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The winter holidays are a time to come together with friends and family, reflect on the year we’ve had, and look forward to the year ahead. For some people, these holidays are rooted in important religious beliefs. For others, they’re more about family and cultural traditions. However you celebrate, the winter holidays are a uniquely social time, meant to be celebrated joyously with others.

So how do you cope with the holidays if you have social anxiety?

What is social anxiety? 

According to NIMH, social anxiety “is a common type of anxiety disorder” marked by severe anxiety or fear in social situations, “such as meeting new people, dating, being on a job interview, answering a question in class, or having to talk to a cashier in a store.” It can show up as fear of being judged negatively, humiliated or embarrassed, or rejected. Social anxiety can lead to fear of interacting with people you don’t know, but it can also show up as anxiety in social situations even with people you do know. For many people with social anxiety, the more people involved in an activity or event, the worse their anxiety becomes. 

People with social anxiety may experience physical and mental symptoms. They can include:

  • shortness of breath
  • dry mouth 
  • a pounding heart 
  • sweaty palms. 
  • racing thoughts
  • difficulty concentrating 
  • constant worry about past and future interactions with others. 

However it shows up, social anxiety can pose a major challenge during the holidays, when celebrations revolve around big social gatherings. Extended family comes to visit, friends who you may not have talked to in a while reach out to reconnect. With all of this social interaction, it’s easy for anyone to become overwhelmed, but especially people living with social anxiety.

Social anxiety during the holidays

Picture the typical winter holiday scene: There’s a house where everyone gathers together. Friends and family share food, make conversation, and play games. Children run around and play, happy to see their relatives who live far away. Music plays, people dance. Things get noisy as the celebration picks up.black girl sitting on black man's lap next to a Christmas tree

For many people, this will probably sound like a fun way to spend the holidays. But for people living with social anxiety, this same scene could feel very triggering. The amount of social interaction required could feel overwhelming, and the excitement in the house could lead to feelings of sensory overload. They may feel anxious answering loved ones’ catching-up questions, and they may struggle to be present enough to participate in games and other activities. 

For people with social anxiety, even when they’re happy to see their loved ones, spending time together can feel very stressful. Despite the joy of the celebration, their symptoms may prevent them from being present and enjoying the moment.

If you experience these symptoms, you may be wondering what you can do to enjoy this holiday season more. Here are some tips to help you cope with social anxiety and get back to celebrating with the people you love.

Tips for coping with social anxiety during the holidays

Take breaks

One of the simplest ways you can manage your social anxiety this holiday season is to take intentional breaks from gatherings. It’s always okay to step away to regroup, process how you’re feeling, and meet any needs that are coming up so that you can be more available for social interaction if and when you decide to rejoin the celebration. Breaks can also include choosing not to attend every holiday event you are invited to. With the busyness of the holiday season, taking time for yourself interspersed with holiday activities is good self-care 

Practice mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness may sound difficult or out of reach, but it’s actually incredibly simple. Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of yourself and your surroundings in the present moment. It helps with redirecting your focus from anxious thoughts so that you can be more aware of enjoying what feels good and adjusting what doesn’t. Practicing mindfulness will help you to be more present with loved ones, as well as to recognize what your limits are in social gatherings, when you need a break, etc. A quick way to practice mindfulness when you are feeling particularly anxious in a social situation is to take a moment to notice what you can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. When we reconnect with our five senses, we are better able to reconnect with ourselves and our surroundings. 

Communicate with loved ones

Give your loved ones a heads up about your social anxiety so that they’re better able to recognize and respect your needs. While it may feel scary to disclose your symptoms, doing so can take some of the pressure off of you to hide what you’re going through, and enable your loved ones to offer you the support and understanding you need. Share this blog post with a relative who struggles to understand so that they can be of more help.

Let go of “shoulds”

white hands holding each otherYou may be holding onto expectations about how you “should” show up in social interactions. For example, you “should” be able to make it through the evening without getting overwhelmed, or you “shouldn’t” feel so anxious spending time with people you love. These “should”s are misleading because they suggest that there’s a right and wrong way to be in social situations. The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with needing extra support in order to thrive socially. The important thing is to do what makes you feel comfortable so that you can enjoy the holidays on your own terms.

If you’ve been struggling with social anxiety and are looking for one-on-one support to manage your symptoms, Serenity Solutions can help. Give us a call at 267-317-8817 to schedule your free 15-minute phone consultation and learn more about our services.

Wishing you and your family a happy holiday!