It’s “supposed” to be a special time. You’ve worked hard and are ready to take a break. But you feel more distressed and a certain pressure to be relaxed. Welcome to anxiety invading special moments.
This can be true with vacations, holidays, days/hours off, and birthdays and anniversaries. If you struggle to feel happy, content, or the way you expect you should, you are experiencing something very common to many anxiety sufferers.
I have had innumerable clients over the years talk about how down-times and moments of rest are the hardest for them sometimes- especially if they magically expect to not be stressed.
Change of Routine
Taking a break is often a change of pace. Those with Generalized Anxiety, OCD, or the like often struggle with changes in routine, and as much as sitting on a beach basking in the sun or reading a book with nothing else to do is what many fantasies are made of, actually being there can be anything but. That’s okay.
Uncertainty and lack of structure
Uncertainty is particularly hard for anxiety sufferers, so even when experiencing a good break and lack of structure, this can feel scary for many.
All the Feels
All sorts of feelings and sensations arise moment by moment, but we often are more aware of them in when we pause. This can feel overwhelming if you have some thoughts or emotions that seem a little scary or uncertain. Even feelings that are good, but different, can throw some people “off” into analyzing them, wondering about them or comparing to other times.
Feelings of guilt can occur from telling yourself or hearing others say things like, “You should be so happy right now!” “Make the most of this moment!” “These times go by so fast!” Irritation and anger can come from being unaccustomed to something. Also, if you are surrounded by people and/or feel “under the spotlight,” this can feel awkward and embarrassing. Those who experience depression and/or those who are grieving will often feel low energy, lack of motivation, and a sense of loss of hope/purpose. Fill in the blank with other experiences and you can probably see how any emotion can be experienced at any time, any place- EVEN IF YOU’RE DOING AND THINKING ALL THE RIGHT THINGS.
Unrealistic expectations are a mood and motivation killer. They also can drive anxiety. Living in reality is where it’s at, and much of mental health is about lining up a person with what is real rather than simply basing life on reactions, feelings, and sensations.
Many people walk into a birthday or special moment loaded with expectations.
- “I should be happy.”
- “Why am I not having more fun?”
- “What if I start obsessing on _____?”
- “This is the time to rest- I can’t stop my mind from thinking about all these problems!”
If you are unrealistic with how you are currently functioning, you will set yourself up for failure by magically expecting some moment of rest just because you are ordaining that time for rest.
Anticipatory anxiety is a real thing that keeps people in their heads instead of the moment, facing all sorts of challenges that won’t ever be experienced in exactly the way they are conceptualized.
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” ~Mark Twain
In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), some key interventions include learning to monitor and change out unhelpful, unrealistic, and untrue thoughts and beliefs with those that are rather helpful, realistic, and true. Unrealistic Check out “Where Your Thinking Will Trip You U in OCD” for fuller treatment of the subject.
Just What Exactly Do I Do?
So how do we respond to get away from Vacation/Holiday/Birthday/Anniversary Anxiety? This article could really go in depth much further, but hopefully you can be encouraged with just a few pointers.
- Set yourself up for success with realistic expectations.
- Welcome and accept that you may still have certain thoughts and feelings, even those that you wanted to leave behind.
- Give yourself a reasonable structure without obsessively demanding structure. What I mean by this is that if you thrive on structure, that can be a great thing. So back to point #1: give yourself reasonable expectations, even if everyone around you seems to be loving the change of scenery and is just fine without structure. Maybe this looks like having set times to make a phone call, keeping up with reading or a devotional or spiritual discipline, staying connected in a way that’s meaningful, or doing something like exercise, etc., that you normally do.
- If you’re the type of person prone to overwork (“workaholism” ), you may want to start working on rest, mindfulness, and facing whatever uncomfortable feelings or thoughts arise before you taking a break, especially vacations and longer trips. Any discomfort that drives you to keep accomplishing, even when you ne d a break, likely needs more attention than just expecting your brain to turn off.
- Feel what you feel, but lean on principles and values to guide your approach.
- Think what you think, but you don’t have to be defined by having a thought. Let your actual committed beliefs be what you pay attention to.
- Enjoy where you can. Practice gratitude. Happy Vacation/Holiday/Birthday/Anniversary to you!!