5 ways to cope with anxiety at Christmas

Anya Meyerowitz
·6-min read

From Red Online

I love Christmas as much as the next person. I love the twinkly lights from Christmas trees that dance out onto the road through frosty windows and gathering round the dining room table with my family to play games as the slices coming from the cheese board become more and more akin to door wedges.

However, this year, Christmas looks a little different, and particularly so after the government's announcement about parts of the UK entering Tier 4 as of midnight on Saturday 19 December.

The tier four restrictions — similar to England's second national lockdown — applies to all areas in the South East which were in tier three, covering Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey (excluding Waverley), Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings.

Millions of us will now have to change plans and millions more around the country have been told that they may only see their 'Christmas bubble' on the 25 December, rather than the five-day period the government had originally announced.

Unsurprisingly, the changes in the rules have sparked anxiety — struggling with mental health feels isolating and lonely at anytime but it can be feel even more magnified during the festive period.

So, because we're all in this together (though not physically), here are my top five tips for coping with anxiety over Christmas. They might not cure it but they will help make it more bearable.

OPEN UP

I know I've already touched on the fact that opening up about anxiety can feel tough but, once you do it, it's totally liberating. If you're with other people this Christmas then choose one person and take them to the side for a chat, explain what you're feeling and that, while you may not need them to look after you, it would be good if you could come to them when needed, or if they could keep an eye on how you were coping.

Last year, I explained exactly this to my dad and it changed my whole experience — if I needed to suddenly leave the table he would explain to the others that I was tired, if I was feeling a bit claustrophobic he would suggest we go for a walk and if I didn't want to do anything he wouldn't push it.

If you aren't with anyone else this Christmas, then pick up the phone and explain the same thing. Ask that person whether it would be ok to ring them if needed or to check in with you intermittently.

Alternatively, here are a list of charities and organisations you can call to receive support over Christmas:

GO OUTSIDE

It can be all too-tempting to stay inside in our pyjamas across Christmas, eating chocolate and lounging in our pyjamas. But getting dressed (or even just throwing a coat over your PJs) and getting outside for some fresh air will help.

Whether you pace your garden, stand on your balcony or head out around your neighbourhood, the benefits of fresh air on anxiety are well documented:

Fresh air helps to send plenty of oxygen through the blood and allows your lungs to work at full capacity, allowing you to breathe deeper and calm shallow breathes.

Spending time in nature has also been found to help with mental health problems including anxiety and depression, and the white light and Vitamin D that we expose ourselves to outside can also help boost our moods.

Vigorous walking will also help produce endorphins, these endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain and trigger a positive feeling in your body.

As well as this, I've found that getting out of your home can also sometimes help you get out of your head.

BREATHE

This is SO simple but so effective and so empowering because you don't need anything except to lock yourself in the loo, or in your room, for five minutes to do it.

Deep breathing feels good and is calming however you do it but the specific technique I use (as taught to me by an EFT therapist) is to breathe in for four seconds and out for six seconds.

Taking longer inhales tricks your body into thinking that you are trying to fill your lungs in preparation to run away from some sort of danger and so actually can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and adrenaline, sticking to a shorter inhale and a longer exhale is a faster way to calm down.

When you breathe out make sure that you really push all the air out of your lungs, even if this takes longer than six seconds that's fine, the goal is to focus on really emptying your lungs. I like to imagine forcing the anxiety in my chest out through my mouth and the more I empty my lungs, the more of that horrible ominous feeling I expel.

DON'T OVERINDULGE (IF YOU CAN)

I know this probably isn't the tip you were hoping to hear but it's true, unfortunately. Food has a huge impact on our mood and our body and so steering clear of sugar and caffeine as much as possible will help you feel stable and in control.

I'm not saying that I never touch a Lindt ball and avoid the chocolate oranges but I do moderate it. I space it out so that I don't consume too much in one sitting and spike my blood sugar too much. If I'm feeling anxious I will steer clear and instead opt for a liquorice tea which is known to help quell sugar cravings. Disclaimer: if you hate liquorice don't worry, I do too, but liquorice tea doesn't taste like your typical black liquorice laces, it's just pleasantly sweet and having a warm drink is always calming when you're feeling anxious.

I do cut out caffeine for the entirety of the Christmas period — I'm not doing anything too strenuous so I don't need it and it just quickens my heart rate and makes me feel giddy. If you're struggling then opt for decaf or try a turmeric latte.

SLEEP

Research has shown that less than six hours sleep per night causes the body’s cortisol levels to rise. Elevated cortisol stresses the body. Elevated stress can make you feel more anxious, so make sure you get a good night's sleep.

I like to top up my sleeping time with a nap in the daytime, it helps me reset and means I head into the evening feeling much calmer and rested.

Going for a nap will reset your body and calm down your heart rate, as well as give your mind some much needed time out.

If you think you might be suffering with an anxiety disorder then consult your GP or contact Mind.org.uk who have a wealth of resources and specialists to advise and support you.

Subscribe to Red now to get the magazine delivered to your door.

Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.


You Might Also Like