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What Having Anxiety Is Like During the Holidays

All is not calm and bright for those with anxiety.

Photo by Artyom Kulikov on Unsplash

For those who struggle with their mental health, the holidays can be a stressful time.

From the pressures to buy gifts for friends and family to the overload of “living my best life moments” broadcasted onto social media, Christmastime is not easy.

I’ve been panic attack-free for almost a month now. By being on winter break from my intense classes at college, prioritizing self-care is uncomplicated. But you know when life’s stresses begin to pile in and you’re just not having a good day? Well, last week I was having one of those days. Caused by things said from friends and being overwhelmed with pessimism about my classes next year, I endured a day of shaky hands and constant breakdowns. The effects of my not-so-good day had brought me to the decision that maybe I needed some fresh air. However, it only caused a downward spiral of anxiety at the mall.

The crowds were thick as soon as I entered the mall. Holiday jingles played loudly in stores. Herds of teenagers just stood frozen in the middle of walkways, with no signs of clearing the way in sight. Strollers, transporting screaming babies, became blockades from simply walking. It quickly became too chaotic to bear. Going into each store felt more like a task, and I found myself dreading the wall of people I would soon hit rather than getting excited about the 50 percent off deals. Aside from there was no room to walk, an already claustrophobic me felt as if I was breathing through a straw as I dashed into Victoria’s Secret. Just get in and get out is what I kept telling myself, but my anxiety had other plans.

I got shoved a few times by people trying to squeeze between me and the mannequins. I felt crowded as customers were idle, typing away on their phones, and oblivious to the fact that others were actually trying to purchase something. After already feeling as if I were a doormat emotionally, combined with my inability to focus on why I’d come into VS in the first place, my eyes began to tear up. But I couldn’t have a breakdown in Victoria’s Secret because how embarrassing would that be! I asked an associate for assistance about a specific type of bra I was trying to find, struggling to string my words together. She just stared at me with confusion and prompted me to consult Victoria's Secret website if I had any more questions. I felt small, and I left the store without any new bras to wear in 2019.

The next store I tried to seek refuge in was Old Navy—another poor decision. Due to the fact that people act like cavemen/cavewomen during the holidays and have tossed all manners out of the window, this Old Navy looked like a tornado had plopped itself right in the middle of everything. Clothes were either strewn across the floor, hanging off the racks, or balled up on displays. I roamed around the store with a fuzzy mind. I’d no plans of buying anything but wanted to use up the many $5 off coupons spammed to me in the mail. I pulled at the fabric of the shirts on display, attempting to distract myself with how soft they were. I settled for a striped yellow and white long sleeve shirt and clung to it for a while. Still, I just couldn’t shake the anxious fog that I was sinking into. Then, without even considering that I was in her path, a lady charged past me and I fell into a clothing rack. Pushers: 2, Courtney: 0, and I was on the brink of tapping out of this boxing ring. I tossed the shirt back onto the rack and paced out of the Old Navy.

At this point, I was beginning to crumble. The best thing for me was to just go home. There were more people, more noise, and more disarray. When I was leaving the mall, a girl sped out of Urban Outfitters, laughing and looking back at her friend who got stopped at the door after the alarm went off in the store. I couldn’t tell what was going on, so I kept my head down and continued to walk. But when I got on the escalator, the smirking girl followed behind me. My heart climbed into my throat, but I tried to not be wary of the girl behind me. Eventually, when things were clear for her, the girl broke away from me and somehow managed to meet up with the girl caught at the door of Urban Outfitters. Very strange.

I had another breakdown in the car, and I guess this was the way my body knew how to calm down from a stressful time at the mall. I threw myself a pity party in my head, combing over the friends I’d lost and things I’d done. When you have social anxiety, or really any form of anxiety, you can never forget the things that went wrong. It’s like your brain is programmed to always unearth the things you don’t want to think about. You always think that everyone hates you for the smallest things you've said. You never feel as if you can do anything right. You never feel good enough. For the whole ride home, everything just kept flooding back and replaying, unraveling like a crappy VHS tape from the 90s.

For me, the holidays bring a wave of depression. No amount of lights strung on buildings or inflatable Santas can erase the annual feelings of anxiety and sadness. If you’re struggling as this December comes to a close, know that you are not alone. I and many others are struggling too. It may seem dark now, while the rest of the world is bathing in cheer, but it is possible to get through. There is no way to tell when, though, and that's the scary part. 

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