My Work Is My Mental Health

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A couple of weeks ago I started to realize that thanks to a large pile of external stressors, my mental health has been suffering this winter. Pretty normal. Even someone who didn’t have some vulnerabilities would probably be struggling right now. But as someone who does have vulnerabilities it became quite clear to me that for the next month or until things start to feel better, my job needs to be caring for my mental health.

I’ve heard people use that phrase before, but I don’t know that it’s always clear what it means. Particularly when you have an actual, literal job, and responsibilities, what does it mean to make your mental health a priority? Why do people choose the “job” or “work” metaphor when they’re talking about mental health? For people who haven’t been through the process of managing depression or anxiety before, the whole idea can be overwhelming, so I wanted to break down my process a little bit to show others how it can be manageable.

One of the main reasons I like the job metaphor is because it gives me a clear picture of how I can successfully approach being more mentally healthy. It’s easy to just say “I want to take care of myself” or “I want to deal with my depression”, but when you approach it like a job you recognize that you have to set concrete goals, that you have to work with other people to achieve those goals, that you break your goals down into steps, and that you might have to try a variety of different techniques to achieve the results you want.

For me, it helps to have something like a “workplan” so that I can know what concrete actions I’m taking and what I hope to get from those actions. For example I’m currently trying to decrease my stress and anxiety. To break that down, I have brainstormed with my therapist things that have helped in the past (being more social, working less, doing mindfulness exercises, being more physically active) and set goals for each of them (see friends 3x a week, do 10 minutes of mindfulness a day, go climbing 3x a week etc.). In a few weeks I can see how I’m doing at those tasks and if each task is helping.

I also find that when I think of it as a job, it becomes a priority. I write it on my to do list each day (and then I have to do it), which helps me to reprioritize, as well as remember to check in regularly and see what’s working and what isn’t. For me personally, including things on my written to do lists keeps it at the forefront of my mind because I am seeing it regularly. That to me is what it means when my mental health is my job: no matter what else I’m doing, my well being is always in my brain. I’m at work? Cool, I’m also doing deep breathing regularly. Out with friends? Great! Make sure you’re also eating enough and venting when you need to. No matter what else is happening, self care is taking priority. If something isn’t serving your long term well being, stop doing it.

Of course there are times where it becomes difficult to know if it’s helping or not. For example I am stressed due to a bunch of big expenses coming up. I’m worried about money. In order to deal with that stress I have been taking on more freelance work to build up a better savings account. Of course taking on more freelance work means that I have less down time and less time with friends, more work to do, and less flexibility in my life and schedule, leaving me with higher levels of stress. Which is more important right now…the money stress or the immediate scheduling stress? For me it’s easier to think of it as a business trade off: which will earn company Olivia more Joy in the long run? Can we outsource any of this work? In this case, it helped me realize I needed to talk to my fiance and family and see if there were alternatives to Olivia just dealing with it, which it turns out there are.

The metaphor might not work for everyone, and this might not be what everyone thinks of when they say “my mental health is my job right now.” But I find that it’s an appropriate metaphor because it restructures the way I approach things, and it makes me more serious about the real amounts of work it takes to take care of myself.

Do you have a different metaphor that works when you need to prioritize mental health? What helps you kick self care into high gear?

 

2017 Was a Year of Mourning

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It’s the new year! Hey 2017. Good to see you.

I have a lot of friends who are not fans of 2016. I agree with them on many fronts about the dumpster fire of the last year. 2016 was objectively one of the hardest years I have ever had on a personal level. There was simply too much happening. Some of it was amazing, but some of it was truly horrible, and I cannot really process it all. For some people, 2016 was awful because of the election and celebrity deaths and large, communal events, things that didn’t appear to affect them personally but which they’ve reacted to anyway. Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about what it’s like to have group experience that affect your perception of the world and the people around you.

