When a person struggles with anxiety caused by being around their family during the Christmas Season
Seasonal Anxiety is when a person struggles with anxiety caused by being around their family during the Christmas Season. To be clear – this is not Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Seasonal Anxiety is NOT caused by the change in season, or the changing back of the clock by an hour, or the 4 PM afternoon darkness. People from all over the world experience seasonal anxiety regardless of the climate. Some people find that the mere thought of spending Christmas with their family, can make them experience high levels of anxiety.
Anxiety is not an emotion, but a manifestation of your emotions. Therefore, it might be helpful to concentrate on what the feelings are that are driving the anxiety. Chances are, that these feelings are any of the following: sadness which could include any feelings of sadness, disgust, anger, fear or being bad. (Please see the emotions chart attached). These feelings can cause your body to respond with anxiety. It might be useful to breathe while going through a list of possible emotions you might be feeling that are buried under the term ‘anxiety’. Before you can gain control over what your body is doing, it is important to understand what is going on for you. If you sit and breathe and still find it difficult or impossible to decipher what the feelings are, you may be detaching.
Detaching is a way of coping when you are experiencing something too painful to face. Shame can also often stop us from recognising what is going on.
Shame is the belief that we are flawed and that there is nothing we can do about it. Instead of thinking that you have made a mistake, which is would be guilt, you might feel that you are a mistake, which is shame. If you are experiencing feelings of shame, you will recognise it by looking at your thought pattern. You might be experiencing thoughts like ‘No one will like me,’ ‘I don’t deserve anything that is good,’ ‘I’m not worthy of being loved.’ Shame can often be hidden or covered by using overcompensation. Overcompensation is when you try to prove the opposite of what you believe to be true. Overcompensating for feelings of shame might look like confidence on the outside, but there is deep pain underneath.
When you are in a cycle of negative emotions like toxic shame or unresolved anger, it is easy to regress to a childhood state when you are in the company of those triggering the feelings in you. When this happens, you can temporarily become the fearful little child, who is unable to act because you are in a vulnerable state where someone else has more power in the relationship than you. All it takes is one comment to take you back to that place of pain, causing you to withdraw or react and often leaving you feeling guilty or embarrassed and almost always worse than how you felt before. Imagine a little child, running to her room to hide under the bed when she is afraid? How do you think this scenario would play out if an adult is regressed to a child state? She possibly won’t run and hide under the bed, but she might react in a way that feels safe for her by either trying to protect herself by fighting back, withdrawing completely by becoming silent (being in the room, but being unavailable to those in the room with her), or she can give in to the powerless state and become submissive or overly obedient to whatever the other person is saying. What is difficult to do for the regressed person, is to think like an adult who has power to decide for themselves and power to act how they choose.
In this moment, there is something that the inner child needs from the adult that was never resolved and therefore is still needed in the regressed state. Children need connection and acceptance, knowing that they are accepted for who they are, for people who make mistakes and don’t always do what is right or what the parent wants them to do. They need to know that they are loved, worth being emotionally supported, protected and accepted. They need to know that they are valued for their individuality and that they have the freedom to make choices appropriate for their age, that they can be trusted to choose certain things for themselves and that they can make good judgments. They need to know that they can talk about their inner world and not be ridiculed or silenced. They need to know that they can make mistakes and move forward trusting that they will be forgiven. They need to be given appropriate limits in order to learn their responsibility to others, how to work safely and freely with others in groups and learning how to have reasonable expectations of others. They need to learn that they deserve respect and that their feelings are valid and acceptable (within limits). If you are someone who becomes regressed, which of these childhood needs are not being met?
What can you do when you are experiencing Seasonal Anxiety?
If it is possible, it might be worth removing yourself from the situation for a short time by going for a walk or taking a bath, giving yourself the time to reflect and realign your thoughts and emotions. Remind yourself that you are now an adult and that you can make good decisions for yourself and that no one knows you the way you know yourself, and that no one other than you can make better decisions for your life. Look at the people who are triggering your seasonal anxiety? Who are they to you? Can you remove them out of the role of parent; in-laws; aunts or uncles; siblings etc. and see them as people who have no relationship to you? If you can see them as someone with no relationship to you, do you see them differently? Do they lose the power they have over you? Do you feel that you have more power to stand up to them or walk away from their toxic influence?
Perhaps they don’t know what they are saying or doing is hurting you. It might help everyone involved to talk about it by saying something like: ‘I don’t like it when you say that.’ ‘I feel that if I disagree with you, you see it as a personal attack.’ ‘It really hurts me when you never take my side.’
Another useful thing to do might be to look at a photo of yourself when you were younger – hold that photo in front of you and give yourself advise as a parent. Tell your younger self what you will do to protect them, then use what you said you will do to stand up to the other person (without causing them harm). Useful things to say might be: ‘I am no longer going to continue listening to your insults.’ ‘You no longer have the power to hurt me.’ ‘Just because you say something, doesn’t mean it’s true.’ ‘We all have our version of events and mine are different to yours.’ ‘If you continue to hurt me in this way, I will walk out.’
Sometimes, we might need to forgive someone to set ourselves free from pain. This might be painful, and it might not feel like you are forgiving them, but forgiveness really isn’t a feeling, but a decision. This is not the best or safest option if you have been the victim of abuse.
You might need to put healthy boundaries in place like not stay over at someone’s house but driving home. This can be difficult if someone lives far away. You can also consider booking into a hotel rather than staying over with family who might continue to hurt us or our children. Perhaps the seasonal anxiety is because of parents being critical of our choice of life partner, or of our children. It could be useful to have very clear boundaries in place and to use statements like: ‘I am not coming to see you again unless you accept my family.’ Or ‘I would love it if you could try to accept ‘X’ for my sake. They really are worth knowing.’
If it is impossible to stand up to them, or to put healthy boundaries in place, you might need to change your plans so that you don’t see them. Never stay in a toxic environment that is unsafe for you or other people. An unsafe environment can also include an environment that is mentally or emotionally unsafe. If someone doesn’t respect you and they don’t accept boundaries, make sure you break contact with them.