The author of Autism, Anxiety and Me: A Diary in Even Numbers, Emma Louise Bridge, offers advice for those with autism on how best to cope with anxiety at Christmas time.
The shopping, the crowds, the parties, and the art of present giving… it is easy not to feel quite so wonderful at this most wonderful time of year. However as much as Christmas is one of those times of year that is just unavoidably stressful, it doesn’t mean you can’t plan ways to survive the holidays. At best you can have lots of fun, and at worst, well you can at least make it through.
The first step in holiday survival is planning. I personally like to do this with lists; even-numbered of course. Even if you’re not hosting the in-laws or planning a party, you will be surprised how much at Christmas can be thought out beforehand to save zig-zags in blood pressure. To provide a more in-depth example let’s take present-giving; something that I find far more stressful at Christmas than any other time because it is reciprocal. So, first plan out the details.
- Who do you have to buy for?
- Who will probably be buying for you?
- What is your budget?
- What you are going to buy?
Now I love surprises but at the same time I don’t, mostly because the need to make sure that all my gifts are either of an equal monetary or emotional value as those given to me is too great. The easiest way to ease this stress is to introduce wish lists. Ask everyone what they want. If you want to choose something then ask them for a list of different options. On the same principle you can produce a list yourself. Even if no-one asks, produce a list of things you really want and just offer it as a suggestion. Even if other people weren’t expecting it hopefully they will respect it as a way to make Christmas a little easier – after all everyone should be able to have fun.
Other lists can include:
- Anything you need like decorations or advent calendar
- Any parties you are invited to / hosting
- Who is coming or where you’re going over the holidays
- Any events such as carols or services that are going on
- Food you need to buy
Planning, planning and more planning!!!
The second step to surviving the holidays is the guide to surviving parties. Christmas parties generally involve a lot of food, a bunch of being social and loud super cheerful music. So first things first: know you’re going to eat more over Christmas. It just seems to be inevitable, so plan ahead for that. Also if you know you’re going to go to a party where you might not be able to eat anything – because your entire family are on special diets – but you’re going to be super hungry because there is food everywhere… putting something in your handbag or pocket for emergencies is a seasonal must.
The other thing that stresses me out at parties is the number of people who are going to ask how life is going, what my plans for the New Year are, how my job is, how much I have grown etc. Now the answer to some of those questions never changes – ‘nope, still the same height’ / ‘yes it has been years’ / ‘happy Christmas to you too’ – but there are some conversations where stock phrases won’t do. This can be tough especially if your life isn’t necessarily where you want it to be or you don’t have much to talk about. The answer is simple and something I have learned over the years of trying to master the art of surviving in society. People love to talk about themselves, so bring the conversation back around to them every time you feel uncomfortable and you’re on to a winner. Even better, join a group where there are a couple of people who love to talk and happily be a background listener for as long as you can get away with it.
Also keep in mind that you’re bound to not be the only person in the room who isn’t exactly where they want to be at that point. Doesn’t mean you won’t ever be.
So my final surviving the holidays tip is this – don’t be worried about asking for help. It’s okay to not feel brilliant even if the world is covered in Christmas cheer. It is okay if it is hard or emotional. There could be a hundred reasons why. I know it is really easy to feel you have to shove a smile on your face and fake it ‘til you make it. And sometimes trying to tough it out is the right decision. But sometimes you just have to sit down and admit to yourself, or to someone you trust, that you could use some help. Or even just that you could do with being cut some slack. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else… you survive the holidays the best way you know how.
- Lists are awesome
- Parties are survivable – just go in prepared
- Survive Christmas the best way you know how – don’t let anyone tell you how you have to be
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