The holidays can be a nightmare for people struggling with social anxiety. That’s because the best thing about the holidays, bringing people together to celebrate, is the worst for those with social anxiety issues. It’s the exact opposite of what they want to do!
Does this sound like you? If so, there are practical solutions for dealing with social anxiety during the holidays. These will help you feel more in control and less overwhelmed. That way, you can meet the holidays on your terms.
Consider these four practical steps.
1. Start with Your Self-Talk
Well before that holiday gathering, start first with your self-talk. When these sorts of things occur, what do you say to yourself? Do you have more of the “This is ridiculous,” or, “I don’t want to be here,” type of mentality? If so, then those thoughts only get your anxiety going. They prime you for feeling more stressed when you get to the event.
Instead, take a different approach and begin with self-talk that is supportive and positive. For example:
- Everything is going to be okay.
- These are my friends and they accept me.
- I’ve been to dinner with my family before and I survived.
Combine positive self-talk with a breathing exercise. Sit comfortably and practice breathing in-and-out while focusing on an affirming phrase. If you find yourself struggling during the event, go back to your breathing and positive self-talk to stay centered.
2. Focus on Individual Conversations
When at the event, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of people at the gathering. Even if you know everybody there (friends, family, coworkers) it is still a lot to take in. So what’s the solution? Focus on individual conversations with people versus the group. Find someone you know and say hello.
You can begin with some easy conversation starters. For example:
- How are things going?
- Do you have plans for the holidays?
- What have you been up to lately?
Make sure you have answers to these questions for yourself. This way you feel more prepared to enter a discussion with someone, as opposed to being caught off-guard.
3. Give Yourself Something to Do
These events might feel, well, boring. Even for those who don’t suffer from anxiety, there’s only so much to talk about. So why not give yourself a task?
For instance, perhaps you are willing to organize everyone’s coats so they don’t get lost. Or you brought a dish that needs to be heated up before serving.
Assigning yourself a task will help to redirect your attention and energy so that you feel less anxious. Plus, you feel like you are actually contributing to something instead of just passively standing in the corner.
4. Know When to Leave
As with any gathering, it’s useful to know when to make your exit. For instance, let’s say that you have been invited over to a dinner party, which begins at 7 PM. Budget about two hours for the dinner and socializing before and afterward. That allows you to leave around 9ish.
If you want, stay a little longer (especially if you are feeling less anxious!). However, give yourself a firm time when you are definitely leaving. In this example, perhaps that means no later than 9:45 PM. Feel free to leave sooner too, so long as you have made the time to meet everyone and have dinner.
Holiday Social Anxiety and Remote Gatherings
Celebrating the holidays is changing. Now many people are using online video conferencing for group gatherings. This can work both ways for those with social anxiety. On the plus side, you get to stay in the comfort of your home. However, it can still be overwhelming seeing so many faces on the screen.
If this applies to you, limit the number of people you can see at one time to make it less distressing. You can still have some go-to conversation starters and give yourself a time that’s appropriate to leave.
The holidays don’t have to be a nightmare if you have social anxiety. With some planning and structure, you can feel more in control of your anxiety and the social situation. Also, consider talking to a therapist during this time who specializes in anxiety counseling.
Click here for more information on Anxiety Treatment.