Managing Social Anxiety During The Holidays

The holiday season can be a wonderful time of year. Filled with food, family, presents, and fun. But if you’re one of the millions of people diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, it can be a little overwhelming, to say the least.

According to Dr. Kalina Michalska, a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Medical News Today, “Social anxiety disorder is characterized by the presence of fear or anxiety about social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to possible scrutiny by others.” She goes on to say “The individual overestimates their likelihood of being rejected and frequently fears that he or she will act in a way that will be embarrassing and humiliating.”

Of course, we’ve all had our share of shyness or nervousness in certain social situations, like meeting new people, attending a large event, and giving a presentation. However, for those of us with social anxiety disorder, the worry that accompanies these types of situations can be debilitating and severely affect our lives.

Social anxiety is most often treated with medication and therapy, however, even with the best treatment, anxiety can still find a way to rear its anxious little head. Especially during the busy holiday seasons. So what can someone with anxiety do during the holidays? 

As tempting as it is to cancel plans, stay at home, hide under the blankets and wait for the anxiety to pass- clinicians
and researchers agree that avoidance isn’t the answer. But having the right tools often is. Here are a few suggestions of how to help manage social anxiety during this holiday season:

Plan Ahead For Conversation
Since you already know there are going to be people there, why not plan ahead a little, and think about some conversation starters. Try giving a compliment, ask about New Year’s plans, books they’ve read, popular movies, or even their recipe for the deviled eggs they brought. Keeping the conversation on someone else takes the pressure off and gets you out of your own anxious mind. 

Tell Yourself Positive Affirmations
It might feel silly doing this, but according to experts, like Joyce Marter of Northwestern University’s Counseling Center, positive thinking really works and is “a much more effective way of working to stay out of a negative downward spiral.” 

So instead of saying hurtful and mean things to yourself, try saying positive affirmations such as, “I can do this,” and “I am able to enjoy social situations.”

Find Ways to Be Helpful
Again and again, this is a go-to suggestion from therapists, counselors, and pretty much every twelve-step group there is.  Finding ways to be helpful can be everything from helping an elderly relative get their dinner, holding the door open for guests, cleaning up after a spill, and offering to help the host.

By keeping yourself busy, and giving yourself a purpose, you will not only feel helpful, but you’ll experience the self-esteem boost that comes from doing esteemable acts. 

Interact With The Kids
If the adult conversation is making you anxious, step away and head over to the kid’s table. According to Sarah Fader, a writer at Psychology Today, “Children see things differently than adults.” She goes on to say “They are thinking about entertaining themselves and not concerned about being judged. Tap into that energy and join the fun!”

Interact With Pets
Another great way to ease anxiety in social situations is to pay attention to pets. Studies have shown that petting animals reduces blood pressure, elevates mood, and releases endorphins. You can learn more about the mental health benefits that can come from being around pets, by looking at our previous article on the subject:

Minimize or Avoid Alcohol
Although alcohol may seem like an effective tool,  it more often than not heightens anxiety and panic. Even worse, it can leave you feeling out of control, embarrassed, and quite regretful the next day. So if you are going to drink, it’s best to drink in moderation- but if you can’t do that, then abstinence is definitely better.

Good Enough is Good Enough
For some people with social anxiety, the worry about everything needing to be perfect creeps in. The food needs to be just right, the guests need to be comfortable and happy, the house needs to look perfect, you need to look perfect, everything needs to be perfect.

Let it go. There is no such thing as perfection, and there is no way to control the way others feel. All you can do is be pleasant, polite, and focus on what you can contribute to the situation. Also know that no one is thinking about you, the food, the ambiance, or the guests, as much as you are. So you can relax and take it easy.

And last but not least…

Give Yourself Permission to Say No
Just because family and friends may want you to celebrate with them, doesn’t mean that you need to attend every party and social situation. You can use your discretion. And, if you do attend a social event, try taking your own car, or having a reliable means of transportation, in case after an hour, you’re ready to go.

Just remember, the holidays are about being with others- but being with others in a way that is healthy for you and your mental health. So keep this in mind, and don’t overbook yourself. Don’t stay longer in a social situation that is uncomfortable for you.  And try some of the tools listed above.

So enjoy the good moment, pet the dog, say hi to the kids, and talk about Aunt Linda’s recipe for peanut butter cookies. Then after all is said and done, congratulate yourself with a positive affirmation.
You did it!

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