I have seen some people shitting all over the idea that someone should be sad at the deaths of celebrities or at the election of Trump. These things don’t make an immediate impact. Other celebrities will die. Trump isn’t even president yet. 2017 will be worse. Just wait until their policies get enacted. Don’t complain, act! That’s not the RIGHT way to react to horrible things. 

I am not inclined to be particularly forgiving to anyone telling another person how to feel, but in this case, I think that naysayers have missed a major part of WHY others are reacting in the ways that they are and so I am particularly annoyed. One of the most common refrains that I’ve heard amounts to “get over it. It will just get worse so you need to toughen up and figure out how to deal with it.”

I have news for those naysayers: this communal outcry? The complaining, the jokes, the GIFs of a dumpster fire? That IS us getting used to it. It’s called grief and it’s a process, and 2016 was a year that was all about realizing that loss and cruelty are a part of our lives, then grieving for the reality we thought we knew. Grief happens in all kinds of ways. It’s not always rational, it’s not always clear, but it is necessary emotional work, and it will take time. People have to feel these emotions before they can move on to creating positive change.

I particularly want to focus on a brand of criticism that I’ve found frustrating and harmful. After Trump’s election a lot of people had a lot of feelings. Many people acted on those feelings in ways that made themselves feel more safe, or because they wanted to feel sure they would have birth control/be married/be able to get citizenship/whatever else they were worried about before Trump could make any changes. I have friends who moved up their wedding dates, people who invested in long term birth control, acquaintances who suddenly started volunteering and giving money at high levels. People are making changes. To some, this might appear rash. Trump isn’t going to take away marriage equality tomorrow, why are you having your wedding right now?

It’s true that in the sense of practical action, some of people’s behaviors aren’t necessary. People probably don’t need to worry about their healthcare disappearing the moment Trump gets sworn in, or about their marriages being annulled in a few weeks. Some of these behaviors might even be a little bit irrational in the strictest sense. I don’t really want to get in to a discussion of “how scared should people be”, because honestly it doesn’t even matter. These actions are serving a very important purpose that is completely separate from their existence as political actions.

People are doing things because they are sad and afraid. A world that they thought had existed is gone. They are mourning the loss of that world and the illusion of safety it had provided. Sometimes, when you are mourning, it is perfectly reasonable to do things just to make yourself feel better. You get to act irrationally, especially if it’s not hurting anyone and it makes you feel safer. You get to focus on yourself for a little bit.

When you understand people’s behaviors not necessarily as calculated political action but rather as personal grief, it makes a lot more sense, and hopefully can give us all a lot more patience with each other. Maybe things will stay as awful in 2017 as they felt in 2016. That’s certainly a possibility. But what I doubt will stay the same is the way people are behaving. Human beings require time to adjust to change, particularly unpleasant and difficult changes. 2016 was a year of realization for many people: the world is not what I thought it was. People are not who I thought they were. Death is a regular part of my life. Suffering cannot always be avoided.

2016 was a year of mourning those realizations and the loss of some hope and security that came from not believing those things. As we move into 2017, I hope we can start to grow from mourning to action. But I also want to recognize the people who are still coping, or still struggling to cope. Emotions move at their own pace. People feel and understand emotions differently from each other. None of us should be heaping shame and guilt on each other for the feelings we have about 2016.

I want to publicly witness your mourning. I want you to know that it’s ok. I want you to know that the fear and grief make sense. I want you to know that you aren’t alone. I want to recognize that there are moments in which communities collectively see and understand change, and that this isn’t just the same as usual, and maybe this is our new normal, but we take time to adjust to normal. It’s ok to feel like 2016 was a big and important year. Recognize those feelings. It’s the only way to move forward, and the only way to truly adjust to the world as it is. There’s no call for shaming each other.

You Can’t Always See Anxiety

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I want to give you all a glimpse behind the curtain of anxiety for a brief minute. Maybe this is stupid and you all already know it, but I feel as if the outside face that I present to people makes me look way more together than I am.
 
