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Feeling anxious about Christmas? Here's how you can slow down and regain control

The founder of Christian mental well-being charity Kintsugi Hope, Patrick Regan, explains how he's fighting against perfectionism, anxiety and stress this Christmas 

It was not yet the end of November when I walked through our town one afternoon and noticed the Christmas decorations were already up. The shops were full of toys, brightly coloured advertising boards and Christmas music. My heart sank. I felt stressed, anxious and suddenly lacking in energy. I didn't yet want to engage with the Christmas season.

Over recent years I have learned to get curious about my feelings. As someone who really struggles with anxiety (but is slowly learning how to manage it), too much choice overwhelms me. There are so many choices to make. Decisions on presents, food, who to visit, where to go etc. It feels like there is an unspoken expectation that Christmas has to be perfect. If you're a parent you want to give your kids the perfect Christmas, get the right presents, make the day memorable. The old saying is true: "Kids spell love T-I-M-E", yet I am often not present because I'm busy trying to make things perfect.

If you struggle with anxiety and perfectionism, Christmas can be extra tough. We can easily start to do our mind reading; guests come to our house over the holidays and we have already decided they have judged us for multiple reasons. Disagreements at Christmas get blown up out of proportion. The desire for a perfect time means any argument is the end of the world. Our all or nothing thinking kicks in and we tell ourselves we should, we must, we ought to have everything together. The reality for many of us is we're at the end of a busy year. For many of us the way we re-energise ourselves is to retreat and have some time on our own, yet Christmas tells us this is selfish, it is meant to be a time for parties, being sociable, carol services, pantos, trips out etc. Subconsciously I am crying out for simplicity. The magic of the Christmas story has got lost.

I am reminded of the quote “it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness”. The first Christmas was about love, kindness and generosity. It was God’s way of saying to the world “I am not distant, I am here with you in your community, with you in your anxiety, in your stress, in your trying to do the right thing”. I wonder if this Christmas we could hear a small voice that reminds us that struggling doesn’t mean we have failed; it means we are human. We don’t have to be all things to all people. We don’t have to take complete responsibility for everyone’s actions. We are allowed to withdraw sometimes. We don’t have to pack every day with activities.

Take some time to meditate on a baby being born to a teenage refugee couple on the run, a couple who would have known anxiety, fear, and uncertainly. A vulnerable baby, a God child who couldn’t control his bladder, welcomed into the world by more animals being present than humans.

I reflect on the first human visitors being shepherds (the rejected, the outcasts). The story is rich, beautiful and challenging. I am not alone this Christmas with my thoughts. It’s ok to need time to withdraw to reflect, to cry, to laugh. To know that the message of Christmas is God saying to me “you are enough, and I am going to show you by coming in human form”.

My challenge to myself this year is to stop picking up my phone, rushing through social media trying desperately not to compare my life to others, but to light a candle and see some of the darkness in my thoughts and life start to disappear. 

My new rules for Christmas

  • I shalt not try and be all things to all people
  • I shall schedule in some rest time and do nothing
  • I will take a day at a time and not push myself to the limits
  • I will accept Christmas does not need to be prefect
  • I shall try and resist comparing my life to others on social media
  • I will try and stay out of debt
  • I will mediate on the Christmas story
  • Each day I will light a candle and realise I am not alone

Patrick Regan OBE is the founder of Kintsugi Hope. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickreganKH

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