The holiday season is a time we wait for all year round. We get out of our houses, meet our friends, families, and loved ones, and try to have a great time.
However, many of us are not very confident, and often suffer from social anxiety that is associated with the tons of gatherings and parties that are common during this time of the year.
Kim Felmingham, a reputed clinical psychologist tells Huff Post Australia, “We have clear empirical evidence and it is very well recognised that this time of year is particularly difficult for people with psychological issues…For people with social anxiety, there are more social occasions so that is going to really escalate their symptoms…As much as your anxiety is getting escalated, if you avoid all social interaction — which is one of the most common coping strategies for this disorder — that avoidance can strongly reinforce a sense of isolation and loneliness”.
Felmingham feels that this kind of behaviour will eventually let your anxiety win over you. The disorder is commonly known as SAD or Social Anxiety Disorder. The condition can be debilitating and long term if it isn’t diagnosed properly.
However, Huff Post reports that there are various ways to reduce the effect of those SAD symptoms.
Before A Social Event
Felmingham feels that if you are suffering from social anxiety, you should have a plan in your mind.
She says, “Think about what you can and want to go to — and don’t throw yourself straight into the deep end…Rather than having a blanket avoidance or saying yes to everything, establish a graded list of social events. Some may be far more anxiety-provoking then others.”
These strategies help you understand what ‘pre-event processing’ is.
She continues, “When you’re approaching an event, you’re already anticipating what’s going to happen before you get there. You might have images of how bad it is going to be — they are always negative…If you can, start to work with and challenge those thoughts or images. Ask yourself, ‘Am I thinking of the worst case scenario, here?’ If you don’t do this, your thoughts are winning and that is only going to escalate your anxiety before you enter that situation. That may be going with a friend, or going and staying for a certain amount of time — that is better than not going at all.”
During The Event
Once you are at the event, your anxiety meter will rise above normal.
Here is what Felmingham thinks you should do.
“It is important at this stage to do some breathing and work on bringing your anxiety down…Remind yourself that not everyone is noticing you or judging you.”
She feels that the secret to tackling this rise in anxiety lies in countering your ‘self-focused attention’.
She added, “People tend to have this attention that is focused entirely on themselves and how others are viewing them. What you want to do is try to direct your attention towards conversation or what is happening around you…No one is the life of the party all of the time. ‘Normal’ at a Christmas party is probably a quick chat with someone for a few minutes before they move on…Rather than interpreting this as ‘I don’t have anything meaningful to say’, try to re-frame that as ‘This is a normal form of party interaction’.”
Felmingham feels that a lot of people depend on alcohol to get over their anxiety. This is a defence mechanism.
She also adds that people with anxiety should not credit their behaviour to the consumption of alcohol. Rather, they should credit themselves whenever they are feeling comfortable at social gatherings.
After the Event
If you are suffering from SAD, try and analyse the different behaviour patterns that make you anxious at social settings.
Felmingham says, “Post-event processing is where we tend to focus on the negative parts. Think about whether there were any positive conversations that challenged that. It’s about trying to see the shades of grey…Be compassionate towards yourself and recognise that this is a tough time of year. Don’t be ashamed to seek help if you need it.”