A New Year Brings New Anxiety
I struggle a lot this time of year, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
The holidays bring a lot of stress and I’ve realized this year that there are things about this particular time of year that bring me stress beyond the typical holiday stress.
I noticed a few weeks ago that I was definitely feeling more anxiety than normal and I couldn’t really put my finger on it until I sat and meditated a bit on why this might be.
A few things came to mind…
A new year brings…
In addition to the usual holiday stuff, the stress of dealing with family and situations that aren’t typical throughout the year, my birthday falls right before Christmas.
I think most of us go through similar struggles around our birthdays and the New Year…
It’s the whole “what am I doing with my life, what will I do with my life next year, how will I make this year better than the last?” struggle.
Why do we put this pressure on ourselves to always try to make the new year better than the last?
Why can’t we instead look at the previous year and applaud ourselves for the improvements we’ve made?
I’m not saying we should stop trying to improve and allow ourselves to become stagnant, but we should applaud our efforts.
This past year has been full of some pretty major changes for me, and there’s a lot of the “what will I do next year?” going on with me.
I’ve not shared much about this but I got divorced last year. While it was a good choice for me mentally and physically it still leaves me with a lot of questions.
At the time of the divorce I gave myself till the new year to figure out what my next steps would be financially.
As the new year approached, I only had the beginnings of a plan. It was scary and anxiety inducing.
Growing up my mom did a great job of setting my birthday apart from Christmas, and making sure that I didn’t feel like I was forgotten in the midst of the holidays.
We didn’t put up the tree until the day after my birthday, I didn’t get joint gifts (at least not from her), and there was always a cake and ice cream.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized why she made such effort. She also had to share her birthday (with a sibling and Valentine’s Day), so she wanted to make sure that I felt like my day was special.
I always did.
But, having that as a kid has meant that I still want that as an adult… and it’s always been up to me to make it happen. I usually do, but sometimes doing so creates stress.
Shorter days mean darker nights…
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real thing.
When I lived up north it affected me greatly, as not only were the nights longer in the winter, but even the days were more overcast. The cold and snow didn’t bother me nearly as much as the lack of sun.
Being back in the south with more sun has definitely helped, but it still gets dark at 4:30 in the afternoon during the winter and that makes me drag and want to go to bed at 8pm (or earlier).
Sometimes I just want to crawl in bed and stay there… hibernate until the winter is over.
Annual triggers sting…
Most of us have some sort of annual trigger, whether it’s the anniversary of the death of a loved one, or the anniversary of some major life change.
When I was 17 that I realized that any hope I had of my paternal unit actually being a Father or a Dad to me was never going to happen.
While I can typically put the events of that winter out of my mind, it’s there subconsciously whether I want it to be or not and I’m reminded of that betrayal every year.
I think this is the first year I’ve really even acknowledged it and I’m hoping that by doing so I can finally start to let it go so that it won’t keep cropping up year after year.
It’s been almost 25 years, so it’s definitely time.
We all have these things, these issues we deal with throughout the year, but for some reason the holidays are worse for many of us as things seem to mount.
So many stresses, so many people we feel we need to please, people we feel we have to see that we have managed to avoid all year long, thoughts and memories that we can push to the back of our minds but that force their way forward when annual triggers arise.
But, there are things we can do to decrease the effects of the annual stresses.
1 . Face the stress
If I’ve learned anything in the last year it’s that trying to hide from stressors doesn’t make them go away.
If anything, burying them makes them hurt worse and longer.
Facing the stress is kind of like acknowledging a fear in your dreams, by acknowledging it and stating “you aren’t real, you can’t hurt me” you can make it go away.
The same is true of stressors.
Most of them aren’t real, they are simply thoughts in our heads. If we can acknowledge that they aren’t a real danger to us, they can’t hurt us.
However, if we continue to allow ourselves to believe they are a real danger, they will keep hurting us year after year.
Talking about the things that stress me has probably helped me more than anything.
When I avoid talking about them they live in my head and just seem to get worse.
But, for some reason, if I talk about them and share them with someone else it’s like they instantly vanish (or at least decrease enough that the don’t hurt me).
2 . Realize you aren’t alone –
Whatever the stress you are facing this time of year, know that you are not alone.
I think that one of the worst things most of us do to ourselves is to feel that we are the only one facing these things, and thus we try to face them alone.
Realizing we aren’t alone and allowing ourselves to talk about what is bothering us, whether it’s just the stress of trying to find the right present or a trigger that sends us into an annual depression, allows us to work through it in a way that we can’t do on our own.
It’s simply a relief to know you aren’t alone in whatever you are dealing with.
3 . Acknowledge your achievements
Yes, we are starting a new year (whether it’s literally a new year, or just a new year since whatever happened).
But, instead of getting stressed out over what that new year may bring, spend some time acknowledging all you’ve accomplished in the year before.
I think that in doing this we could spend our time patting ourselves on the back rather than stressing over what we feel we’ve not yet accomplished (and thus need to do yet).
4 . Remember that this is a new beginning
Even if you look back on your previous year and it was terrible, know that now is a time of new beginning.
Perhaps you spent the past year completely ill and you weren’t able to do anything but spend it in bed (fyi: even if that was the case you still did a lot more than you are giving yourself credit for).
Perhaps you just had a terrible year with a divorce, a death of a loved one, or some other major loss. Whatever the case, this is a new year, it’s a new start.
And, remember that every day is a new beginning.
This is one of those things I’ve learned with eating better.
While My overall diet is night and day from what it was 5 or 6 years ago, I still have days where I eat terribly (even if eating terribly now would have still been a good day compared to what I might have eaten on a regular day years ago).
I don’t allow a day of bad choices to give me an excuse to stop trying.
Instead, I know that I can (and will) start again tomorrow. It’s OK to have a bad day, so long as we don’t allow it to become the norm.
5 . Focus on what you do have
The old song “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you can get what you need” spends a lot of time in my head.
As my grandma would say “want in one hand, spit in the other and see which one fills up faster.”
We all have things we want, I could make a list a mile long.
- I want to live on the beach.
- I want to be able to do what I love every day and make money doing it (work without feeling like I’m working).
- I want perfect health and a body that never lets me down and causes me to cancel plans at the last minute.
- I want to travel the world.
But, those are wants, they are not needs.
If I spent all my time focused on those wants I’d live in the pits of despair.
Instead, I have to focus on what I have (and what I can do to work towards those wants).
- I have a home.
- I have friends and family who love me.
- I have an income from doing things I love (albeit not enough to afford that house on the beach).
- I have moderately good health (for someone with multiple chronic illnesses).
These are amazing things that I already have. I have what I need and then some. The rest is just a bonus.
The changes will not make the anxiety go away completely. I can only hope that by working on all five of them I can decrease that anxiety and this December will be better for me than the last and that the next one will be better still. I hope the same for you.
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