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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

  1. When Panic Attacks, Duck! Ten Tips for Surviving the Holidays

    December 11, 2016 by Diane

    With the holiday season upon us, I decided to roll out three blog posts this week to help ease any anxiety you might be feeling. This post, from December 2015, offers ten tips to tamp down the jitters.

    Santa Claus

    Holidays can be stressful whether you struggle with anxiety or not. But with a sensitive nervous system, all the hustle and bustle of the season can be the tipping point that sends you into full-blown panic. Here are my tips on how to survive the holidays, and what to do if panic does attack.

    1. Pace yourself

    Christmas is a time of giving and receiving. Don’t give all of your energy to buying and wrapping presents, standing in lines, driving from mall to mall, and attending every party you’re invited to attend. All of these activities will zap whatever energy you’ve got if you don’t allow yourself downtime. Here’s where the receiving comes in. Receive the gift of slacking off in front of the television with a bowl of popcorn. Receive the gift of letting other people do some of the shlepping around. Receive the gift of taking a nap, or a long hot bath, or drinking a glass of wine, your feet in slippers, a good book at hand. And forget about perfection. Kick that demon to the curb. Whatever gift you choose, whatever meal you plan, is good enough.

    2. Take care

    Are you eating well? Exercising? Getting enough sleep? Are you spending time in nature, or some other sacred space? You’ll need to make an extra effort to take care of yourself when the stress of holidays is upon you. Sweets are plentiful, but limit the sugar, as it feeds anxiety. Ditto for caffeine. Cold weather may keep you indoors, but you can still do some stretching, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, calisthenics, or just dance around the living room in your pjs to release tension. Maintain a sleep schedule, and include a pre-sleep ritual like turning off the tv, cell phone and computer a half hour before you slip under the covers. And try to keep the volume down on the radio. Noise batters the nerves, too.

    3. Slow down

    Tis’ the season to feel rushed. What’s a body to do? Sloooooooow doooooooown. Make all of your movements slower. Walk, talk, whatever it is you’re doing, at a more leisurely pace. This will help to calm your heart, unclench your muscles, and lower your blood pressure.

    4. Be mindful

    Instead of thinking about all of the tasks ahead of you, bring your attention to the present moment. Focus on what you’re doing, like a camera zooming in for a close-up. Time will seem to expand, and you’ll feel less overwhelmed.

    5. Ask for help

    Don’t try to cook the whole meal, hang all the decorations, do all the dishes, or anything else involved in setting the scene, all by yourself. If others offer, accept their help. If they don’t, then prod those lazy duffs off the couch and march them into the kitchen. Many hands make for light work. And it’s a lot more fun.

    6. If panic attacks, duck

    Not under the table into the fetal position. Duck out—to the bathroom, for some deep breathing. Step outside for some fresh air and a larger perspective. Take a walk, play with the kids. Or just start in on those dishes in the kitchen.

    7. Express what you’re feeling

    It’s probably not a good idea, as you’re serving the ham, to announce to the room: “I’m having a panic attack.” But you might want to seek out someone you trust and tell them what’s going on. Why? It lets off some of the pressure that anxiety builds up. You don’t have to suffer alone.

    8. Talk to somebody who’s sympathetic

    Not the family member who’s liable to say: “Snap out of it!” Not the relative who’s uncomfortable with his own emotions, let alone yours. Instead, find someone who understands what you’re going through. It’s a good bet that over half the people gathered together (probably more) deal with anxiety. You only need to find one of those fellow sufferers to talk to. Pull that person aside and say: “I’m feeling anxious right now and can’t seem to shake it.”

    9. Distract yourself

    Count how many red and green objects are in the room. Juggle the Christmas tree ornaments. Take notes on how your family behaves after a few stiff drinks (you can use the information in your next novel!). Find someone who looks more frazzled than you, and do something to make them feel less so. Try not to make it all about you, or your anxiety, even though it feels that way.

    10. Be the observer

    Observe the action going on around you as if you are the calm, still center of the storm. Observe your panic go up and down in intensity. Observe yourself observing yourself, as if you are standing in the back of a movie theater, watching yourself in the third row, watching your life on the screen.

    Remember, this too will pass. The anxiety, the day. And when it does, pat yourself on the back for having survived.


  2. When the Small-Town Parade Passed Me By

    July 10, 2016 by Diane

    woman walking in snow

    Over four months one winter, without a job or the money to pay rent, I vacated my apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area and holed up with my father, stepmother, and sister in the tiny town of Twain Harte in the Sierras, along with their rambunctious dog, orphaned cats, and a canary that sang the Tequila Sunrise song.

    While I was immensely grateful to have a loving family who took me in and tolerated my anti-social behavior, as an introvert, being suddenly thrust into a household of people and pets, I failed miserably as a member of the tribe. I spent the days hiding in the guest room, making half-hearted attempts to write a novel.

    Carl Hogan walked downstairs with a plate of wet cat food and was never seen again.

    “What happened to Carl?” my father asked from time to time, his eagerness palpable.

