Social Anxiety and the Holidays Can Make for a Dreadful Combination

Though the holidays can be a wonderful time to celebrate with family and friends, it can also be one of the most challenging times of the year for people suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder. Social Anxiety Disorder as defined by the (DSM-5) is, “a marked fear or anxiety in one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to possible scrutiny by others. … Feared social or performance situations are either avoided or endured with intense anxiety or distress.”

The Holiday time is filled with social situations that can be very overwhelming to anyone who suffers from social anxiety.  Here are some common holiday stressors and suggested ways to cope with them.

Holiday Gatherings – You are surrounded by many people. You may feel like you are being judged, however, in all likelihood, this is in your head and not others’. If you stop to think about it, people are usually too busy thinking about their own insecurities and may even be having some of the same worries as you! Try to take the day step-by-step and break it down into manageable parts. Get through an hour and see how you feel. Remind yourself that this gathering is temporary and will come to an end.

Gift Giving – Are you cringing just thinking about opening your gifts while all eyes are on you? Consider that most people are not as focused on you as you may think. Also, are they really studying your every move or are they more concerned about you liking their gift? Worried if people will like your gifts? Think about how you feel it you get a gift from someone. If it is not the best gift for you do you suddenly think negative thoughts about the gift giver? Remember that not liking a gift does not suddenly equate with not liking the person who gave the gift.

Hosting the Gathering – For people with social anxiety this can trigger many stressors. Are you worried no one wants to go to, or will show up to your party? Recognize that this is likely an irrational thought. Have people not come before? What logical reason would there be that people are not happy to attend? Afterall, you are providing good food for all! Are you concerned your house is not clean enough? Are people really noticing? Your guests are likely enjoying good company and good food and the dust ball in the corner is not on their radar! Do you go to other people’s homes and judge them based on the cleanliness of their house? I imagine the answer is no? Why would they?

Work Holiday Party – Your significant other wants you to come to their work party. This may feel very threatening to you. It is likely you may not know many people there besides your partner. Are you afraid of not being able to make small talk? Devise a plan in advance. First off, let your partner know how you feel and set up a system so they do not leave you unattended for long periods. Maybe have a secret code set up to alert your partner if you are feeling very awkward and need them to find you. Remember that it takes two to make small talk. If you are conversing with someone else at the party, they are just as responsible for making the conversation flow. Taking some of that burden off you may help ease some anxiety. Perhaps, even come into the party with some possible topics in your head to discuss in case you feel stuck.

Unfortunately, people who suffer with social anxiety can find many social situations to be very stressful, not limited to the holiday season. It can have a huge negative impact on one’s life since we often find ourselves in social settings, exposed to the very fear itself. The struggle with social anxiety is that one formulates negative thoughts about themselves and assumes others have those same thoughts about them. It is important to work on challenging your negative thinking and become aware that it is an assumption, and most likely a false one, that is more likely a reflection of your own struggling self-image than about how others perceive you. Trying to recognize the thought as irrational, and that there is no evidence to support it, can help reduce your anxiety. It can be a challenging process and may take time but if you can be patient with yourself you can feel more confident in social settings.

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