It begins. Do you feel it? The pressure of a New Year, a would-be clean slate already scarred with the weight of expectation. A year you perhaps thought you might not make it to. It now looms threateningly, just waiting for you to fail at all those things that, only a month ago, seemed entirely possible. Christmas – with it’s own distracting pressures – now a distant memory, you watch every way that you’re going to fuck up in the next year play out before your mind’s eye, like some farcical horror movie.
These are not rational thoughts – but for many of us with anxiety, they are real. They are all-consuming.
Emotions are heightened at a time of year that focuses around family reunion, potentially staying in your childhood home, a regression to habitual behaviours and interactions that you otherwise left behind when you were 16. As someone with anxiety, the pressure to behave a certain way, to enjoy yourself, to not let anyone down is intensified.
Without work or routine, there’s too much time to think, to feel. To worry. You might scratch the surface of this on a Sunday, perhaps even crack it, but with a full week of Sundays, you break right through and get stuck under the ice. Insecurities, already quietly gnawing away at your insides, start to spread like cancer. The strange in-between of the days between Christmas and New Year are a fertile breeding ground for fear.
Then whilst you’re down, in they come. The emails, the articles, the social media storm telling you that in just a matter of days, you will be embarking on the most important journey of your life. For in January, you must shed your skin, transform. You must sew the seeds for everything you want to be. 2018 is going to be YOUR year – it has to be. This time next year, you will be rolling around laughing in the padded cell of your achievements, unable to be broken by this time of year in the way you are now. It’s your responsibility to be better, to be worthy. You know you can do it but you know you can’t. Your brain tells you you’ve already failed and your body listens. And every email, article and tweet is a sharp reminder of your imminent defeat.
You know it’s anxiety talking, but how do you allow logic to win out?
Knowing why you’re extra vulnerable at this time of year goes some way to rationalising the depth of irrational feeling – in real reality, your prospects are no different to any other time of year, but the end of December is party season for anxiety and that becomes your reality. Let yourself feel, but understand it for what it is – thoughts, projections, not fact. Remind yourself of the facts as they stand right now. Write them down if they’re not sticking.
Overwhelm exists in the future and the future exists in your imagination. So at a time of year where everyone is talking about The Year ahead, take it a week at a time. A day at a time if you need to. Goal setting has its place, but not whilst you are at peak vulnerability. And let’s not pretend you didn’t already set all your expectations for the new year back in November. You’re ahead of the game, you can afford to stay within the moment or at least the very near future for a little while, until this excessively-pressured period is over.
Make a New Year’s resolution to not make New Year’s resolutions until February.
You’ve got this.