Surviving the Christmas Season

If there is one thing we know about being human, it is that this time of year can elicit a myriad of emotions. It can trigger happiness and sadness, love and loneliness, gratitude, stress and anxiety in equal measure. Our emotions are like a continuum, all demanding varying levels of attention at different stages throughout our lives, but come winter time, they like to scream and shout.

What I have learned from my therapeutic practice is that many of these emotions are linked to our own psychological wounds. But the important thing to remind ourselves is that such emotions (and wounds) are tolerable and transient. And there are things that can help when you feel this way.

And that is what I would like to share with you. Below I have outlined some current prevailing themes within my therapy room.  So, have a read below and see if anything resonates for you. I hope you find it helpful!

Self Compassion

What always amazes me is how unkind we are to ourselves when we are going through a difficult time. When we are experiencing emotional pain we need to be kind to ourselves,  just as we would if we were in physical pain.  This can be done on an action based level and a cognitive level.

Ask yourself, what do I need right now? What will help me get through today? For some people that might mean watching a boxset, eating takeaway, watching a movie. For others it might mean going to the gym or doing some meditation or yoga.

We all have an inner critic, who becomes the default when are we feeling low and consequently our thinking becomes distorted and we start feeling badly about ourselves. This tends to make use feel worse!

Think about if a friend came to you whilst sad, how would you respond to them? Would you tell them to go away and sort themselves out and leave you alone? Or would you be more empathic toward them? Would you remind your friend that they are going through a difficult time right now? That they will get through it and that you are there for them? Would you listen to them, give them a hug, show them you care?

Now, how do you respond to yourself when you are feeling sad? Would you offer yourself the same compassion and as you would your friend? If not, then this is something that needs to be different for you. 

So perhaps next time round, try something like this

  • Acknowledge your pain: I am experiencing X right now
  • Acknowledge the commonality of this: X is common to all/ everyone experiences X, especially this time of year
  • Remind yourself to take it one step at a time: I will take it day by day, moment  by moment
  • Remind yourself it will pass: This too shall pass
  • What do you wish for yourself?  I send/wish myself love and kindness today.   

This is a very brief introduction to self-compassion. You will find more detailed information here: and here

Connect with others

Despite having busy social calendars, people often feel disconnected, isolated and lonely this time of year, particularly if they’ve lost a loved one.

It can often be hard to connect with others when you’re experiencing difficult emotions. Avoiding social events is a go to coping style but it can often lead to increased despair. What I have noticed helps with this is to connect with people in a way that feels safe and right for you.

That means meeting up with friends or family somewhere that’s not triggering for you.  It could mean doing something different like going for a walk, coffee, cinema, meeting in your own home.  What’s important to remember here is if you don’t want to talk about what’s going on for you then don’t. Sometimes paying too much attention to our pain is as bad as paying to little, particularly  when our emotions are heightened.

The simple act of connecting with those we love and having a laugh can be all we need in that moment and provide the relief we are looking for. 

Overcome emotional flooding in the moment

If you feel you are going to burst into tears or have a panic attack, have some tools in place to help you .The key thing to ask yourself is ‘What do I need right now? What will help me right now in this moment? Prepare yourself before you leave the house by doing whatever works for you to keep you grounded.  Some things that have worked for clients include:

  • Deep breathing 7/11 – In for a count of 7 out for 11. Repeat 3 times.
  • Carry a ‘worry stone’ or ‘stress ball’ with you. Squeeze your tension/pain into this and imagine it leaving your mind and body.
  • Have a mantra such as ‘This too shall pass. I am okay’
  • Distract yourself with your phone or by engaging the senses (5,4,3,2,1 see previous post for detail on this)

Again, this is a very brief introduction to technique based practice. For a practical guide on this, I would recommend a book called The Road to Calm by Carolyn Diatch. See link here: It includes lots of useful practices to help overcome emotional flooding.

Build and maintain Boundaries with Family

Family can be triggering for all of us. If you find that you are nervous about spending time with family then it’s important to hold firm boundaries with them so that they don’t cross the line. Here are some tips for maintaining boundaries with family.

  • Saying no and meaning no: i.e. following through on what it is that you said no to and not giving in last minute to the emotional manipulation of family member.
  • Impress don’t regress: Family expect you to behave in a particular way and they will push your buttons until you do. Impress them by showing that you are no-longer that version of yourself! That might mean engaging with your family in a way that you haven’t before. This will make it less likely that you will regress and more likely that you will impress!
  • Responding not reacting: Be calm in your engagement, don’t shout as that will not communicate the message. It will likely result in further anger. Respond calmly and repeat yourself as many times as is needed. 
  • Time management: Have a contingency plan if you need some family free time by setting aside time for meeting friends, or getting out of the household.   

This is merely a brief introduction into effective communication, something we can all benefit from practicing more of.  If you would like to learn more about this, visit website below, by  Dr. Julie Hanks: She has an excellent book on assertive communication and some practical guides about it.

So that concludes my four themes for helping you through the Christmas holidays. I wish you a happy, peaceful Christmas and remember to enjoy yourself! 