So you all know that I’m getting married, and you all know that I’m a pretty hyper organized person. Basically everyone I have spoken to about my wedding has been nothing but compliments on how far ahead I am in terms of planning and organization. People have told me over and over that they are impressed with the way I’m working ahead and doing so much DIY far in advance, how good I’m being at keeping everyone up to date and making lovely spreadsheets and lists and staying right on schedule in terms of what needs to get done.
 
And I smile and say thank you and “Oh I really hope so”. Because what I can’t say in the moment is “this is all just a coping mechanism.” Underneath the very competent exterior, I am regularly feeling so anxious and overwhelmed that I’m giving myself headaches and nausea. I am having trouble being social because I’m so nervous that I’m behind. I regularly will just start crying at Jacob that everything is wrong and I don’t know how to fix it because there’s no way I’m going to finish everything on time and the wedding will be a disaster.
 
If you knew me in college you knew I was typically a week ahead on any work. Everyone always acted as if this must mean I didn’t feel any stress over deadlines. This could not be further from the truth. I was SO terrified of deadlines that i had to work that far in advance. I felt all the stress of pulling all nighters and working straight up to the deadline, but weeks in advance, because if I wasn’t ahead I was behind. That is how I feel about my wedding. Every day I wake up and feel short of breath and tight in my chest, and I look over my to do lists again and again and see that I’m doing perfectly fine and wonder what am I missing? What haven’t I done? What is slipping through the cracks? And then I find something that needs to get done and I panic and wonder how it’s ever going to get finished on time and do it all right this instant, but the feeling of “this is too much I will never finish it” lingers and lingers, and every time I find another to do it builds on every other lingering certainty that I will never finish in time.
 
No amount of rationality dispels the continued anxiety from every project that has to be done and even the ones that are already finished (am I sure they’re complete? Are they ALL THE WAY complete or do they still have things to be done? What if they need to be changed?). In my mind I am carrying every single task that it takes to put on a wedding ALL THE TIME.
 
THAT is why I’m so far ahead on everything. If I let a single ball drop, the panic comes crashing in. Maybe, just maybe, if I’m weeks ahead on my to do list, I can put it all down for a minute and relax. I can accept that it will all get done on time. Maybe if I finish it all a week or two weeks before the actual wedding I’ll have time to calm the fuck down and actually enjoy my time.
 
But when you look at me and think that I’m really competent and have everything under control, what you miss is that the reason I hold so tightly to everything is because it feels like a mass of chaos that I’m barely grasping at all. THAT is what anxiety is.
Note: this was cross posted from my Facebook because it seemed like it needed to be a blog post.

Engagement is a Liminal Period

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I’ve been struggling to write lately. Normally I write about my own experiences primarily, as that’s what speaks to me and what I feel familiar with. But for some reason I haven’t felt any particular drive to write about mental illness or autism or any of the other personal topics I tend towards.

I don’t know why it took me this long to realize it, but it’s now super obvious to met hat it’s because all of my emotional thought is going in to my engagement right now. I’ve been trying to limit the amount that I talk about it, because it’s easy to fall into the myth that no one wants to keep hearing about your wedding and it’s obnoxious to only talk about it, blah blah blah. But there’s a reason we have this in between stage, and it’s not just for planning the physical event. It’s so that we can examine ourselves and become more familiar with what the idea of marriage means to us, address our anxieties and fears, find out how this “marriage” business fits into our self identities. It’s to work out some of the kinks before we’ve already said “yes” and signed the document.

In most rituals and rites there is something called a liminal period, a period of separation from what you were before and waiting to become what you will be. It’s the between place. Often it’s represented by a physical separation from the place or people you were with before, or it might be a journey or task to complete. It’s the in between stage, when you are no longer who and what you were before the ritual started, but you have no longer reached the final stage of completion that will be after the ritual takes place. It’s the place where we actually transform. If rituals were butterflies, this would be the cocoon.

Engagement is a liminal period. It’s a long one, granted, but it’s a time of change. I’ve been thinking a lot about those changes recently, and what it means to decide “yes, I’m going to turn into a married person” and “no, I will not be exactly the same person I used to be”. What does it mean to have this ritual?