    I’d mumble something unintelligible and go out for a walk in the boy’s snow boots I had purchased at the local Walmart that were a size too small, trudging down icy roads to a boulder by a ditch flowing with water, where I sat and contemplated my life.

    Occasionally, I visited the grocery store.

    On a December evening I was on one such grocery-buying escapade, when sawhorses magically appeared on the street, blocking off the one and only road out. A parade was marching in, so I stashed the groceries in my trunk and joined the crowd of onlookers.

    The tennis club led the parade, carrying their rackets and a huge banner that read “Twain Harte Tennis Club” in case there was any doubt. The Kazoo Club came next, followed by the Lion’s Club and what may have been the Dog-Walking Club, or a group of people out walking their dogs. Next up: the volunteer fire department—which is to say, the barber, the pharmacist, the newspaper editor and the taxidermist/bar owner who was also a member of the Hunting Club. A trio of girls with Shirley Temple arms rode by on their father’s shoulders—or who I assumed were their fathers but may have been the Elk’s Club. They were followed by an elderly man driving a Model T—the mayor, I guessed, and his diminutive female companion, she giving a royal wave, his more like a Texas howdy doody holler.

    I heard the marching band before I saw them, rounding the corner onto the main street led by a young man snapping his baton up and down as if he truly were leading 76 trombones to the heart of town, rather than a paltry two, along with six trumpets, three drums and a french horn striving to keep up.

    Bringing up the rear: Santa and his sleigh, with a bevy of helpers bringing up his ample rear. The float, wreathed with tiny white Christmas tree lights, played a tinny-sounding Jingle Bells from a single speaker, proving to be too much electricity for the overloaded contraption. The whole thing shorted out, and Santa froze mid-wave.

    “Ohhhhh,” wailed the crowd lining the street. They wore mufflers and snow boots and thick ski gloves, and held hot cups of cider sold by volunteers in front of the real estate office.

    A tall man standing next to me groaned and shook his head—probably one of the parade committee members who thought he had hired a jolly old Saint Nick, and not some retired bearded guy afraid of being electrocuted.

    The lights and music flickered back on.

    “Ahhhh!” said the crowd.

    Santa settled back to waving his huge white paw, and the lights flickered off.

    “Ohhhh,” said the crowd.

    And flickered on.

    “Ahhhhh!” said the crowd.

    And off.

    “Ohhhhh.”

    And on.

    “Ahhhhh!”

    And so on, until Santa disappeared around a corner, and the man next to me wiped the sweat from his brow.

    And that was that. The parade was over.

    The crowd dispersed, volunteers packed up the cider and took down the sawhorses, and I returned to my car and sat behind the wheel in the dark.

    That winter, I often felt like the parade passed me by.

    And it was that kind of parade.


  3. Not Every Christmas Must be Memorable to be Cherished

    December 27, 2015 by Diane

    When I logon to my computer a reminder pops up:

    It’s Christmas Day.

    As if I can’t remember that yesterday was the day before Christmas. As if I can’t recall last night’s dinner with friends…

    We bring a cheap bottle of Chardonnay to the Italian family-style restaurant where we meet every Christmas Eve. He’s wearing shoes that he dusts off once a year, she’s wrapped in a muffler knit by hand. I shrug off my rain coat with the broken zipper, unable to shrug off the wisps of my day at work, the customers with their pained, desperate faces: “Do you think my son’s girlfriend’s mother will want this? She’s sixty-nine.” The man sets a bottle of lavender massage oil on the counter.

    “Do you even know this woman?” I wanted to say. “Why are you buying her a present? Go home and spend time with your son instead.”

    These thoughts swirl in my head as my two friends reminisce about their adventures as a duo in times gone by before I came into their lives. I can barely hear what they say but I’m too tired to participate. I hear instead the family in the booth behind me chattering. I hear snippets of Dean Martin singing the lounge-lizard version of The Christmas Song, or is it Frank Sinatra? My eyes rove the walls adorned with old photographs: Sophia Loren sitting next to Jayne Mansfield, her eyes cutting down to Jayne’s pendulous breasts spilling over that low neckline. Another photo: a dapper man passed out on the table, one arm flung overhead; his companion, a young woman with short curls, stroking his slick hair. Did he have too much cheap wine to drink? Did the chicken marsala do him in? I wonder these things as my companions reminisce about a hostel in Marin under a full moon, a lump of man snoring in the bottom bunk.

    We wait close to an hour for the eighty-dollar dinner to arrive and it’s disappointing: the spinach and tomato and red onion salad limp in a puddle of balsamic vinaigrette, the chicken breasts shrunken, not Jayne Mansfield proportions at all.  A disappointment; but still, this yearly tradition with our makeshift-family is something we all look forward to, tucking it away like a favorite present to be admired when winter has bleached the color from our faces, and nights are long and lonely.

    Another reminder pops up on my computer:

    Tomorrow is the day after Christmas.

    Those geniuses at Apple are on it.