“It’s the season to be jolly!”
But it’s not so for everyone! And that’s okay to accept.
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Come December, and all we hear in the air are sounds of celebrations, often expressed through concerts, festivities, gift exchanges, social gatherings, and so much more. But have you ever taken a beat and wondered, if the season really ends up being festive for everyone around? It often is not!
Festive anxiety is a real phenomenon, often experienced by millions across the world, and one which we don’t often talk about. Often triggered by the pressure to celebrate in a certain way, festive anxiety refers to the social anxiety one experiences during the holiday season. The holiday season is supposed to be a time for joy, celebration, & togetherness for many. But this is also the time when themes of grief, loss, separation, finding oneself amid unsupportive family members, financial concerns, family conflict, etc., come up to the surface.
Anxiety is a very valid emotion, and is almost always about the anticipated negative outcomes, which one perceives to be out of their control. Family conflicts often become the single largest trigger for festive stress or anxiety; not many people have homes which they can call safe spaces, to go back to, for instance. For many, going back home for holidays implies being exposed to conflicted family environments, or being subjected to intrusive behaviour by relatives or other unwelcome situations. So, a lot of people not only don’t look forward to spending family time during the holidays, it also comes with a sense of dread, which often manifests as anxiety in the weeks leading up to the holiday time.
In the present age, festive anxiety can also be triggered by the social media. We are constantly consuming content about how others are celebrating the festivals, their get together’s, holidays, etc. there is almost a false narrative woven around, about the only “right way” to celebrate a festival. Due to this we end up magnifying that which we don’t have access to; the negatives get highlighted. So, along with the anxiety comes that pervasive feeling of sadness.
Signs – There are some very obvious signs which you can look out for, to identify if you could possibly be experiencing festive anxiety. To begin with, if you notice any significant changes in your sleeping & eating patterns, a few weeks or a month or two before the holidays, then you need to check in with yourself and ask what’s happening. Social withdrawal, increased irritability, anger, overthinking situations, ruminating over past events or memories, are other common signs of festive anxiety. If at all you start questioning the purpose of life, or feel suicidal, then please take this seriously and talk to someone. If you find yourself relying too much on substances of any kind, including alcohol and smoking, or notice yourself binge watching too much of television / OTT content, then that could be a way in which you are unknowingly numbing down the uncomfortable emotions you may be feeling during the festive time.
The idea is that if in the weeks leading up to the holidays, you notice yourself doing anything which is out of the ordinary for you, just take a pause and ask yourself if everything is okay? If you are feeling, okay?
It’s very important to identify what could be making the holiday season hard on you. Identifying what is it that’s making us anxious about the holiday season, makes it easier to address that anxiety and deal with the source of it.
If you do have a tendency to get anxious during the holiday season, for one of the reasons listed above or some other reason, here are a few things you may consciously avoid.
It’s okay to avoid difficult conversations, and topics which you know can be a trigger point for conflict when everyone gets together. It’s also okay to avoid sitting next to someone during group functions, who can trigger uncomfortable feelings in you. When we are stressed and alcohol is easily available, we often tend to reach out for it. So, avoid getting too high or drinking beyond limits at such occasions.
There are a lot of ways, in which you can make this holiday season easier on yourself. And here are a few quick suggestions.
- Let’s start with setting realistic expectations of yourself and from those around you for the holidays.
- If you are feeling lonely or isolated, try to be with other people. Be the one to call, even if it’s just one other person.
- It’s extremely important to give your body and mind, a structure during the holidays when very often due to long breaks, days and nights seem blurred.
- And along with creating a structure & routine, try to look after your meals and sleep too.
- If possible, schedule just 10 minutes of exercise time to begin with.
- Being mindful of our feelings, actions, and just being intentional goes a long way in ensuring that we feel connected to the moment and to our ourselves too.
- Schedule some relaxation & me time. Holidays can be very demanding and we need to steal time for ourselves.
- Manage people’s expectations of you and things you will do. During the festive season this can sometimes get overwhelming and unrealistic. So, it’s okay to speak up and be clear about your plans.
- Learn to say ‘No’. You don’t have to be a part of every activity, or every get together your friends are hosting. Listen to your body, and do what you really want to.
- Social media is not as real as it seems; so, let’s not compare the realities our lives with the perceived reality projected by others on our social media feed.
- If there is financial stress, it’s wise to plan ahead and be in a budget for your festive expenses. It’s your money; no one gets to tell you to spend it, if you don’t want to.
- Seek professional help or talk to someone you trust, if the going gets difficult. It’s okay!
Before we conclude this, as a practicing psychotherapist, I would like you to know that your feelings are valid, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. If there is anything that doesn’t seem right to you about this festive season, reflect and be there for yourself. It’s okay to not have “Happy Holidays”.
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