I’ve been thinking a lot about why I want to get married. For a long time I was stridently against it and I still have a variety of friends who are uninterested in marriage. I feel defensive about the choice in some ways, but I also have a lot of anxiety that I’m only choosing to do it because a lot of other people do it. I have a lot of fear about marriage, not because I’m uncertain of my relationship, but because I’m uncertain of the institution. I find myself asking a lot of questions.

I say that I’m getting married because I care about it. Why do I care about it? I have never felt any need to proclaim my love publicly before. Do I really care about that? Or do I care about appearances?

I’ve tried to focus on the ways in which I can make marriage something that works for my relationship and drop some of the baggage. Is it ever possible to dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools? Who am I fooling?

Am I being selfish and ignoring all the people that marriage hurts by getting married?

What does the public ceremony mean and do? What is it meant to symbolize? What do I want to focus on moving forward in my relationship and how does this ritual play a part in that?

Is there a way to take all of the tiny, internal feelings that create the relationship I have with my fiance and turn them into ritual and ceremony, make them public so that everyone understands why him?

And even deeper down, what will change in our relationship?

I’ve already noticed people giving our relationship more legitimacy, calling us part of each other’s families, making more assumptions about what we mean to each other and who we are as a couple based on their understanding of marriage. I’m glad that I have time before it’s “official” to get used to that, and start preparing responses to assumptions.

For me, this liminal state is less about imagining the future of my relationship than it is reckoning with myself as a privileged, straight, cis individual. It’s about taking the time to think through the ways that I let assumptions live in my relationship, in my gender, in my every day choices, and then trying actively to combat them. It’s why I am so focused on ensuring that my ceremony has elements that make it clear I suppose marriage equality, that show that my fiance and I are equals, that show that I may happen to be cis, but that I fully support my queer friends. Marriage is the most visible I will ever be in relation to sex and gender, and I cannot help but feel that I have a responsibility to use it as a platform. This liminal time is for me a chance to purge myself of unwanted remnants of the patriarchy.

And even more than that, it’s a time where I’m thinking excessively about my identity. Not that this is anything new, but it’s so easy for people to throw out the truism “You want your wedding to reflect YOU!” It’s a lovely thought, but much more challenging when it’s always been difficult to know who “you” are. Do I care more about indulging myself with a gorgeous, over the top dress, or do I care more about ensuring everyone has delicious food and free flowing drink? Do I care if other people think my choices are weird or unorthodox? When my partner and I disagree, how do we prioritize and compromise? The liminal state is made clear by the fact that a ritual has symbols, and I must decide for myself what I want those symbols to be. It’s a rare opportunity that one gets to stand in front of all their family and friends and speak about how you want to behave towards others. Those words and symbols become very important. Perhaps that’s why my mind keeps retreading questions of readings and songs and rituals: I have grown up so much in the past few years and now I get to say “this is who I am. This is what I want.”

How would you answer?

That’s Not How This Works Gilmore Girls

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I’m a fan of Gilmore Girls. I started watching it back when it was still coming out, when I was just a little junior high girl who thought it was maybe an accurate representation of what grown up life was like (lol). So I was pretty excited for the new mini-series, and devoured it in a single day. Like most reboots, there’s good and bad to it, but I want to focus specifically on something that as an adult with more experience I now KNOW is not how the world works. Not even a little bit, not at all.

This mini-series of Gilmore Girls is the first time that the show portrays therapy (despite the fact that basically every character ever seen could have used a heaping helping of it from the opening sequence). I am pretty gunshy of media representations of therapy no matter what, but I have to say that I was particularly disappointed in this one because it a. had the potential to show a really positive therapy experience to a great number of people and b. broke some very fundamental rules of therapy without a thought, creating a misleading portrayal of therapy that (I think) could easily scare young viewers or viewers with no experience in therapy away from pursuing help if they have a mental illness or are simply struggling.

