1. There’s hardly any break between New Years and Christmas.
Christmas is another high-anxiety holiday. Between large gatherings of people and the stress that comes from picking the perfect gift for each and every one of them (how much should I spend? Will they like it? Did they get something for me? Is this comparable to that?) anxiety peaks and stays in the critical zone for most of December. By the time it’s over, we’re still on edge and there’s no time to breathe before the anxiety of New Year’s arrives.
2. The pressure to make a resolution.
No matter where you turn – internet, television, family, friends, strangers in the checkout line at the grocery store – more people than not are making New Year’s resolutions and they want to tell you about it. Hell, there’s even a billboard near my house that says: “Have you made your resolution yet?” Resolutions, thinking about them, making them, is an anxious person’s nightmare. Many of us spend hours every day obsessing over how we aren’t good enough. Picking one of those, announcing it publicly, and then having to admit defeat in a matter of months or even weeks when we fail? Yup, that’s a panic attack waiting to happen.
3. The response you get when you don’t make a resolution.
Me, and many of the other people who suffer from a panic disorder, will not make a New Year’s resolution. It should be easier that way, but it isn’t because of the way other people react. As soon as people start sharing their resolutions and find out you’re not making one, you’re an outsider. They nag you for the reason why and often, it’s hard to admit that the reason has to do with an anxiety disorder so you offer a shrug or non-answer. That only makes it worse. Then comes the speeches about how everyone has things they’d like to change. Yes, that’s the problem. People with anxiety, we have millions of things we want to change about ourselves. If we try to fixate on one of these things, it will become an unhealthy obsession that will likely end with (more) therapy.
4. Getting caught up in the past.
On New Year’s, everyone is taking the time to remember all the good things from the past year but it’s hard for anxious minds to operate like that. Instead, we analyze the past. We think about our shortcomings. We remember the people we lost, the panic attacks we had; the fact that we turned 25 and we haven’t really accomplished anything (okay, maybe that one is just me). We worry that a new year will bring more of it. We’re not incapable of reminiscing about the happy times, but in the back of our minds will always be that nagging anxiety telling us that we squandered our year and convincing us a new one will bring more of the same.
5. The uncertainty of an entire new year to worry about.
Uncertainty is a big trigger for those struggling with anxiety and New Year’s is a holiday that celebrates it. Most people see it as a good thing – a whole year of experiences, a whole year to be a new you. It’s not the same for us. It honestly fills us with dread to think about the things that can go wrong, will inevitably go wrong, in the coming year. It’s hard to think about the people we love getting a year older, about ourselves getting a year older. New Year’s doesn’t come with a plan or outline. The uncertainty of it all is overwhelming. If anything, the one bright side is that we can celebrate making it through another year, but even that has its caveats, like:
This is the big one. While uncertainty has us worrying about what might happen in the New Year, it’s the knowledge that things will change that really gets our anxiety going. Change is the absolute worst for the anxious. When things change, it takes a long time for us to adjust and even longer for us to get comfortable (if we ever do). A New Year is pretty much a guarantee that something will change. It might be something small like losing a favorite t-shirt (seriously, I’ve gotten anxious about that before) or something huge like taking a new job or someone you love moving away. Regardless of how big or small a deal the situation is, change causes anxiety. A New Year is a reminder that the future is coming and change is imminent.
So if you find yourself getting anxious this New Year’s (or any other holiday), take a breath, take time for yourself, go spend time with people who help calm you down, do whatever it is you need to do in order to be okay. And remember that there’s no right way to celebrate a holiday. (Hell, you don’t even have to celebrate it if you don’t want to!)