Surviving the Holidays with Social Anxiety
We are now in the middle of what some would call “the most wonderful time of the year”. However, for some, this time of year brings out the worst of your social anxiety. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is when everyday interactions cause significant anxiety, self-consciousness and embarrassment because you fear being scrutinized or judged negatively by others”.
In addition, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, social anxiety disorder affects roughly 15 million American adults. Which means that if you do have social anxiety, you are most definitely not alone.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
If you are experiencing any of the below symptoms, you too might have social anxiety:
You feel anxious around new people
You feel self-conscious in front of people and worry about being judged or criticized
You tend to avoid places with big crowds and lots of people, especially those you don’t know very well
The thought of going anywhere in public by yourself is just out of the question
You worry and have obsessive thoughts about events that are days or weeks or even months in the future
You feel out of place in social settings
Sometimes it is difficult to make new friends or maintain current relationships
You experience fear, nervousness or a racing heart beat in social situations
You replay social situations over and over in your head in fear that you did something wrong, embarrassed yourself, etc
Tips to Manage Social Anxiety During the Holidays
Holiday social gatherings can be very overwhelming. For those with social anxiety, like me, social gatherings just make you want to curl in a ball and hide. So how can you enjoy the holiday season when social anxiety seems to take over your life? Here are some helpful tips that have helped me personally.
1. Take a friend with you
Having a close friend and a friendly face with you can help immensely. This person can also help you if things just become too much. Sometimes the big fear of social situations is thinking there won’t be anyone there to talk to. Having a friend with you can help set you up for success right off the bat in a holiday event.
2. Throw out the “what if” scenarios and focus on what you can control
A major component of social anxiety disorder is all of the “what if” worry scenarios that seem to overcrowd your thoughts. What if people judge me? What if they don’t like how I look or eat? What if I do something to embarrass myself? What if I can’t find anyone to talk to and have to sit by myself? And they go on and on.
These are all uncontrollable thoughts that consume you. Focus on the things you can control like your positive attitude, making a game plan before going, and deciding on topics you are comfortable with talking about. You can only control your behavior/actions, not anyone else's. As hard as this one is, try to go with the flow. Don’t think about every next move or what could go wrong. Instead just let things happen as they come.
3. Try positive affirmations before going
Positive affirmations have lots of research surrounding them. They really do work. They can help you to calm down and get into a more positive mind set. Think of it like a pep talk and a few minutes to even work on breath work for calming your racing heart, sweaty palms, and overwhelming thoughts. Try things like “I can do this”, “I want to enjoy this social situation”, “I will be okay”, “I am wanted and loved there”, etc. This isn’t a solve-all but it can help to avoid that negative thought downward spiral.
4. Find little ones and pets!
If it is a friend or family party, there is a great chance kids and pets will be present. Kids are just being kids. They don’t go around judging others, worry about being judged, and are just focused on entertaining themselves and having fun! This is the energy everyone could use a little bit of, even those with social anxiety. Take a few minutes away from socializing with the adults and take in that kid energy.
Also take time to pet some of the animals present. Not only do pets have proven mental health benefits but this can give you a little time to yourself without the pressure of continuously engaging in conversation. Petting animals has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, elevate your mood, etc.
5. Know that it doesn’t have to go perfectly
Perfectionism is a common connection with those that have social anxiety (this one is especially me). The need for everything to be perfect. With holiday events this can include things like something being out of place, not acting festive enough, having the wrong food/drinks, having a schedule planned and it getting off track, etc. Like I have said before, social anxiety brings about thoughts of being judged, not good enough, or disappointing others.
Many with social anxiety need the over the top reactions from people to know that everything is “perfect”. It is important to know that almost all the time things will NOT go 100% as planned and that is OKAY. Sometimes it makes it even better. You also can’t control every guest and make sure they are enjoying everything perfectly. It is important to have fun for yourself too. Just take a deep breath and leave perfectionism behind.
My Social Anxiety Story
These tips have helped me to overcome my social anxiety during the holidays and I have learned to enjoy it more. As someone who deals with social anxiety, I know firsthand that some of this is easier said than done. However, it doesn’t hurt to give it a try this season. If you are feeling lost and like your social anxiety is taking over your life, we have therapists who specialize with anxiety disorders. They can help you to find balance, give you tools to manage your social anxiety, and help you rediscover your everyday joy. You don’t have to deal with this alone. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and try some of these tips so that you can have more fun than stress this year!
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