How can I manage my anxiety?

If you are reading this because you experience anxiety, you will sadly be aware of the debilitating effects it can have.  At its best anxiety is a mild palpitation or a slight sweat of the palms, at its worst it is a deep sense of dread followed by a full on panic attack leaving you feeling terrified and completely out of control.

Anxiety can be overwhelming. Bearing that in mind, I have tried to be succinct in writing this in the hope it feels accessible for you.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a form of fear.  Fear is a protective response that we all experience when we perceive a threat. Anxiety occurs when that fear becomes excessive and we perceive a threat that is not actually present.


The affects are two-fold. The immediate affects are:

  • Cognitive distortions (Thinking and fearing the worst possible outcome)
  • Physical repercussions (Increased heart rate, shortness of breath, dizziness, ‘jelly’ like feeling in your legs)

The long term affects can be on behaviour. This includes aspects of behavioural change such as avoiding social gatherings, fearing use of public transport, becoming panicky in social situations and dreading going to certain places.

How can it be helped?

The good news is that anxiety can be managed by challenging the two immediate ways it affects us. This means challenging our cognitive responses and alleviating the physical symptoms. The body can be like a file cabinet for the mind and this is why it’s important to alleviate tension within the body. The idea here is that you are focusing your attention elsewhere, NOT on the anxious feeling. By doing this you are reducing emotional flooding and learning how to regulate the effects (known as affect regulation).

Below are three simple methods to try to help you to achieve this.

Calming the Body

You may be tired of people telling you to ‘take a deep breath’ or ‘focus on your breath’ but there are several variations of breathing that can help to calm the mind.  Here are some options that may be useful to try.


  1. Take a deep breath in.
  2. HOLD your breath for 3 seconds (Count 1,2,3).
  3. Exhale SLOWLY (You can count on the exhale if you need to). Do this three times.
  4. Now notice what you’re feeling (Calm, relief, relaxed, any sensations in the body).
  5. Name what you are experiencing and repeat this to yourself as many times as you need too.

I am Calm/Relaxed/Okay/Safe.


This is known as the 7/11 rule and its very simple

  1. Inhale and count to 7.
  2. Exhale SLOWLY and count to 11.
  3. Do this three times and follow steps 4 and 5 above. If 7/11 doesn’t work for you then you can change this. Choose a count that does work for you, for example 5/9, or 6/10 etc.


This is known as the 5,4,3,2,1 approach.  Below is only a guideline. You can mix and match accordingly; find whatever works for you and go from there.

  1. Look around you and name five things you can see. Notice things that you haven’t seen before. List them, one by one in your mind.
  2. Name four things that you can hear? Are they nearby or in the distance? Notice them and name them one by one.
  3. Are there three things that you can touch or feel? You can even stroke your arm or touch your hair. Notice the texture, is it soft or hard? Touch an item of clothing, what does it feel like? You can even carry something with you. Some people have a ‘worry stone’ or a sentimental item that they hold or squeeze when they are triggered.
  4. What are the smells around you? Name two if you can. Can you smell coffee or flowers or freshly cut grass?
  5. Is there one thing you can taste? Perhaps you can chew some gum or eat a snack. Focus on the taste and the texture.

Challenging Anxiety Provoking Thoughts

It is easier to challenge our thoughts when we have minimized the physical symptoms of anxiety.  In the early stages, rather than replacing the anxiety provoking thought, it’s useful to develop some counter statements in response to the thought. Here are some useful questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is my thought a likely scenario or a worst case scenario?
  2. Could I be making assumptions or jumping to conclusions right now?
  3. Am I basing this thought on feeling or fact?
  4. If so, what is the feeling (fear) and what is the fact? (That I am safe, okay etc.)
  5. What evidence is there to support this thought?
  6. What evidence is there against this thought?
  7. How likely is it that this will actually occur?
  8. What is the likelihood that this WILL NOT occur?
  9. What would I say to a friend right now?

Often with anxiety, our responses become habitual.  A key question to ask yourself is:

Am I having this thought out of habit? Do the facts actually support it?

It is a good idea to write down the answers to these questions. It is an even better idea to practice these techniques daily, so they eventually become a replacement habitual response. However, even if you try one of these techniques you are off to a good start.

The experience that occurs when we become anxious is known in psycho-therapeutic terms as flooding and more often than not it is instigated by a trigger.  Triggers vary and can be subjective. They can be things like getting on a crowded bus, going to meet friends or any such event that is anxiety provoking. It can be useful to consider what your triggers may be, so you can be more prepared.

Remember, the aim of the exercises described above, are to provide you with a toolkit to implement when you are triggered.

It’s imperative to remember what you CAN do when triggered.

  • Stop and catch the emotion
  • Take some time out
  • Put the tools into practice.

This post is primarily concerned with managing the two immediate responses one has to anxiety. I hope to write a further post which will explore further techniques for creating a safe space, wherein you can feel calm. Now, it’s time to start practicing! Good luck.