Let's face it, when it comes to Christmas, we're expected to feel one emotion: happiness.
From a young age, we're expected to be excited about Santa and his magical reindeer. As we grow up, we learn that Christmas is synonymous with all things joyous: it's the time of the year where we get to hear the happiest of songs, we get to watch our favourite cheesy movies, and we get to stuff ourselves silly with the tastiest of foods.
Now, don't get me wrong: there's nothing bad about loving Christmas. I'm not some kind of Scrooge set on criticising the festive period. In fact, Christmas has always been my favourite time of the year. However, since developing anxiety, it's also become a terrifying occasion for so many reasons.
Firstly, it's a time filled with social events. When I'm feeling anxious, one of the scariest things I can partake in is a large social gathering. Being around lots of people - whether it's friends, acquaintances, or strangers - makes me feel sick. It makes my heart race, and it makes my anxiety-riddled mind go into overdrive. My brain tells me that the people around me think I'm rubbish company. It tells me that my friends are getting sick of me for 'being quieter than usual'. It also informs me that I'm inferior to the people surrounding me: if they can cope with the situation we're in, why can't I?
Going to social events throughout the year is bad enough yet, up until December, they tend to be pretty limited in numbers. However, as soon as the first door of advent calendars open, there seems to be a constant stream of invitations to big events, whether that be large Christmas meals, or the festive parties that fill the weekends. Declining these events makes you feel like a buzzkill, so you try to awkwardly attend. However, it's terrifying, and you're often stuck spending the whole 'celebratory' event planning your escape route.
These gatherings are even worse when they're filled with distant relatives whose views belong in the 19th century. Hearing Aunt Mildred complain about how unnatural 'the gays' are, or listening to Uncle Derek moan about 'the immigrants stealing our jobs' often worsens anxiety because when anxiety hits, speaking up can become impossible. Also, there's the worry that, even if you were to voice your opposition to their backwards views, you'll be blamed for 'creating drama' and ruining the family's Christmas.
To try and cope with these situations, there's always the temptation of alcohol. At this time of the year, cupboards seem to be filled with booze: it's a time associated with mulled wine, festive ciders, and Bailey's. Having a drink can temporarily make gatherings seem a bit more bearable but ultimately can make your anxiety a hell of a lot worse. Whenever I've felt anxious over the Christmas period, I've often turned to a cocktail (or five...) to try and improve my mood. Sure, it's kind of worked for an hour or so... but then anxiety tends to return in full force. I know that, whenever I drink heavily, I feel unbelievably awful the next day: I overthink everything and the physical symptoms become unbearable. This year I've completely given up alcohol over the festive period but, my God, it's going to be difficult.
Living with anxiety, especially at this time of the year, is really hard. So, when you're putting your mistletoe up, or singing along to Shakin' Stevens, please spare a thought for those of us who are struggling. If we do attend social events, please make us feel welcome, and understand that we may seem quieter than usual. If we decline invitations, please don't be mad at us: chances are, we're already pretty angry at ourselves. If we wish to avoid alcohol, please respect that. When possible, stick up for our beliefs when relatives are being mean about minority groups. Above all though, understand that we get your love for Christmas - chances are, we love it too. However, we may need extra support to get through it. Spending a couple of minutes checking up on us around this time of the year may not seem like a lot but, to us with anxiety, it really can lead to us 'simply having a wonderful Christmas time'.
(Disclaimer: I realise that everyone's experience of anxiety is different. However, this is based on my experiences, and the experiences of others who have shared their fears about this time of the year with me.)