It’s the holiday season once again. A lot of joy and cheer is in the air and, for those in school, many folks are on the edge of finishing off the fall semester. This time of the year can bring a lot of fulfillment, but also a lot of stress — especially if you struggle with social anxiety. While Thanksgiving is the primary holiday of giving thanks to those close to you, as well as giving back to those who are in need, having to face large gatherings and being around people can come with a load of stress.
Social anxiety during Thanksgiving and other holidays is very real when it comes to anything related to parties and other social gatherings. Despite it being dubbed as “the most wonderful time of the year”, it can be seen as the scariest time for those who are beyond frustrated about having to immerse themselves in social situations. Navigating social anxiety during the holidays shouldn’t have to be a hit or miss, though, and there are resources out there to help you cope.
To further into this topic, I spoke with David Tzall, Psy.D to discuss the impact of social anxiety during the holiday season.
Social anxiety can manifest itself during the holiday season.
If you’re someone who suffers from social anxiety, chances are the holiday season is your least favorite time of the year. In many ways, you’re forced out of your comfort zone to be around people, attend parties, and other social obligations. Many people suffer from social anxiety due to fear of being judged or shunned. “You are likely during this time to meet people you have not met before, or speak with them under new circumstances,” Tzall explains. “This can be awkward and bring extra worry, as you might not want to sound ‘stupid’ or come off as dull.” Meeting new people or reuniting with family can heavily impact your chances of opening up and feeling comfortable.
With a new year on the horizon, most of us will tend to be scared about what it can bring for us. As someone with social anxiety, this could be a whole different ball game for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and any other festive holiday. “Someone who may have no social anxiety may find themselves with a mild or moderate case [during the holidays],” Tzall says. “But a person already suffering with social anxiety might see their balloon from mild to moderate to severe.”
What most people fail to realize is that social anxiety is more than just “being scared of people” (which is not true, either). The effects of social anxiety can range from being unable to speak to others to isolating yourself from the world — or in this case, Thanksgiving dinner. “A person with social anxiety is likely to cut themselves off from others and limit their experiences and shrink their world,” Tzall says. “The more control a person has the more likely they are to feel anxious, however, this only causes more anxiety as they don’t learn that these thoughts and feelings are more irrational than rational.”
Isolation can cause negative effects on your mental health, as well such as further anxiety, feelings of loneliness, and, in some cases, symptoms of depression.
Don’t fear, though, there are many ways to cope with social anxiety.
Dealing with social anxiety during the holidays can be stressful enough, but incorporating strategies into your daily routine shouldn’t have to be a hassle. As busy as the holiday season can be, there’s already enough overwhelming going around among many people. “It’s important to understand that not every social interaction needs to be perfect,” Tzall says. “It’s okay to have moments of discomfort, and you don’t have to be the life of the party.” Basic techniques like deep breathing and meditation can be used to help manage your anxiety, as well as reframing negative thoughts that can contribute to your anxiety.
Additionally, taking some time for yourself can be a super valuable way to navigate your social anxiety during these stressful times. “Give yourself permission to take breaks when needed by finding a quiet space to recharge if social situations become overwhelming,” Tzall says. “Focus on positive aspects of social situations, and remind yourself that it’s okay not to be perfect.”
Finally, try your best to approach the holiday with an open mind, and prepare for any situations that may arise. Whether it’s thinking about your answers to possible questions, or writing a play-by-play of your obligations, preparing yourself for social interaction can really help you in the long run. “Plan your holiday events in advance so you can mentally prepare for them,” Tzall says. “Having a clear idea of what to expect and preparing for it, can help reduce anxiety.”
It’s important to note that it’s okay to feel anxious in a social situation. Trust me — this is still something that I have struggled with most of my life and it’s something that I’m still working on. When you gather around with loved ones during Thanksgiving, focus on the positive aspects of social situations, and know that being perfect should be the least of your concerns.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.