The holidays are a stressful time for many people, as social, financial and familial pressures tend to increase during the season. For those with social anxiety disorder, the stress around participating in holiday events can feel almost debilitating. Learn how to cope with a few helpful tips.
As the holiday season approaches, social gatherings and family events often start to make more frequent appearances on our calendars. For those living with social anxiety disorders, the pressures of this time of the year can be particularly challenging, causing feelings of stress, worry, and even panic. Preparing yourself with some ways to cope can make the season more bearable and allow you to enjoy it on your own terms.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder is characterised by an ongoing and intense fear of being judged, critiqued, or watched by others in social situations. It is often linked to feelings of shame, regret, or embarrassment about one’s behaviour in public, even if there is no basis for these feelings. Social anxiety disorder often causes significant barriers to participating in social settings, and can result in extreme physical and emotional discomfort as well as avoidance and even isolation in order to mitigate the stress of socialising.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
People with social anxiety disorder often experience both emotional and physical symptoms, including:
- Intense anxiety about social interactions, settings, and situations, including performing or presenting, engaging in conversations, or attending events
- Worry, shame or guilt about how you engaged in a social interaction, regardless of the actual outcome of that interaction
- Persistent thoughts about the worst possible outcome of a social interaction
- Shaking, sweating or trembling
- Racing heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing or speaking
- Stomach discomfort
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Muscle tension or headaches
- Inability to recall what you were talking about; feeling like your mind has gone blank
If these symptoms occur regularly in social settings, and are causing you to avoid these situations in an attempt to mitigate your symptoms, this could be a sign of a social anxiety disorder.
Is Being Shy a Type of Social Anxiety Disorder?
Shyness is a personal characteristic that can make people feel nervous or awkward about joining in social situations or meeting new people. However, the key difference between being shy and having social anxiety disorder is that shyness does not significantly impact people’s ability to engage with the world around them.
While being shy might make it more difficult initially to make new friends or try new things, with time and familiarity this will ease and the feelings of stress dissipate. With social anxiety disorder, the persistent anxiety in social settings typically requires professional support and focused treatment in order to be alleviated.
Five Ways to Manage Social Anxiety During the Holidays
1. Get to Know Your Anxiety
Knowing your anxiety, particularly what triggers it and what your symptoms are, is an important first step in learning how to best manage it. Think about what specifically you struggle with in social settings. Is it certain gatherings – such as family events or work holiday parties – that bring on feelings of stress? Or is it specific interactions that bring about anxiety, such as being tasked to lead a game, or having to engage in small talk? Writing it down may help to make these intense emotions more concrete and manageable.
Once you’ve identified some of your triggers, consider what symptoms occur as a result. This process helps you clearly link your feelings of stress and discomfort to anxiety triggers, and creates a better understanding of how what’s happening in your brain is affecting your body.
Finally, identify whether there are spaces within social events where you feel safer or more comfortable, and consider how focusing your interactions within these spaces may help you have a more pleasant experience.
2. Make a Plan
Once you are aware of what triggers your anxiety, and how that affects you both physically and emotionally, making a plan for how you cope with these feelings can help you prepare yourself and feel more relaxed during holiday gatherings. This could include thinking of a few talking points to make small talk easier, or practicing some relaxation techniques to release the muscles if you begin feeling tense. You may also identify a few people who you know and trust that you can go to if you start to feel overwhelmed and need a break from socializing.
It is recommended not to include alcohol or other substance use as part of your plan to relieve anxiety. While this may be effective in the short-term, substance use often ends up increasing feelings of anxiety and depression, particularly after the initial period of intoxication. Relying on other, healthier coping mechanisms will keep you in control and more balanced during and after your holiday events.
3. Practice Relaxation Techniques
Not quite sure what to do without the calming effects of a few drinks? There are plenty of relaxation techniques that can help to ease your mind and your muscles without any potentially unpleasant side effects. Some that are easy to do even in a crowded room include:
- 4-7-8 breathing – designed to help stop the body’s fight-or-flight response and soothe the nervous system, this technique involves gently inhaling for four seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds, then exhaling for eight seconds. Doing this several times in a row will help bring you into a relaxed state.
- Progressive muscle relaxation – go through your body tensing and relaxing one muscle group at a time. Start with your toes and gradually move your way up, concentrating on areas that are feeling especially tense, and notice how your anxiety begins to decrease.
- Meditate – if you start feeling panicky, try grounding yourself through meditation. Focus on a point in the room and take deep breaths. Visualising something that calms you, such as a beach, forest, or open field, can also help steer the brain away from anxious thoughts.
4. Talk to Others About How You Feel
Social anxiety can be incredibly isolating, particularly if you try to cope by simply avoiding any social events. Opening up to people you trust not only helps you build a community of support, but may also help you realise you are not alone in your stress over the holidays. Many people struggle with mental health during the festive season, and may have advice or experiences they can share that can help you.
Talking through your feelings might also make you realise that you don’t necessarily need to attend every event you are invited to. While it’s important not to always give in to avoidance, if your stress is arising from the high potential for toxic interactions at a particular gathering, then setting a boundary around that may be helpful. Getting additional perspective from friends or loved ones on these situations can help you make an informed decision that’s supportive of your overall mental health.
5. Seek Professional Support
If you are struggling with symptoms of social anxiety disorder and dreading the start of the holiday season, consider talking to a mental health specialist about treatment options. A therapist can work with you to identify the root causes of your social anxiety disorder and to build effective ways to cope with stress and anxiety. Possible treatment options include:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – CBT focuses on identifying negative patterns of thought and exploring their root causes in an effort to better understand how these impact outlook and behaviour, and to then develop new, positive ways of thinking
- Development of healthy habits – wellness practices such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, and breath-related relaxation techniques, can be particularly beneficial to quieting the mind and alleviating stress
- Medication – while there are many medications available to treat anxiety, finding the right medication for some people can take time. Medical professionals tend to agree that medication is most effective when it is combined with therapy and other healthy lifestyle changes
Finding Relief from Social Anxiety Disorder at The Dawn
The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab offers a peaceful oasis for healing, growth, and the rediscovery of yourself. Our compassionate, internationally-trained team of specialists work with each individual client to develop a personalised treatment plan that is attuned to your unique needs and goals.
We have extensive experience working with a variety of mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, and utilise a holistic approach towards treatment that targets both the mind and body.
Social Anxiety Disorder Treatment in Thailand
Located in beautiful northern Thailand, The Dawn’s resort-like facilities are well-appointed with private rooms, lush gardens, and amenities like a swimming pool, fitness centre, yoga and meditation studio, and games room. Licensed by the Thai Ministry of Health, and internationally accredited by the American Accreditation Commission International (AACI), The Dawn offers high-quality care at international standards.
You don’t have to continue to struggle with anxiety alone. Call us today to learn more about how The Dawn can help.