The holidays are filled with gatherings, work parties, socials, and church events … all activities typically enjoyed by most people. For some though, they are not events that bring nostalgia and excitement.
Individuals that suffer and deal with social anxiety find these events troubling and more of a chore than a longed-for reunion with family and friends. Social anxiety is more than shyness or occasional nerves. It is fueled by feeling that you will again experience symptoms of anxiety, fear, and overwhelming nervousness that is not only uncomfortable but that you fear may be noticed by others. You may be dealing with social anxiety if you experience these feelings and they effect your daily life. Most individuals want to fit in with their friends and family and don’t want to be judged or embarrassed. Those with social anxiety have normal fears but they are amplified and can be very overwhelming. So, how do you know if you are dealing with a social anxiety issue? Let’s look at the symptoms.
- Feeling like others may judge or compare you in social situations.
- Feeling completely and utterly alone even when you’re surrounded by people.
- Feeling like you are missing out on life because of your anxiety and fear.
- You avoid large gatherings and other social situations that would require you to speak and engage.
- You don’t talk because you are afraid that what you say will be analyzed by others.
Hearing people laugh near you. Keeping quiet in a conversation with three people. Not being able to go anywhere alone. Staying inside all day. Hating when the teacher asks you a question in class. Eye contact. Eating in front of people. Counting money before you pay. Not leaving voicemails. Paying for things at a shop. Asking for help. Always preparing what to say. Bumping into people you know. Feeling embarassed all the time.
Any of these sound familiar? If so, you might be dealing with an anxiety issue. In fact, when in a new or awkward social situation the anxiety levels can soar to harmful levels and individuals have a physical experience as a result of the emotional process. For example, stomach issues, sweating, and bowel complications can result with untreated anxiety. Some of the most common symptoms of social anxiety are: worrying days or weeks before a particular social event, fear of being judged, watched, or embarrassed by others, and fear that others will notice the anxiety.
I’ve included a few things you can do to reduce your feelings of anxiety and fear at holiday events.
- Breath Work
Practice deep breathing each day. Laying on your back, listen to calming music and with your eyes closed focus on your breath. Breathe as involuntary as possible with a focus on listening to the music and allow your mind to ‘be still’. Anxiety has a way of ramping up the mind and getting the thoughts racing, practicing ‘being still’ and otherwise being mindful in your thinking can help significantly. Learn more about how to do breath work here.
- Stand in your Truth
Anxious individuals spend time ruminating or obsessing about how bad it is going to be, or perseverate on how awkward they will feel. This kind of irrational fear-laden thinking only generates more anxiety and prescribes the symptom, don’t focus on your fear, stand in your truth, repeat in your mind that you can and will be calm and that you can control your body. Telling yourself your truths and not focusing on your fears will make a tremendous difference in anxiety levels.
- Control the Scene
You are in control of you and only you. Creating a plan for where you’ll be, who you’ll talk to and how you would like the event to go is a significant part of helping things go smoothly. You can absolutely dictate and ensure that you’re in circumstances at the event that work for you. If that means leaving the event for 10 minutes to take a breather midway through that’s fine, if that means going late or leaving early that’s just as fine too. You can and need to be creative with your planning and you can shape it such that you can mitigate the anxiety provoking factors as much as possible.
Research indicates that cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness practice are the most effective treatments for conditions of anxiety and depression. I work weekly to help my clients learn and engage in mindfulness, a research driven practice of learning to be still and be present with out getting attached and anxious to unhealthy ways of thinking or acting. It is based on the premise that what you think affects how you feel, and your feelings impact your behavior. Therefore if you can alter the way you think about social situations that fuel and create anxiety, you’ll feel much better and can manage anxieties that attempt to arise. Thought restructuring, systematic desensitization, mindful meditation, relaxation and self-soothing practices are a few of the ways you can break through the anxiety and reclaim your life all of which I can guide you through. Peace and calm are possible during social events, particularly ones during the holidays.
If you struggle with social awkwardness or social anxiety you may want to schedule an appointment for an assessment in my office and get some guidance as well as learn some healthy ways of thinking that can easily be learned to overcome something you once thought would never go away. I can guarantee you that you’ll be glad you did!
Copyright: No part of this article in section or full may be reproduced without permission from the author Justin Stum, MS LMFT. The one and only exception is for educational purposes and only if the contact information below for the author is fully cited here in article. Justin Stum, MS LMFT, 640 E. 700 S., Suite 205B, St. George Utah 84770, 435-574-9193, https://www.justinstum.com