Adventures in Anxiety, Dear Starfish Diaries

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal.

Christmas.  Accomplished.

There are a thousand blogs, Instagram posts, podcasts, Hallmark specials, and inspirational napkins out there right now all about the holidays.  Some talk about family, gratitude and peace.  Others offer support for the more stressful side of the coin.  Some embrace the Grinch route and give the whole institution a big fat middle finger.

I haven’t really decided where this post is going to land on the spectrum, so let’s find out together, shall we?

Personally, I find the anticipation of the holiday season to be a huge anxiety trigger.  The moment I start hearing Christmas carols and seeing holiday commercials I tense up.  I know I’m not alone here, but it’s still frustrating.  I miss the pure and unencumbered joy the holidays brought when I was a kid- the excitement without any dread.  When Christmas day was the cherry on my sundae and not the soggy broccoli I’d been trying to feed the dog under the table.

Maybe that’s the problem?  Christmas (or whatever you celebrate- the season is the season no matter what you call it, if you ask me) is ingrained in our psyche as a reason to get excited.  Unfortunately, for those of us with anxiety, we know that excitement, fear, and too much caffeine all stimulate the same sympathetic nervous system, and the racing heart that was once a signal to jump up and down with glee now indicates mounting panic and an urge to run far, far away.  Or stay in bed with the covers over our heads.  Or watch 8 straight hours of “Friends” reruns.  Or eat an entire chocolate cake.  I could go on, but you get the idea.  We want to run away from the very thing we used to run toward.

So part of it is physiological.  Adrenaline as a child = YAY!  Adrenaline as an adult = DOOOOOOM.

But I do think there is more to the story.  As a happily married, childless person whose wonderful family is perfectly content to celebrate anytime, thus taking the pressure off of the day itself and allowing for a pretty damn laid back holiday, you’d think I’d be pretty blase about the whole Christmas deal.  Don’t feel bad, you were functioning under the assumption that I am a rational person.

Fool.

Maybe it’s the memories of all the merry Christmases of years past, and the pressure we put on ourselves to recreate the warm fuzzies.  Maybe it’s unearthing those memories in the form of sentimental ornaments and getting hit by good and bad memories – bam!  bam!  bam! – whether we like it or not, some of which we haven’t given a moment’s thought to in a year.  It’s missing the people who aren’t with us anymore; but not one at a time, like we are able to do on their birthdays or when we smell their favorite soap- but all at once.  It’s reminiscing about this one super important day- ripe with emotions, complex carbs and financial strain- and knowing that whatever happens or doesn’t happen on the big day this year will be placed in the same time capsule to be relived every single year until the end of time.

It’s a lot.  For better or for worse, it’s a lot.  

Songs bring up strong memories.  Smells bring up strong memories.  Both of those senses are uber-stimulated during the holidays.

For those of us (all of us, really) who need to live in the present to maintain balance, sanity, and joy, it’s a real pickle.

(apparently the Christmas Pickle is a thing?)

I hate the idea of “surviving the holidays.”  As someone who has had too many days focused on survival, I’m sick of wishing moments of my life away.  You don’t get those back, you know.  And even when I’m so anxious that I feel like I’m going to die, I know that I’m not, and I’m grateful that I don’t actually live in a reality where my life is threatened every day.  To function as if I do kind of spits in the face of this beautiful life I’m so lucky to have.  I don’t want to spit in my life’s face.  I mean, gross.

So here is the part where I impart some wisdom, right?  Wax poetic on how to enjoy Christmas, to live in the moment, and to do better next year?

Shoot, I was hoping it would have come to me by now.

I don’t think there is an easy answer.  Or if there is, I haven’t found it.  I can tell you what I’ve done so far, and you can take what you like and leave the rest.

I’ve given myself permission- out loud- to celebrate quietly.  I’ve gone for a walk in the morning, when it’s silent and the roads are empty, and I’ve taken deep breaths and said “Thank You” to the Universe, or to God, or to the squirrels.  I’ve told my husband I love him a thousand times, and thanked him for doing this quiet day with me each year.  I’ve watched Christmas movies, and if the nostalgia gets to be too intense, I’ve turned them off and watched Sex and the City instead.  I’ve eaten Chinese food.  I’ve looked at the Christmas tree lovingly, and then later in the day given it the finger.  We have a love/hate relationship.

I’ve made my peace with the fact that I’ll never entirely make my peace with the holiday season.  I’m equally grateful and fearful of this time of year and all it represents.  I suppose that’s a pretty good summation for how I feel about life in general, which makes sense because what is a holiday but a hyped up moment in life-in-general?  A highlighted day on the calendar.

We can do the holidays, just like we can do every day.  We can love them and hate them.  They don’t care, they’ll come and go every year no matter how we feel.

So Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal.  And a Happy New Year.

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