopping malls like the plague.

Nothing induces anxiety and blinding rage quite like an overcrowded shopping mall during the holidays. God bless Amazon and every retail outlet that provides online shopping. Extra blessings for free shipping.

4.     Ask for help.

The greatest lesson I’ve learned from my mental illness is that there is no shame in asking for help. You don’t get a medal for going it alone. Reach out and talk to someone – your partner, a family member, friend, coworker, therapist, support group – someone who will listen without judging or trying to fix you.

Trust that the people who love you don’t want to see you struggle. In fact, they need you to be healthy. You can’t pour from an empty cup, as the saying goes, so this holiday season fill yours up and let it overflow.

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