The first thing that concerned me was that we saw multiple therapy sessions, and never once did the therapist offer any actual suggestions of what Emily and Lorelai could do to repair their relationship, or of skills that Lorelai could use in her own life. Nearly every time we saw her she just smiled and nodded or said that time was up. The sessions between Emily and Lorelai appeared to consist of sitting in silence for an hour. Now I know that it’s not unheard of for clients to be reticent, and for there to be a lot of silence, but most therapists will do more than just sit there. They ask questions. They suggest interpretations of different events. They give actual concrete ideas of how to handle your emotions and things to do so that your emotions start to feel better. I’ve found it a common misunderstanding that going to therapy is just paying someone to listen to you. Sure, that’s part of it, but that greatly underestimates all the work that a therapist actually does.

I’m sure there are therapists out there who don’t do much, but if you find a half decent one, they will be doing actual WORK. They will help you create images to understand your emotions better. They will help you draw connections between different events in your life and your current behaviors. They will give you strategies for dealing with other people. They will challenge different beliefs that you have which might be leading to unhappiness. They will give suggestions of activities, mantras, exercises, etc. that can help emotions feel less powerful and can calm you. The conviction that therapy is “just talking” is a huge part of the reason people are resistant to it. Why would you waste your time doing that when you can do it with friends or family? But therapy, while it is talk based, is about learning. It teaches you what you’re supposed to actually do outside of therapy. This therapist was the WORST portrayal of a therapist that doesn’t do anything.

Beyond that, when Lorelai and Emily actually did say things, they out and out fought and insulted each other. They were passive aggressive and cruel. No self-respecting therapist would let those behaviors go unchallenged. The point of therapy for any relationship is to create a safer space where nasty behavior like that gets curtailed and you can actually speak civilly to each other to get at real issues. All of the things that Lorelai and Emily said were ripe for further discussion, and the therapist just let them hang there. The show for some reason did not address that this was an AWFUL therapist.

And finally, perhaps worst, was a serious ethical breach that happened in the show without a single note. When the therapist is auditioning for Stars Hollow: The Musical, she sees Lorelai, greets her, and asks Lorelai to put in a good word. NO. NONONO. Therapists are not allowed to acknowledge that they know patients outside of therapy unless the patient acknowledges it first for confidentiality reasons. Not only that, but it’s horrifically unethical to use your position as someone’s therapist (where you have power over them) to ask for favors from them. This therapist should lose their license.

I understand that TV does not perfectly mimic reality, but these are huge problems for the portrayal of therapy on TV, and they are damaging to people’s understanding of what they can expect and their openness to attending therapy. We can do better.

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Buying In To the Wedding Industrial Complex

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Note: this will be rambly and repetitive. I’m working through some shit, and I do that in writing, and I put it here so that I have to be thoughtful. Deal with it.

So it turns out that a wedding costs a lot of money. I know, I know, this is not news, but it doesn’t really hit you until you’re planning one how easy it is to blow your budget and how challenging it is to find reasonable options. I’ve been a big hater of the wedding industrial complex for a long time now, but it’s only since starting the process of planning my own wedding that I realize how emotionally fraught it is to try to resist that complex in the face of all the expectations about weddings.

In particular, even if you don’t want to spend upwards of ten thousand dollars, it’s easy to let everyone convince you that this day is uber extra special and it should be just perfect. The dress should be a perfect representation of you that flatters you in every way, the venue should give the “feel” of you as a couple, the decor should be tasteful and personal, the food should be stellar. You don’t want it to be boring after all, and you want to remember it for years to come as fantastic and awesome! It’s stressful to try to budget while also making it a special day that feels fun and important and makes your guests and family and you happy.

There are two things that I want to be true about my wedding at the same time: it’s an important day, one that I would like to enjoy and remember. It is also not the most important day of my life, and probably not even in the list of the top 5 most important days of my life. It’s not even the most important day in my relationship (though it is gonna be pretty awesome and I’m excited for the legal change). But like most people, I am fallible, and subject to influence, and full of all kinds of emotions about living up to expectations.

