For many the Christmas holiday period is a time to celebrate and connect with family and friends. However not everybody loves Christmas. For some the holiday season brings with it, that gnawing, churning feeling of panic, overwhelm and dread. For many, Christmas can be a time of stress, loneliness, financial pressure and isolation, and for the neurodivergent’s amongst us these feelings may be intensified.
I find that when I am triggered, I enter a state of paralysis anxiety. Indeed, this was the case as I began to write this article (so many times).
“For many, Christmas can be a time of stress, loneliness, financial pressure and isolation, and for the neurodivergent’s amongst us these feelings may be intensified.”
Working on this over the years has allowed me to take some steps to overcome this state of (temporary) paralysis. After a few attempts to begin this article and never managing more than a few lines, I took out my notebook and allowed myself to think honestly about what it was that I was finding so challenging to trigger anxiety so significantly, what was bringing back that awful, gnawing pit deep within that would just not go away?
As I started to make my list, the more recent events from the past few years flowed from my pen to paper, but here’s the thing, I then started to unearth earlier memories that continue to contribute to the voices in my head, that tell me I am unworthy, I will never be good enough, who do I think I am?
Of course, I shall be exploring this with my health team in the new year, but for now I have done a reframe of the original topic and shall share with you instead some of my tried and tested tips and tricks to getting through the “silly season”.
Tricks to Getting Through the Silly Season
Life as a neurodivergent may bring unease and apprehension when attending get-together’s, family gatherings and parties, this may become particularly challenging with the many social events that occur in the lead up to Christmas.
“Feelings of isolation and melancholy can be intensified at Christmas, we have more time to fill, therefore may think more about our life.”
• You don’t have to accept every invitation, allow yourself some free time between functions to take stock and ground yourself.
• It may be beneficial to have a trusted breathing app on your phone, then if you start to feel as if you are becoming overwhelmed you can find a quiet spot and concentrate on your breathing until you feel calmer.
Feelings of isolation and melancholy can be intensified at Christmas, we have more time to fill, therefore may think more about our life. Does it measure up to our expectations and to others expectations. Why is my life so different? Social media can play its part in this constant comparison and it is beneficial to remember that things are quite often different to the façade of the social post and things are not always what they seem. Family dynamics, bereavement and estrangement can all play a role in adding to the stress and feelings of isolation and loneliness.
• Write a list of any such triggers and then write next to them what you can do to prevent the triggers affecting your mental health. It is ok to say “no” your health is most important.
• Spend your holidays only with people that bring you joy and that you feel safe with.
• Strategize with a trusted friend or professional about what measures you can put into place this Christmas.
“I know the impact of consumption of certain foods such as gluten have on me – not only my gastrointestinal system, but my head – hello brain fog!
If you are the friend, relative or significant other of a neurodivergent, the fact that you are reading this means that you are taking the time and trouble to educate yourself – thank you!
• Be mindful of small changes in behaviour or temperament, this could be a relapse.
• Listen with an open mind and heart, no judgement nor attempts to “cure” and most certainly DO NOT tell them to “snap out of it” etc.
• The distress of an individual in the midst of a panic attack is not going to make sense to you, hold a space for your person, help them to breath, sit with them. As they come back allow them to cry it out if need be, open your heart, give them what they need and be empathetic.
Over the years I have built a daily routine that allows me to (mostly) cope with anxiety, this includes dietary guidelines and as a Naturopath I am pretty strict about them. I know the impact of consumption of certain foods such as gluten have on me – not only my gastrointestinal system, but my head – hello brain fog!
• Avoid getting exhausted, sticking to a regular time to rise in the morning and go to bed at night when possible.
• No matter how busy your day is going to be, prioritise some “self-care” time every day ~ however that may look for you; a bath, meditation, journaling, walking your dog, yoga or a daily run.
• Whilst alcohol has become a mainstay of Christmas parties, overconsumption causes many adverse effects, such as worsening depression and adverse effects when mixed with medications. If you do choose to have a tipple, perhaps a large glass of filtered water between drinks.
• Limit your consumption of processed and sugar laden food. Ensure that you are still eating regularly and aiming for 5-7 handfuls of brightly coloured vegetables each day with 1 or 2 serves of fruit, we are so lucky here in Australia with the abundance of beautiful antioxidant rich fruits we have available at this time of the year.
My final tip to you is possibly the one that we find the hardest?
Be kind to yourself.
See you on the other side.
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