I have a love-hate relationship with the holidays. Sure, now that I have a child of my own there is more to love, but it’s a complicated relationship to say the least. The smells, sounds and sights are a gift to the senses for many. To me, however, these simple truths of the holidays are enough to cause my already daily anxiety to mount into a massive mountain of internal chaos. While the magic of the holidays makes me undeniably happy, the fulfillment makes me exhausted mentally. I told you. It’s complicated!
The holidays are usually filled with many family gatherings, office parties or other commitments where people are usually involved. Many of my friends and family relish at the opportunity to spend time in a large group, having a meal together, reminiscing about old times and sharing their goals for the upcoming year. Just typing those activities out on my keyboard is causing me to have pains in my chest.
It is not socially acceptable to want to exclude yourself around the holidays. I mean calling someone a “scrooge” or a “Grinch” isn’t a compliment. Is it? While I am never one to conform to society’s standards and ideals, I do (deep down) want to spend time with my family and friends around the holidays. I’ve been able to master the holidays, but to some, my behaviors and tricks for coping might come off as rude and inconsiderate. When the guest list tops six to eight people, I tend to shut down, even if it’s only family.
Here are the three things I want you to know about the holidays and my behavior:
1. Don’t take it personally if I don’t eat or drink.
Chances are, even if I supplied some of the food, I won’t eat much. This even goes for my mom’s famous pork roast. It has nothing to do with being embarrassed about eating in public (that was my high school phase) or that I don’t like your cooking. Trust me, I am always hungry. So it’s not that either. It is because my anxiety is causing my stomach to put on an acrobatic display, and I couldn’t handle making it worse. That would surely send me and my anxiety through the roof! Can you imagine if you got sick at a holiday party? That would make anyone anxious. No thank you!
2. I won’t stay in one place for long.
Whether it is at the dinner table or on the couch in the living room, I won’t stay in one place for long. Being stuck in a single spot for a long period of time is not my idea of fun, no matter the surroundings. I tend to feel antsy and overwhelmed. Switching spots lowers this feeling. It’s kinda like the saying, “Fight or flight.” Well, I am always in “flight” searching for the next safe spot to take a rest. I am not trying to be rude or not enjoy your company. The act of moving actually calms me down. Most times, you can catch me clearing the table (even at guest’s homes), doing the dishes, changing seats, taking a trip to the bathroom (for the 10th time in one hour) or pretending to take a call outside. These are all coping mechanisms I’ve learned throughout the years.
3. I might not talk much or talk too much.
If I have little to contribute to the conversation, then I am not trying to come off as if I don’t care. I so wish I could talk for hours about everything and nothing. Sometimes, you can’t get me to shut up. Chances are when I do talk, I use a loud voice, dramatic hand gestures and my tone is filled with exclamations and emotion. Those are the times when I might not make much sense.
I have hard time deciphering my thoughts and sharing them in an intelligible conversation. Rather than being anxious about the possibility of saying something silly, I choose to not engage in small talk. This is why at large gatherings, especially around people I am not acclimated with, I tend to keep my chaotic thoughts to myself.
According to a study from “Entrepreneur” magazine, stress is heightened during the holiday season, even for those who don’t usually struggle. This means for the 40 million people who are living with an anxiety disorder, the holidays bring the bonus gift of more anxiety. Usually I love presents, but this one I could live without. If I act in a socially inappropriate way, then please remember my mind is like a walking traffic jam, trying to navigate the signals that this festive season throws at me.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.