Do you feel uncomfortable at holiday get-togethers? 1. Join the club, and 2. Here are some tried-and-tested techniques that help.
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Published: October 2022
Between lamenting why you haven’t got many invites on the docket and feeling obliged to attend a gathering with your boss’s sister’s babysitter—this time of year always comes with a tinge of damnation if you do AND don’t.
However, respite to these feelings of dread is available. And, as always, it can often be soothing to plan things out well in advance.
Personally, going to a party brings upon me a Niagra Falls of fear. I’ve written at length about my sobriety and social anxiety before, and these parts of me can often leave me in a spin all holidays. Not alone in this spin, research shows that millions of people worldwide choose not to go to holiday parties because severe self-criticism they experience.
As I often do, those with social anxiety see themselves through a warped lens of self-doubt, humiliation, and a sense that others are scrutinising and criticising harshly.
Social anxiety rests on the incorrect assumption that we are faulty in some manner; excessive social stress can be inherited or developed as a result of an adverse experience in childhood.
Whatever your story, I hope the following points help you feel better about attending social events this holiday season. And, when in doubt, there’s this.
If you’re sober or wish to control the substances you consume at a gathering – just bring your own. It can be scary showing up to a party wondering if there will be any beverages that suit your palette, so this is a no-brainer.
If you’re happy to accept free pours of gorgeous French champagne, keep a little tally in your head of what you’ve imbibed to ensure you have total equity over your body at all times to avoid anxiety.
Have fun and celebrate – but be sure to take care of yourself tomorrow too.
Often, when I head to a party, I take a few moments to think mindfully about what I wish to share with people and what subjects I believe should remain off-limits.
Because of my confessional and sensitive personality, creating these boundaries in advance helps with my nervousness – I simply feel better prepared when I know what I'm going to say.
I will also plan with my partner what time I believe I will want to leave and whether I am comfortable with him staying late. (The answer is ALWAYS yes – I love my youtime with a face mask and Gossip Girl after a party more than anything!)
FYI: My therapist calls this "problem-focused coping," solving the immediate source of worry in a clear, actionable way.
I try to maintain a positive internal mantra when my anxiety spikes at a gathering – usually by excusing myself to the bathroom for a little mental space.
If I feel bothered or vulnerable due to someone’s tone, beliefs or behaviour, I am mindful to remind myself that their character doesn’t have to be inflicted on mine – and it’s not always my job to take it on as a personal challenge.
At a party or anywhere, I am my favourite person to spend time with, and my relationship with myself is my most precious. (This one often comes in handy around the family Christmas table!)
Researchers have found that helping others via acts of kindness effectively reduces social anxiety. If I arrive at a party alone and feel overwhelmed, I often volunteer to assist the host. This gives me focus, and I feel at ease when they appreciate my help. And no, I am not an altruist!
For those who are available to help a friend or family member suffering from social anxiety, it’s essential to begin by acknowledging and validating your loved one's emotions.
Saying, "There's nothing to worry about," may seem comforting, but it does the opposite for someone who is paralysed by worry. Toxic positivity is never the answer. Instead, ask them what they're worrying about and then help them put things in perspective by asking questions like:
+ How much will this matter one year from now?
+ What's the worst thing that could happen?
+ What advice would they give to someone going through something similar?
These questions can provide a helpful context and give them space to take their own advice – which they are more than equipped to do. Whether you’re taking care of yourself or a loved one this holiday season, please remember that social phobia isn't like a tension headache that can be treated with a painkiller or a prosecco; it's a learning experience we are all facing together.
Happy Holidays! Stay safe, well and comfy!