I’ve been spending hours each week researching and planning my wedding, and unsurprisingly, in that process I have started to internalize some of the messages that abound on wedding planning websites and blogs: The Dress will be perfect and special. Everyone will notice the Little Touches you bring to the day. People will be horribly offended if you don’t treat them right. Despite how helpful and supportive my family has been and how little I knew about weddings and wedding traditions leading up to my engagement, I’m finding that there’s suddenly a lot of pressure.

It’s come to a head with the dress. Now I’m going to be honest: I love dresses, and I’ve been watching Say Yes to the Dress for years, because I am SO EXCITED to wear something amazing that I can’t get away with any other time in my life. But as I’ve tried on dress after dress I’ve started to realize that there’s a message about The Dress that says it will be “perfectly, uniquely you” and it will stand out from all other dresses. It will be the kind of dress that makes you say damn the pricetag (because these messages are here to get you to spend money) and if you find it after you’ve already bought a dress, then you’ll just have to get a second one because it’s perfect.

I’ve started to feel as if no dress will be right. I have so many ideas and desires for a dress (I love them all), and I have no idea which one is The One. It’s started to become so intensely stressful to me that I don’t even want to look at or think about dresses anymore, which is basically the saddest thing ever because I love dresses. And that is what has tipped me off: this isn’t me. This is the wedding industrial complex. And I’m buying in. I’m letting a lot of marketing steal something that usually brings me a lot of joy. The point at which thinking about and planning for a day that I’m excited for becomes a stressful gauntlet of “is this exactly right” is the point at which I’m not doing it for me anymore.

And that’s where things get complicated. Because I am a perfectionist, and I’m an event planner, and I love details and I love finding just the right thing. At what point am I buying in to messaging vs. working hard to stay true to myself? None of us can entirely suss out what parts of ourself is “ME” and what is “INFLUENCE” because those two things are endlessly intertwined, and honestly there’s nothing wrong with being influenced sometimes. The hardest part of wedding planning so far has been that a wedding is supposed to reflect your identity, and nailing down my identity is basically the hardest thing I can imagine.

Here’s the truth: all of us will buy in to some extent. That’s not the worst thing in the world. We all live and breathe capitalism every day. The reason it feels like such a Big Damn Deal for your wedding is because your wedding is supposed to be You and Pure and Perfect. It won’t be. It will be a compromise. You will settle. I will settle. That seems like a good representation of me though. I’m pulled in a thousand directions every day, and my life is one of settling for the moment, settling for what I’m capable of, settling for what will actually make me happy instead of what seems like the “Right” choice.

There is no “the” dress or venue or anything. We all have a thousand facets and nothing will represent us perfectly. The trend in weddings right now is for the wedding to be “perfectly you” and that simply cannot happen for most o fus. How close is a close enough approximation? What is selling yourself out? How do you understand your own priorities? It’s easy for “unique” and “me” to be the new wedding industrial complex. Even Offbeat Bride, which I love, exists to sell things, which means that all of those gorgeously unique and quirky weddings are there to make you want them.

Most people will probably not care in the slightest about the details of my wedding or the dress I wore. That’s all me. That’s all the money that’s spent to make me think that people will be picking nits through the whole day. So I’ve bought into that. Ok. I have to deal with that anxiety now because it won’t just go away. I can’t make it go away by reminding myself it’s all made up. So I will use the same skills I use against my anxious brain any other time to continue reminding myself of what’s important, and to ground myself in the moment, and to get over the irrational fears I have. The wedding industrial complex is just my jerkbrain with a lot of money. I’ve got this. And if you’re finding that media and friends and family are getting into your head and making you worry unnecessarily, it might be time to pick up a few tips from the people who battle anxiety every day. We know how to get through when our brains tell us lies. You’ve got this too.

