The holiday seasons.
What emotion came to you when reading that? Was it dread, excitement, joy, stress, anxiety, loneliness, fear? Be honest with yourself.
It took me a long time to realize that while the holiday season is enjoyable, it’s equally anxiety and stress inducing for me. I am not the only one to experience these emotions either.
As I have gotten older the holiday season has become harder. Not because of financial reasons or that there isn’t time to celebrate. Anxiety tends to steal a lot of joy from this time of year for many people, myself included. Growing up, I remember going to families houses or visiting people and feeling like I was going to die, as I was having an internal panic attack. I always thought something bad was going to happen to me; I was convinced I would have a heart attack, need to go to the ER, have emergency surgery, or pass out on the floor. While this is an exciting time for many, the stress and pressure to do “all the Christmas festivities” can be overwhelming.
Two years ago this month my anxiety was going up with no destination in site. It made Thanksgiving and Christmas SO hard and don’t love admitting that. I used to be so excited about eating mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, my moms homemade rolls, eating Aebleskiver on Christmas morning, opening presents, playing outside in the snow, and more. What happened to the joy and excitement of this time of year?
Thanksgiving 2019 was spent with my in-laws in Kentucky. I was so painfully anxious that I physically made myself ill over the weekend. I felt like I could hardly function, and when I did sheer panic would run through me. I tried eating the breakfast my mother-in-law made for us and I threw up in their kitchen sink. Awesome. The entire weekend I was still trying to convince myself that I was actually sick, and it wasn’t just anxiety.
For Christmas of 2019 we were to fly home to Iowa, I DREADED it. If Brendan had said “hey let’s just not go” I would have 110% been on board, all because it was so anxiety inducing. The reason wasn’t because I didn’t want to see family or friends or take part in the holiday traditions. It was because I was so afraid of the anxiety I knew I would have and how it would make me feel. I don’t mean a little nervous (that’s completely different). I’m talking multiple panic attacks throughout the day, hard time sleeping, hardly being able to eat without vomiting, stomach issues, and more.
Y’all, writing about it makes me anxious.
Do I know why this happened? No. Did I try to overcome and just trudge through it? Yes. Did parts of it suck? Yep. Were there good parts too? Yes.
However, two good things did come from this Christmas trip home. I remember on Monday morning at my brothers house, it was the first time in months that I didn’t wake up feeling anxious. I recall thinking “oh my gosh, is this really happening? Am I not anxious? Can I actually eat breakfast this morning?” And it lasted the entire day. Oh man it was a weight lifted off my shoulders. The other good thing was I finally told my entire family about what was really going on with my mental health, and how I felt like I was barely coping. I opened up about starting medication and going to therapy in hopes that it would help.
I’d be lying if I said I was sad to leave Iowa to go home to California. I couldn’t wait to get home so I could finally breathe and work on healing. The night we arrived home in California, I swear to you it was the best nights sleep I’ve ever gotten.
Holidays are hard. Especially when you have to force yourself through them. It’s okay to admit that and it’s okay to take a step back from the big parties, celebrations, and family gatherings.
Basically what I’m trying to say is, its okay to set that boundary. The Holidays can be a special time, but not if you let the busyness and consumerism take over. Take a deep breath, stop stressing over the perfect holiday over hosting as many families as you can.
Can I give you one physical piece of advice? If you start to feel overwhelmed at a social gathering or with family, step out for a minute or two and give yourself some room, time to breathe, and gather your thoughts. I’ve done this multiple times and it’s really helped.
With Christmas right around the corner I am happy to say that we get to stay in North Carolina in our HOME. No travel plans, no crazy hectic schedules, no big parties, just an enjoyable holiday season.
To those of you anxious for holiday plans you’re not alone. You can say no (even if its family), and its okay to verbally admit that this season is hard.
Whatever you’re going through this holiday season, I truly hope you are able to find joy.
Thanks for reading,
~Erin, The Short Wife