How to manage social anxiety during the holidays

How to manage social anxiety during the holidays

The holidays are a time for festivity, which usually means endless invitations to work and family parties, as well as reunions with friends and other social functions. While this can be a source of enjoyment for many, for those with social anxiety disorder (SAD), it can be a nightmare. People with SAD may dread these holiday social interactions and want to avoid them altogether. While saying no to some social events might be beneficial, refusing to go to any will only cause isolation and possibly lead to feelings of depression.

Social anxiety disorder is hard to deal with at any given time and attending a party is sure to cause some amount of discomfort. However, but there are some ways people with SAD can manage their anxiety at holiday parties. Here’s how:

Bring the focus outside yourself

People with SAD tend to concentrate on themselves, or how others are viewing them. Stefan G. Hofmann of Boston University gives references to several studies in his Cognitive Behaviour Therapy report that this type of heightened self-monitoring destroys confidence, creating a negative self-image. To combat this, one needs to focus on aspects of the external environment, such as furniture, the walls, or other static objects in the room. Studies show this tactic will reduce anxiety and negative thoughts.

Help in the kitchen

Not only will helping in the kitchen remove you from the bulk of the people attending the party, it could also help reduce anxiety. An article published in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the mental benefits of cooking. Not only does cooking result in increased self-confidence, it also draws attention away from stressful emotions to help cope with anxiety. Luckily, food is a big part of the holidays, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to help.

Say no to alcohol and drugs

Although many people turn to alcohol to relieve the stress of social situations, many people with SAD are susceptible to addiction. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), about one-fifth of people with SAD may also abuse alcohol. Holiday parties will have many drink options, and while they may help relieve some stress in the actual moment, binge drinking could lead to further problems if you have SAD. It is not a long-term solution.

Remember to breathe

Anxiety sends the body into complete disarray with increased heart beats, muscle tension, a feeling of suffocation, dizziness, palpitation, etc. Learning proper breathing techniques will soothe nerves even when the patient is at the center of attention. Practice mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques such as focusing on breathing, meditating, yoga or body scanning to achieve this goal. Although more research needs to be done, many studies have shown the benefits of MBSR on reducing anxiety. A study, published online in in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, found that MBSR reduced negative emotions in people with social anxiety disorder. While it may be easy to focus on breathing while at a holiday party, meditating or practicing yoga poses probably won’t work. However, if the noise of the party is distracting and you feel anxious, go to the bathroom to meditate for a few minutes and pay attention to body signals and breathing.

See a professional

SAD is difficult to manage on your own. According to a 2007 survey by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 36 percent of people with SAD say they wait even ten years or more before seeking help. Therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or psychotherapy, medication and support groups are some possible options to help treat and ease SAD, and should be explored if social anxiety is preventing social interaction. Avoidance will only lead to isolation and escalate the problem, without actually addressing it.

If you or a loved one is facing mental health issues and is in need of further help, call the California Mental Health Helpline to speak with a professional today. Call us at 855-559-3923 for more information.