What It’s Like to Deal with Social Anxiety During the Holidays

holiday anxiety
| Mind & Body > Mental Health

Holiday-related social anxiety is tough. Kate shares her coping strategies for some of the issues that can arise over this stressful period.

The holiday season is all about being merry and bright. While everyone puts up sparkly decorations and books their calendar full of dinners, parties and social engagements, I have a hard time seeing the holidays in the same way. Everyone around me seems so delighted by the season, but my social anxiety makes me feel miserable and on-edge during the happiest time of the year. Here’s why I look forward to the end of the holiday season each year and how I try to cope with those feelings.

Issue: Everyone Seems Happier Than Me

My coping strategy: It’s okay to feel differently, and to leave events when I need to.

When I step foot inside a party, it doesn’t take long for me to feel out of place. Everyone is laughing and having a great time, while I usually stand there feeling uncomfortable. I used to be someone who loved going to holiday parties and being the center of attention. Now I want to skip the entire thing.

The thing is, I know I’m not alone, but sometimes it feels like no one else understands. I feel bad for not being as excited about social events as everyone else, and I constantly beg my boyfriend to let us leave after an hour. This holiday season though, I worked on changing my outlook for the better — it’s okay that I feel a little different, and it’s okay to leave when I feel like it’s time.

Issue: I Worry About the Events for Months

My coping strategy: I prepare small talk in advance

Many of my friends think about our annual Christmastime events for months in advance. Our group text blows up talking about what everyone is planning on wearing or bringing and what kind of wine we want for this year’s celebration. While they can’t wait for all of us to get together, I feel more anxious about our gatherings than I ever did before. I start worrying for days or even weeks before a big event, and the pit in my stomach gets worse as it looms closer.

I’ve found that preparing myself for these events in advance helps relieve some of my fears. If it’s an office party where I don’t know a lot of people, I think about the kind of small talk conversations we could have. If it’s something with my friends and family, I think about all the new things I can ask them about.

Issue: I want to revert to old patterns of self-medication

My coping strategy: Self-medication is useful, but I stick to guidelines I give myself

For a while, I thought self-medicating was the way to go. Plus, it’s harmless to have a beer to loosen up as the party begins, right? However, that one beer would soon turn into five so that I could feel capable of making it through the party, and what started as a coping mechanism became more of a serious problem.

Approximately 20 percent of people who suffer from social anxiety disorder also face alcohol dependence or abuse. When I first read that statistic, I knew I needed to change things. I no longer have a drink as soon as I get to a party, and I find that my anxiety starts to dissipate within the first 30 minutes. If I have a beverage, it’s later in the night when I know I’m not using alcohol just to cope.

Issue: How will I cope with meeting so many new people?

My coping strategy: I talk to my loved ones about my fears

I’ve never been great at meeting new people. Will I have anyone to talk to if I go to a party with people I don’t know? Will I sound awkward to them? Will we have long pauses in conversation? These are all questions I worry about before meeting new people during the holidays.

Luckily, my friends and family have been able to help. I used to keep these fears inside, but now I try to talk to my loved ones about what’s bothering me. Now, my boyfriend will introduce me to people at his work parties, and friends of mine will make sure I feel included in dinners with their friends.

Issue: My body starts to feel weird

My coping strategy: A DIY calming exercise

Social anxiety is more than just internal feelings and symptoms. As my anxiety worsens, I start to experience physical symptoms as well, including:

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle tension

When these symptoms start to flare up, it helps me to just take a deep breath. The holiday season doesn’t last forever, and sometimes it helps to simply remember that fact. Before I head into a holiday party or other event, I try bunching up all my muscles tightly then slowly releasing them. This calming exercise helps center me and gives me a moment of peace before going inside.

Talk to Your Friends with Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is never something to feel ashamed about. It’s a real issue that plagues plenty of individuals, especially over the holidays. Talk to your friends if you think they may have some symptoms of social anxiety, and see if there’s anything you can do to help make their holidays more peaceful, fun and enjoyable, too.

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