Holidays can be rough. Sure, you're supposed to be excited to go see all your family and friends, and maybe you are, but for some people, even that excitement can be tampered by issues like anxiety.
It's as if your brain has two thoughts happening simultaneously. You know that you want to go see everyone, but something in your mind is making you feel self-conscious, apprehensive, and uneasy.
While a lot of people are familiar with anxiety in general, many people fail to understand that social anxiety is a very real and persistent issue for many people.
This issue comes up a lot around the holidays, and makes it very difficult for people to enjoy all that family time that they had been looking forward to.
What is Social Anxiety?
According to the Psychological Care & Healing Center, social anxiety is "an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations where interactions with other people are required."
How this manifests is that people will have overwhelming fears of embarrassing themselves, they'll feel extremely self conscious, and will often avoid situations where they are forced to meet new people.
Sometimes it can get so bad that panic attacks occur, and they may eventually develop distorted coping mechanisms by avoiding people in general.
Across the U.S., about seven percent of people have been diagnosed with the disorder, and obviously when it comes to the holidays and a lot of forced interactions, it can be really hard to handle.
So how do you handle Social Anxiety over the holidays?
If you suffer from social anxiety, the important thing to remember is that while it feels like it's the end of the world, you can find ways to manage it.
Many of the techniques that you can use to deal with your anxiety year-round actually could serve as useful methods for dealing with those loud and busy family dinners or stressful work parties.
Take a breath
It's simple, it's easy, and you can do it literally at a moment's notice. Part of the problem with anxiety is that your mind is so focused on whatever the issue is, you often forget to breathe.
It may seem like a silly thing you couldn't possibly forget, but the breaths you take as you become anxious tend to be shallow and quick, so taking a moment to breathe in deeply through your nose and releasing slowly through your mouth at an even pace can help refocus and calm your mind.
Take a minute
A lot of anxious thoughts come from the "what ifs." "What if I embarrass myself?" "What if I don't say the right thing?"
If you can, try and focus on the moment. Bringing yourself into the present by acknowledging your nervous feelings and choosing to accept them and move past them can help anxious people really pay attention to their current situation instead of worrying about what's coming.
You can also try meditation to actively work on clearing your mind as a new habit.
Take a break
Even when you can avoid a lot of your anxiety triggers on the average day, going into the holidays often means that you will be forced into social situations whether you like it or not.
So while you can't avoid it all, you can take a few moments to yourself. Say you're at a party, and you're starting to feel overwhelmed, just take a little bathroom break for a few minutes alone and do some of your calming exercises.
You shouldn't have to feel bad about needing to put your mental health as a priority. If you were suffering from a cold, no one would get mad at you for needing to blow your nose. This is no different.
Take a walk
As much as your anxiety may be overwhelming you, taking the initiative to exercise has been found to help control it.
Studies have shown that 20 to 40 minutes of exercise can improve your mood and it actually persists for many hours after you're done.
Even though it may be a pain in the butt to get yourself to the gym, you'll feel better afterward.
Go to bed
Eight hours of sleep per night is absolutely essential when it comes to managing anxiety. Maintaining a healthy sleep pattern helps the body handle stress better, and because it's better equipped to handle it, it's less likely to turn into high-anxiety responses.
Pick a routine and stick to it as much as possible. Even if it's tricky to get to sleep at that time at first, your body will get used to it and you'll start to feel better.
I know it's tempting to go out and grab a coffee to help get you pumped up for the day full of travel, but that caffeine actually causes your heart raise to rise. While that may not sound like a huge deal for the average person, when someone with anxiety raises their heart rate even more, they tend to only increase their symptoms.
Get a buddy
Find someone to keep close to at these events, whether it's your partner, a cousin, a sibling, or really just anyone who you feel comfortable sharing your anxious feelings with.
By having that safety net, should you start to feel overwhelmed you can just look to them and maybe sneak away for a few moments together to calm down, or even have them cover for you if you need to go take a little break.
Get professional help
Anxiety is a serious issue for a lot of people, and it should be treated as such. Getting help from a trained professional like a therapist or a counselor can be the exact thing that you need.
They can give you all the tools you need to manage your individual symptoms, and they can help make all these holiday excursions a lot less painful.
Don't be afraid to reach out, they will not judge you for your anxiety!
Source - Psychological Care & Healing Center