The Holidays: Now With Bonus Political Stress!

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I hate the holidays. I know, I’m a Grinch, but eating disorders don’t get along well with Thanksgiving, and social anxiety is not a fan of large gatherings with people you only see once or twice a year. Any kind of chronic physical or mental illness makes holidays seriously challenging, which is truly a giant pile of butts because I love my family and I wish I didn’t have to spend so much time prepping for seeing them and recuperating afterwards. This post is in fact late because of stress induced sickness from a very long Thanksgiving. But better late than never, and I’m glad I spent the time taking care of myself.

I know I’m not the only one out there who despite loving their family and friends finds the excessive social nature of the holidays overwhelming and exhausting, and who is more tense than usual thanks to the heightened political climate this year. So with that in mind, here is a guide to not talking about things you don’t want to talk about. Because socializing is hard and it’s even harder if your family is made up of Trump supporters and you have social anxiety.

My first and biggest recommendation is to decide ahead of time what your boundaries are. Once you know how much you’re willing to discuss or tolerate, you can create plans to deal with the situations you foresee. Are you willing to talk about politics at all? Are there specific people you will talk about politics with, but not others? Do you have a limit to how much you’re willing to talk politics? Is it too stressful to even hear others talk about politics? Answer these questions and try to plan for any problem situations you can foresee.

One of the most important skills you can work on is escaping conversations you really don’t want to be in. This is useful no matter what your boundaries are. You can use it to get away from a problem person before the conversation turns sour, to get out of a conversation with someone you normally like who has turned to obnoxious topics, or when you’re just feeling overwhelmed. One option is to enlist someone you trust for help. Let them know you might need to get away for a little bit, and text when you need a hand. They can come in and say they need your help with something. Other alternatives include telling your conversational partner you need to use the restroom, or getting a refill on your drink. Practice a couple of get away lines before you go. It might seem ridiculous, but it helps to have something at your fingertips.

Escaping a conversation is a good way to deal with a situation if you don’t want to talk to someone anymore or if there is somewhere else you can go hang out. But what if everyone is engaged in the obnoxious conversation, or this is the cousin you never see and would really like to catch up with? Well you’re also allowed to set boundaries with your family members. This can be one of the more challenging things to try because it is more direct than simply quietly escaping. Start by naming what the people are doing, then identify how it makes you feel. For example “You’re talking a lot about politics and I feel really uncomfortable with that topic.” Then you state your boundary: “Please stop talking about politics with me.” If the person accepts the boundary and moves on, great! If they do not, you have to introduce some kind of consequence. “I asked you to stop talking about politics and you didn’t. If you keep talking about this, I’m going to go in the other room.” You may have to scale the consequence. If everyone in the house will not stop doing something that you have asked them repeatedly not to do, it is OK to leave. You don’t have to do it in a big huff, but simply inform people “I’ve asked people not to do x, and people continue to do x. I’m going to leave now because my boundaries are not being respected.”

 

You can practice these skills ahead of time. Role playing might seem silly, but I have done role playing for setting boundaries and it turns out it helps to have said the words out loud before you try to use them in context. It can also help remind you of your limits so that you stick to them. You may also want to set a reminder somewhere so that you don’t forget to take care of yourself: that could be a close family member who checks in, an alarm that goes off partway through the party so that you check in with yourself, or a note in your pocket. Just make sure that once you get into the social situation, you don’t forget all the planning and work you did ahead of time.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, you cannot get through the holidays if you only focus on the obvious things like gatherings and family time that might be stressful. This month set goals to sleep enough, eat well, and move your body on a regular basis. When you are physically taken care of, your emotional baseline is simply more stable. If you have anxiety or some other illness that makes holiday times hard, you probably know your coping skills. You know the things you can do that will make you feel better about yourself. Focus on those this month. The more you can keep your overall stress level low, the better you will be able to handle each individual instance of stress.

Good luck and I hope all of my fellow socially anxious folks actually have some fun this holiday season! You deserve it.