Social anxiety disorder is the persistent, intense fear of social or performance situations where one might be judged by others.
Individuals with this disorder tend to avoid large gatherings and many social events due to the fear of being scrutinized by others, humiliated in public, or embarrassed. If you experience social anxiety, you may be so caught up in what other people think about you that your relationships suffer.
Around the holidays, when parties are in full swing and there are lots of get-togethers, it becomes more difficult for someone with social anxiety to blend into his or her surroundings. While many have good associations with the holidays, for people with social anxiety, social interactions are more challenging and they often avoid holiday events that friends, family, and co-workers look forward to.
You may have social anxiety disorder if…
- It’s hard for you to enjoy holiday gatherings because it brings up a lot of issues from your past.
- You often find yourself questioning whether or not other people will like you.
- The thought of being seen by anyone is too much for you at the moment.
- It’s hard for you to get out of the house because it’s scary knowing that other people may be judging you.
- You’ve made up excuses over the years for why you’re not going to family gatherings or work events.
You may feel like this all of the time—and maybe even more so during the holidays because you’re afraid of what people are saying about you when you aren’t around. You want to blend in with everyone else, but where do you draw the line between wanting to be social and being socially isolated?
It can be difficult because there is no black-and-white answer. There are days when you may think that it would be nice if other people could understand what it’s like for you. But other times, it feels best to keep your feelings to yourself so that you don’t have to deal with anyone asking questions.
You may not like having these thoughts and feelings because they make it difficult for you to accomplish the things that are important to you.
Social anxiety makes it tough for you to be around other people and sometimes it’s just easier to relax and let yourself avoid stressful situations rather than confront the issue head-on. Although the holidays bring up memories from past events and experiences with other people, it doesn’t mean that you should give up on trying to make new friends and form better relationships.
How to cope with social anxiety around the holidays:
- Plan ahead — Knowing ahead of time when you need to take a break will help you get through an event. It’s also best not to over-schedule yourself.
- Practice acceptance — Everyone has an occasional slip-up and no one is perfect. Instead of letting that bother you, try to relax and practice acceptance of yourself as you are.
- Set realistic goals — Set some short-term goals for yourself before going into any given situation, such as a holiday party. For example: “I’ll stay for an hour and then leave.” You might even take it one step further by rewarding yourself for accomplishing your goal (see below).
- Spend time with those who matter — Spend as much time as possible with those who know and accept you as you are. If this is impossible, then try to focus on yourself and practice self-care.
- Challenge yourself, but don’t over-extend — It can be good to challenge your anxiety by trying to tolerate it, but if you’re feeling too stressed, take a break and try again later. Over-extending yourself can exacerbate your anxiety.
- Keep things in perspective — Remember that these are just social gatherings; they’re not life or death situations. No one is expecting you to be perfect or to always know what to say.
- Reward yourself — Keep a list of your achievements and give yourself a little something each time you accomplish one of the goals that you’ve set for yourself (even for baby steps).
- Permit yourself to say “no” — It’s okay to say no if you don’t want to do something or you need a break. Setting boundaries and taking care of yourself are just as important when dealing with social anxiety.
If all else fails, try not to get too overwhelmed by the holiday festivities and take a step back from your anxiety if you can. You don’t have to go to every party or event. Spend some time practicing self-care: relaxing, meditating, or exercising.
If necessary, call someone who understands what you’re going through and talk about it with them. The holidays are meant to be a time of celebration, joy, and happiness. It’s not necessary for it to feel stressful or overwhelming. Celebrate your achievements, have compassion for yourself and don’t take on more than you can handle.