'Tis the Season...for Social Anxiety
By: Liza Hahn, MS, LPC-IT, Registered Yoga Instructor
It's the most wonderful time of the year for being invited to holiday celebrations, shopping in busy stores and spending more time than usual with our families. Even for the most regulated, calm person, this type of holiday-related stress can throw someone in an amplified tizzy. For me, a self-proclaimed social butterfly, who tends to be at ease in most social situations, the overwhelming amount of human interaction stimulates my anxiety and it skyrockets through the roof.
For example, I will have the simple intention of running into a store to purchase a well thought-out gift. Upon entrance, I am overwhelmed by the bright fluorescent lighting, loud and never-ending Christmas music, flurries of other people rushing to get sh*t done, the smell of perfume samples sprayed amuck and sales people who themselves are stressed to the hills. Physically, my senses and nerves go into over drive. My heart rate increases. I start to sweat and walk faster. Mentally, I think, "What was I thinking coming here at 5 pm?" and "I have to get out of here! Can I pay double to order it online and still have it delivered in time?"
Don't even get me started when I see sales and start trying things on... mind you, I am there to shop for OTHERS... nothing fits because I have attempted to keep my clothes/coat on underneath to more quickly get the heck out of dodge, and end up stuck and suffocated in an under-sized turtle neck.
Once I leave the store, I sit in my car, take deep breaths and feel my nervous system start to calm. I reassure myself that all is well and I can wear something tonight from my closet and hopefully the host won't notice the lovely centerpiece I bring is re-gifted from last year's soiree since I ran out of time to grab a bottle of wine. rally notice if I don't come to the party because, frankly, I am exhausted, overwhelmed at the thought of making small talk, and just want to put on my jammers and watch some Netflix with the dog. In fact, I start to wonder if they will really notice if I don't come to the party because, frankly, I am exhausted, overwhelmed at the thought of making small talk, and just want to put on my jammers and watch some Netflix with the dog.
That's okay, right? Well, only if you don't feel guilt about missing out of what could be a really nice time by letting your anxiety get the best of you.
According to the DSM-5, one of the definitions of social anxiety includes: "A marked and persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be humiliating or embarrassing." To be diagnosed, symptoms need to be "lasting for 6 months or more". However, this does not mean that we can't experience anxiety around social situations, especially during the holidays when the amount of events increases across a shorter time-span.
So, what can you do to bring some peace of mind and body to this time of year to better enjoy your colleagues, loved ones, and friends?
For starters, breathe and notice where you are holding tension in your body. Use your inhale to notice, exhale to let go of worry.
Second, change the story you have created about what is going to happen at the event. What would you tell a friend in this situation? What is the best thing that could happen?
Third, have a couple of sentence starters in mind so you don't have to fear an "awkward silence" situation; this will prepare you to have something to talk about rather than waiting for someone else to start a conversation.
Lastly, do not, I repeat, do NOT attempt to drink away your fears before or during the gathering. Alcohol only enhances our emotional reactions rather than relaxes them (falsely created confidence ain't pretty y'all!)
Good luck and enjoy. We only get these opportunities once a year, so at the very least know it will all be over soon. That is if I can get out of this under-sized turtleneck before New Years...
If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Liza, you can reach her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call our intake line: 608-709-6972.
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]