Sorting out how to deal with social anxiety during the holidays could be a little more challenging for some this year. Many of us saw interruptions to family gatherings, work-related get-togethers, and community events in some way over the past few years due to COVID. We may have previously gone our entire lives without such noticeable pauses from social activities during the holidays.
In his “Psychology Today” article entitled How to Tackle Social Anxiety, Loren Soeiro Ph.D. ABPP shares the following about social anxiety symptoms:
“Social anxiety makes you feel your worst tendencies are about to be discovered and judged by everyone around you, and it can make you want to escape or find a way to hide your shame.”
Soeiro also shares that not all social anxiousness is self-focused. Sometimes, it can come from our over concern for the wellbeing of others, wanting them to feel comfortable and experience empathy. When managed properly, this can be turned into a strength. Perhaps, after struggling socially, it makes us more compassionate and understanding of others’ social challenges.
As Christmas and the holidays once again approach, you may worry your dialogue with others may not go well or that social anxiety will be challenging to manage. In the past, these feelings may have been easier to push through. However, you could be more “out of practice” this year.
The desire to feel safe and cared for when mingling with others is instinctual. The fear of social worst-case scenarios can sometimes loom large in our minds as a result. We worry the way others value us is tied to how well we do in social settings. That expectation can put added pressure on us, with many of these stressors happening on a subconscious or, at least, unobserved level.
Christmastime can undoubtedly be a beautiful and meaningful experience with family and friends. Still, increased seasonal stressors can be challenging combined with more social interactions than usual. Left unchecked, this can lead to increased social anxiety around the holidays. And when social interactions don’t unfold as we hoped, that can lead to even more symptoms of social anxiety in our lives.
But one thing’s for sure: Thriving social encounters are vital to our wellbeing. So, how do you guard against social isolation during the holidays when previous gatherings didn’t go as you hoped? Or, how do you keep those negative thoughts about what could go wrong from actually leading to things going wrong? Here are some ideas on how to overcome anxiety during the holidays.
Abandon the Need for Perfection
First, remember we’re all imperfect people doing the best we can when interacting with each other. Some of our most significant flaws and weaknesses can come out during Christmas and the holidays. What is social anxiety focused on? Too often, perfection. One of the surest ways to lessen your social anxiety is to practice greater self-compassion. Yes, you want to excel at social engagement, but your expectations should be realistic.
Whether it’s forgetting something you wanted to say, stumbling over a word or struggling to remember someone’s name, all those things happen and more. Of course, be understanding of others’ imperfections in social interactions. But while doing so, don’t forget to extend the same kindness to yourself.
Communicating while accepting any miscues along the way can make others feel more at ease too. They’re reminded we’re all just doing the best we can, and that’s OK. This approach lowers anxiety levels for everyone involved, lightens the mood and can lead to perfect opportunities for humour (which further decreases anxiety, by the way).
Exercise Your Social Muscles More
Your social skills are like muscles that need regular exercise. The more you get together with others, the more accustomed to social interactions you become, leading to less anxiety.
The opposite is also true. The more you isolate, your desire to further isolate increases because socialization becomes more uncomfortable, and anxiety filled. If you feel that way at the moment, there isn’t something uniquely broken about you. Instead, you just need to get more intentional about getting out among other people more.
So, as the holidays approach, look for ways to exercise your “social muscles.” The more you increase your socialization, the less anxiety-provoking it will feel over time!
Pay Attention to Your Internal Dialogue this Holiday Season
Much of the success you experience socially first begins in your mind. Your internal dialogue either encourages and empowers you or discourages you, making you feel powerless.
The natural inclination for most of us is to pay heed to and grow negative internal dialogues. Often, much of this happens to us without an awareness of how toxic it can become. And sometimes, despite how much work you’ve done to improve, being with your family of origin over the holidays can bring out that long-lost negative internal script you may have grown up with.
For these reasons, challenge negative dialogues you have about how your social interactions might go or how people might perceive you. Then, replace those scripts that lead to social anxiety with something better. A therapist can be a significant help for you during this process too. The healthier you think about social encounters over the holidays, the easier discovering how to get over social anxiety will become.
How to Deal with Social Anxiety—Consider Anxiety Therapy
Therapy and methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy can help you challenge self-defeating thoughts about social interactions during the holidays and the rest of the year. The more you reframe and replace unwanted thoughts with positive, healthy and realistic ones, the less social anxiety you’ll feel.
You’ll learn how to change the downward slope to an upward one. In time, your confidence will grow as your thoughts become consistently supportive of you while anticipating social interactions or engaging in them. Also, the more positive social experiences you experience, the easier it will be to believe this will become the norm. This further entrenches positive beliefs and thoughts about your social abilities.
Will you still occasionally have less-than-stellar social encounters? Of course, you will, as that’s just part of the human experience for us all. However, through therapy and the continual strengthening of your internal dialogue, you’ll develop the resilience to take these in stride, learn from them and continue improving.
Do you currently struggle with the signs of social anxiety? Or, is social anxiety a particular concern for you at Christmastime and during the holidays? Or, maybe you feel like you have a pretty decent grasp on your social anxiety but still see room for improvement. Either way, The Relationship Centre can assist you with your next steps for eliminating social anxiety and improving your relationships.
If you’d like to learn more about how social anxiety treatment can make a difference, feel free to contact us. You are also welcome to book an appointment with us at your convenience.