Christmas is presented to us through the media and shopping centres as a joyful and happy occasion. This is not the case for everyone. Typically if we don't follow this dominant presentation of joy we are likely to be criticised and labelled as a wowser. For many, Christmas can and is a stressful and anxious time of the year. This time of the year is further complicated by the narratives or stories of obligation and commitment which we have grown up with. Additionally, many of the usual services and resources that we might draw support from are closed at this time of the year. During the Christmas period it can feel as if our own control over our own lives has been lost or taken over.
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Now, don't give up all hope, there are a range of strategies you can implement to reduce stress and anxiety at this time of the year. Some of these include:
1. Prior to attending the event or situation that you regard as possibly being stressful or anxiety producing – reflect on what it is about the situation that gives rise to such an experience of feelings.
Do these feelings arise due to the event, the location, the people or person or could it be the culture (the unwritten rules of expectation that are imposed).
2. Affirm to yourself that these experiences are going to last for a certain period of time, such as over a lunch, an evening or an overnight stay.
3. Acknowledge to yourself that participating in such an event or situation might result in experiencing feelings of anxiety or stress. These types of feelings, while uncomfortable are normal. Sometimes we spend more mental and emotional energy trying to avoid such feelings which we consider unpleasant.
4. Consider in advance who might be at this event who can offer you support. A support person is someone that you can chat with to relieve the stress or anxiety, thus allowing you to get these feelings ‘off your chest’.
5. Have a plan, if the experiences of stress or anxiety build to a breaking point, what is your plan? Consider revisiting point 3 above. Alternatively a short walk is often helpful or some mindful breathing. Mindful breathing involves, breathing slowly in through your noise and out through your mouth, while concentrating on something like the second hand on your watch for one minute.
6. Typically at Christmas time, alcohol is usually consumed. Drinking can impact on feelings of anxiety or stress. It is a good idea to exercise caution as to the amount of alcohol consumed.
7. Don't discount phone support services. Phone counselling support services are able to provide support through events or situations that trigger stress or anxiety experiences. Phone counsellors can talk you through these experiences, offering a non-judgemental ear.
Organisations to consider in Australia that operate 24 hours are:Lifeline (tel 13 11 14), or Mensline (tel 1300 78 99 78), while in NZ, Samaritans (tel 0800 726 666), similar services are likely to be operating in other countries.
Remember, feelings of anxiety and stress, while unpleasant are normal. If you find such feelings impacting on your ability to leave your home or engage in day to day activities it would be advisable to seek professional assistance.
Article by Craig Birrell (C)2010
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