‘Tis the season to be merry and bright, full of festive cheer and joy to the world… Unless you have anxiety which leaves you completely and utterly debilitated, as it is want to do.
As we all know, mental health does not discriminate for the time of year.
Just like the flu, not even the birth of Jesus and the subsequent commercialism of this joyous denominational event is powerful enough to stop mental health ailments attacking your happiness, should it come knocking.
The holidays can be hard. For some the holidays are a minefield of anxiety, according to Fatmata Kamara, a Specialist Nurse Advisor from Bupa UK.
Kamara told UNILAD how this affects young sufferers, saying:
Anxiety can make it difficult to enjoy the festivities. The financial stress of Christmas can make you feel worried and agitated, so trying to manage what you’re spending is important. Be content with what you have and try to avoid any added stress, if you can.
But it’s not just the stressors of commercialism which can be triggering over Christmas. Those who suffer social anxiety will understand this well.
December is also packed full of celebrations with friends and family, so if you suffer from social anxiety, this can be difficult.
Knowing how to manage your anxiety will help you during this time.
First, know you’re not alone. Speaking to UNILAD, Aria Shahrokhshahi, a 21-year-old freelance photographer from Nottingham who’s battled anxiety since childhood, explained the feeling.
Saying ‘society needs to stop neglecting invisible illness’, he recalled:
When I was young I didn’t know what it was. I was always running into my mum’s bedroom in the middle of the night with this overwhelming feeling that something was wrong, just to check she was okay. I was always scared.
As you get older – and I started to learn things about myself and my mental state – my anxiety started to get a bit more complex. It starts to evoke worry about all kinds of stuff… Stuff that you might know isn’t real.
Even existential anxiety, worrying about your life and your future, can be so tough. You can get really caught up in comparing yourself to other people when you have anxiety and that can spiral out of control, just like a self-perpetuating cycle of sh*t.
Although it’s not physical, anxiety can be so damaging – especially when you’e younger – purely for the reason that you can’t see it and put a cast on it like you would a broken leg.
When people talk about mental illness, they talk about it like it’s this mythical thing. Yet it’s very real and it affects so, so, so many people.
In fact, the most recent Psychiatric Morbidity Survey indicates that there are some 3 million with an anxiety disorder in the UK. It also affects 18 per cent of the population of the US.
Fran Rock, 24, from Yorkshire told UNILAD just how physical anxiety can be:
It feels like you have something on your back and you can’t let people know it’s there. You’re constantly scared that everyone will realise there’s something wrong; it’s like having a physical weight on your chest.
Debunking some myths for us, she continued:
Anxiety is not ‘normal people’ worry. Everyone has ‘normal’ worries. Someone without anxiety might have money troubles, but when someone with anxiety has money troubles, you might think you can’t afford food and that you’ll starve. You get physical sweats and physical shakes and physical difficulty to breathe.
You have huge personal battles. I’ve had days when I shouldn’t be in work but I have to be in work because of the overwhelming guilt and the fear of letting people down. It means you force yourself into situations you don’t need to be in. Everyday you wake up just wanting to be okay and feel normal but you can’t escape the feeling of worry and fear.
Steff Ellis, who’s battled anxiety for over a decade, told UNILAD:
I guess that’s why depression and anxiety is such a grey area – if you can’t see it how do you explain to someone how real it is to you?
Can you phone in sick at work one day if you’re having a particularly bad episode? Of course not, it isn’t socially acceptable – even though it’s very much an illness.
Steff, 25, from Nottingham, added:
I can appreciate it may seem a little condescending to claim mental illness is the same as the experience of someone who is completely physically handicapped. While the latter is very physical and a little more obvious, the other could be classed as a disability of the mind.
In that respect I think there are varying levels of anxiety – as there are varying levels of physical handicaps.
So, for somebody who can’t physically leave the house for fear of a panic attack, anxiety can be just as confining as the physical disability of somebody who can’t leave the house because their body physically won’t allow it.
Anxiety is a very real condition. It’s debilitating and restrictive and can often mean missing out on aspects of life that might seem so simple to somebody else. It can also have very physical repercussions such as nausea, shortness of breath and panic attacks.
Often these symptoms can feel restrictive and can hinder things like job opportunities and interviews and even the job itself if you finally get there. In a way, anxiety disables you to fully reach your maximum potential.
Where some sectors are providing more accessible environments for those with disabilities of the mind and body, the reality of the pervasive societal taboos is often hard for some living with anxiety 365 days a year.
Especially as everything seems heightened at Christmas; the highs reach higher and the lows appear bleaker.
Yet there are ways you can be prepared for the holiday season which can help you or a loved one manage anxiety disorders.
Fatmata shared some of these with UNILAD, saying:
Be prepared: Buying presents for your friends and family can be stressful, so preparing well in advance can help avoid any unnecessary worry.
Make a list of items that you want to buy and try to include the shops you need to visit.
Know your triggers: Understanding what triggers your anxiety can help you manage your condition. Everyone has different triggers, so it’s important to know what specific things make you feel anxious.
Particularly at Christmas – a time for loved ones – she says:
Talk to your loved ones: Don’t be afraid to talk to your friends and family if you’re feeling anxious.
Knowing your type of anxiety and what can trigger it helps your loved ones understand how you’re feeling. If you don’t feel comfortable, try writing down what’s worrying you.
Take deep breaths: If you’re starting to feel anxious, take breaths and slowly count to 10 out loud. Alcohol and caffeine can aggravate anxiety and can lead to an anxiety attack, so try to limit your intake.
Ms Kamara told UNILAD how to help if your loved one is suffering:
It can be hard knowing what to do if your friend is experiencing a panic attack or has an anxiety disorder. Firstly, try to be patient and listen to their fears and worries.
Don’t rush them and go at a pace they’re comfortable with. Being kind and considerate can help too. Let your friend know it will pass and they’ll feel better.
If your loved one is having a panic attack, encourage them to sit down until they’ve calmed down. Don’t give them a paper bag to help them breathe because this can be dangerous. Instead, encourage your friend to slowly breathe in and out.
The specialist nurse explained distractions ‘like walks or a run’ might help too, adding:
Alternatively, try listening to some relaxation music. If you’re worried about your friend or family member, it’s important to encourage them to speak to their GP. If they’re hesitant, offer to go with them – to the doctors or therapist.
Concluding that this is a time of togetherness, she said we all need to do out bit to ‘be there’ for each other, especially those who are particularly vulnerable over the holidays.
If all else fails, stick on It’s A Wonderful Life:
If any of the issues discussed have affected you, please know Samaritans still offer their 24-hour freephone hotline over Christmas, which you can call anonymously on 116-132.
If you have a story you want to tell, share it with UNILAD via [email protected]