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Every year as the holidays approach, I am forced to face the crowded shopping malls and the over-packed parties of my family and friends. For me, while the weeks leading up to Christmas are probably my favorite time of the year, they are also when my social anxiety and agoraphobia seem to get the better of me.
As you’ll know from reading some of my past articles, shopping malls are one of my biggest—if not the biggest—anxiety triggers.
There are too many people together in tight spaces, people I don’t know and don’t trust. While rationality tells me most of these people are surely just shopping for themselves or their loved ones, enjoying a day off and looking for something to do, my mind never stops making the imaginary leap to worst-case scenarios.
I worry about bombs. Gunmen. Agitated former employees of department stores seeking vengeance against shoppers and their old co-workers.
It’s like a bad thriller-horror movie that’s been written a hundred times already.
I don’t like sharing space with other people, and my husband will tell you my biggest pet-peeve is having a sales associate ask me what I need.
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Please, don’t talk to me while I’m out here in the world–just let me do my thing.
Now, with the onset of Christmas, malls become absolutely insane. For the next month, you’ll spend an hour driving around just trying to find a place to park your car. People will burst out of every store, as check-out lines grow longer and more impatient.
If it were up to my anxiety, I would just avoid the mall completely until spring. Winter turns me into a pretty big homebody to begin with, and I’d have no issue remaining in my apartment with my dog and a pile of books to keep me company.
As much as I would love this, I don’t give into myself too much, as I know the only way to beat these worries is to push myself out into places where everyone else is.
Usually, I count on my husband or a friend to take shopping trips with me during the holidays. I try not to go on days when every store will be the busiest, so Saturday evenings are out. I take it one store at a time, and when the crowds start to overwhelm me, I remind myself of two things:
- No one cares or notices what you’re doing as much as you think they do.
- These are all people just like you, shopping for their mom or their boyfriend or their sister.
I’ll be honest, you won’t catch me in a mall or store any time after the week before Christmas, until after New Year’s.
Now while places like the mall and local Walmart can be avoided easily enough during the holidays, it’s a lot harder to escape the social anxiety that comes with family parties.
I love my family, but Christmas is the only time I see some relatives all year long. It can put a lot of pressure on your conversations, and it definitely makes me more nervous to discuss my life with people I’m not overly familiar with.
Part of social anxiety, at least as I’ve experienced, is the fear whoever you’re speaking to is judging everything you say. Again, this is for the most part, probably never true. I’d like to think most people, especially family and friends, want the best for us and are happy about our successes and empathize during our failures. So it doesn’t make sense for our relatives to spend get-togethers silently condemning us for our choices since the last time we’ve met.
When I am with family and friends during the holidays, I really try to use those moments as an opportunity for renewal, forgiveness, and continued love.
Christmas is a time for clean slates and letting go of past offences and hurt. My favorite part of the holiday season is coming together with my loved ones and looking forward to the New Year and our shared hopes as a family.
As anxiety sufferers, we spend most of our lives giving in or trying to fight against our fears and worries. We live around what scares us and are constantly conscious of what others might be thinking.
I believe that especially during the holidays we deserve the chance to live free from anxiety and instead feel full of hope, optimism, and the chance for new opportunities.
No one should feel excluded or separate from the joy that is present this time of year. Holidays are a time to lean on family and friends and look for the good in all people, including ourselves.
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