Mental Health

Learning to Receive this Christmas

Managing Anxiety During the Holidays | Libero Magazine 1
It is often overwhelming to be given gifts or served while you are recovering and already managing so many internal battles. Guilt is definitely a feeling many of us associate with this season.

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Christmas and the holiday season are a unique time that can often be difficult for those in recovery. Beyond the loss of routine, sometimes-difficult meals, and other complications, there is a sense of kindness and generosity that can be hard to accept.

It is often overwhelming to be given gifts or served while you are recovering and already managing so many internal battles.

Guilt is definitely a feeling many of us associate with this season.

I think the root of it for me is that I still partially believe the lies telling me I’m unworthy of kindness or nice things. The Christmas season only amplifies this, with the focus on gifts, celebrations, and spending nice time with loved ones.

Sometimes this can be ‘good guilt’ — the guilt your illness makes you feel when you’re doing something that moves you towards recovery. You can notice this, take hold of it, and understand it is a sign of progress.

It can become your tool instead of an obstacle.

I’ve used the ‘opposite action’ technique a lot in my recovery. For example, if I notice I want to hurt myself, I try to look at that and recognise I’m finding that moment difficult so in fact need to treat myself even better than I would in a ‘normal’ situation.

Instead of self-harming or restricting food, I could then treat myself to a long shower with good music, a takeaway hot chocolate, or snuggling up in bed with a favourite book. This is hard to do but so effective and can be used in this context too.

When we feel undeserving of the kindness we’re receiving, then we can still behave in line with the truth: we are worthy of gifts and love. Guilt can so often lead to vicious cycles, but if we engage with the kindness, accept the gifts, and allow ourselves to use and enjoy those things even when it feels wrong, we move in a different direction.

Our thought patterns influence our behaviour, but our behaviour can also influence our thought patterns.

There is such power in our decisions. Although it won’t be possible to make these difficult, good decisions all of the time, the times we are able to are huge victories.

It is also helpful to find ways of generally building self-compassion. I recently stuck a picture of myself as a toddler to my mirror. This is a daily visual reminder: the words I speak over myself now, I am also expressing about that innocent, tiny human.

There are other, more practical, aspects of receiving that can be difficult

For example, being anxious your response to being given something won’t be ‘right’. If it makes you uncomfortable to open a gift in front of the giver, be mindful of this and plan ahead. It depends on your relationship with the other person, but you could explain that you find gifts difficult at the moment and create an opportunity for a vulnerable and honest conversation.

If it isn’t appropriate or feels too scary, I just ask if they would mind if I put it under the tree to save for Christmas Day. I find it easier to express most sentiments in writing than verbally — a handwritten card of thanks is a lovely rarity to receive nowadays and can allow you time and space to work through the emotions surrounding receiving a gift.

Remember, being kind probably brings pleasure to your loved ones — as opposed to focusing on my own guilt, I find it helpful to internally acknowledge the joy a present, act of service, or kind word can bring to the giver!

It isn’t just being given something, but it is an experience you’re sharing together.

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Anna is a UK-based medical student who loves Jesus, strong tea, clear cold sunny weather, tiny humans (especially under 5s), football and singing harmonies at every opportunity. She has been recovering from anorexia, depression, anxiety and self-injury since 2011 and is passionate about the freedom that recovery can bring.


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