With the holidays around the corner, I’ve had several loved ones ask me what I want for Christmas. But the truth is, I’m trying to minimize all the “stuff” I own, and there’s not a whole lot that I need, so I’ve had trouble coming up with an answer.
Reflecting further, though, I got to thinking about non-material gifts. These are usually the most special kind of gift. When someone truly gives from their heart and not a store, it has a lasting impact that a new sweater or perfume or gift card never could.
For those of us struggling with anxiety (or any mental illness, really), I think the best gift someone can give us is compassion, understanding, and support. With that in mind, I’ve made my holiday wish list for this year.
- Try not to let my anxiety frustrate you.
Trust me, when I’m having a rough spell, I’m frustrated too! Remember that this disorder has nothing to do with you, it’s not something I can easily control, and voicing your frustration only makes me feel worse.
- Support me even when you don’t understand.
If I have a seemingly odd request – “Will you stand in line with me?” or “Will you order my food for me?” – please recognize that this stems from my anxiety disorder, and I’m not just trying to annoy you with senseless requests. Even if it doesn’t make sense to you, just being there for me in these small ways means the world to me.
- Remember that feelings can’t be helped.
Telling me to stop worrying because it’s not a big deal isn’t going to help. In fact, dismissing my feelings is a form of emotional invalidation, which is particularly hurtful.
- Keep in touch, but don’t pressure or guilt me.
Sometimes my anxiety causes me to retreat socially. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still care about you though! It means so much when you make an effort to reach out and stay in touch. Invite me on simple one-one-one outings sometimes, and please don’t make me feel guilty if I pass on big group outings. Sometimes it’s just too much for me, but it has nothing to do with not wanting to see you!
- Reassure me when I ask for it.
Sometimes I might ask for reassurance over things that seem ridiculous. Nothing hurts worse than rolled eyes and a condescending response. Reassuring me costs you nothing, and helps ease my anxiety tremendously.
- Allow me to be honest about how I feel.
If you’re with me and I confess that I’m feeling anxious, acting like it’s a nuisance, or saying something like “here we go again” makes me feel like I can’t be honest with you. Listening without judgment lets me know that I can trust you, and will likely ease my anxiety quite a bit when we spend time together.
- Check in occasionally about my mental health.
For me personally, if I’ve confided in you about my anxiety disorder, a simple “So, how’ve you been lately?” means a lot to me. You don’t have to be specific – I’ll know what you mean. Whether or not I choose to share in that moment, I’ll definitely appreciate the sweet gesture.
- Go for encouragement over “tough love.”
The tough-love approach does work for many people in certain situations – just usually not for those of us with anxiety. Telling me to “buck up and get over it” will only make matters worse. Telling me that you’re there for me and that you believe in me, however, helps me to feel stronger and lets me know I’m supported.
- I know that sometimes my anxiety disorder negatively affects our time together.
I hate it as much as you do. Showing forgiveness and compassion in these times is one of the best gifts you could give me.
- Like forgiveness, patience is another key part of compassion.
Be patient with me, especially during the hard times, and I will be sure to show you the same compassion in your times of need.
In these hectic days where the “holiday season” starts before Halloween and seems completely focused on consumption, I think we could all benefit from considering non-material gifts. The latest new gadget may be cool for a while, but gifts centered around love and compassion can be life-changing.