We all know the holidays are inching closer; the inevitable Christmas music is already making its way into our radios, and Christmas trees are going up in people’s living rooms. While the end of the year is meant to be a time of joy and family reunions, for those with social anxiety, it can feel like a big ball of stress and panic.
The future is filled with shopping sprees, house cleaning, cooking, and invitations to social gatherings. This means a long to-do list, losing money that you’re used to having to pay bills, and needing to entertain guests. For someone with social anxiety, this means every day until January 2nd, 2018 will be filled with some major stressors, but there are steps you can take to prepare yourself.
Keeping a physical to-do list makes such a huge difference in how you handle busy situations. Don’t try to keep it all in your head, or things will get forgotten, and that will stress you out more.
One big trigger for people with social anxiety is worrying about how others perceive them. This means you will be worried about how your home looks, how the food tastes, and if everyone actually likes their presents. For me, I have a tendency to be completely irrational in social situations. Someone can say that they absolutely love their present, but if I see even a hint of hesitation or disappointment on their face, I’m instantly telling myself they I got them the wrong gift. Then, I worry that they’ll be unimpressed with how little I know about them. If my home is remotely dirty, I worry about what my guests think of my ability to keep a clean home. Every social conflict, obvious or not, is something I take personally.
Planning for these things as much as possible makes a huge difference though. Keep track of things like:
- What you need to do to clean your home for guests – by doing this you don’t miss anything and can feel confident that your home is guest-ready.
- Presents to buy – not saving this until the last second means you have more time to find something meaningful.
- What meal or side dish you will cook – making sure you don’t miss an ingredient and knowing how you can contribute to the family get-together is just one less thing you won’t have to worry about.
- Your routine tasks such as paying bills and running errands – you don’t want to find out last minute that you forgot to go to the grocery store or to pay your personal property taxes.
Plan for everything that needs to get accomplished, and plan for when those things need to be accomplished. Come up with a schedule, and the structure will help keep you on task and (almost) stress-free.
Plan to Say “No”
If you don’t have time to make an appearance at all five family dinners, then don’t make promises to be there. If you get to a family dinner, and socializing with everyone is becoming too much for you, then take a break or just head home. If it’s not even the holiday yet, and people are inviting you to do things, but you have a huuuuge to-do list, say “no”.
Plan for the possibility that you will need to tell people “no”. Then, be okay with it.
As someone with social anxiety, I still feel obligated to maintain healthy relationships. I still want to spend time with friends and family and let them know that I care. So when I have to bail on plans last second, or I have to cut plans short, I worry that I’m hurting that relationship.
First off, there are very few weekends between now and the holidays. That means there are very few weekends to get shopping done, make plans for the holidays, and still do your normal daily routines. This means if your weekend is jam-packed with holiday prep, then you need to turn your friend’s lunch-date offer down. And you need to be okay with that. Still want to hang with your friend? Plan to say “no” to a lunch date, but make plans to go Christmas shopping together. Find loopholes so make your time more efficient and check things off your to-do list!
The fact is, there are only 24 hours in a day. And if you truly are getting enough sleep, then there’s really only 16 hours for you to work with each day. Seeing as most people celebrate Christmas in the latter half of the day, then you really only have 8 hours to be celebrating with family. Unless everyone plans to meet at one location, which they probably won’t, then you need to plan your time so that you can be the best you for everyone. One trick around this is to plan one holiday with one group of family and the next holiday with another. Rotating holidays makes everyone feel important and loved without stretching yourself too thin.
Take a Deep Breath, and Then Another, and Another
Holidays mean social gatherings. For anyone with social anxiety, this is the biggest trigger ever. Social gatherings mean you’ll second guess everything you say and do. You’ll worry that you didn’t dress up enough, the meal you made doesn’t taste that great, your house isn’t clean enough or decorated enough… and the list goes on. Everything you do, you will doubt. That’s just the unfortunate reflex that people with social anxiety have developed.
When this happens, recognize it, and don’t beat yourself up for it. One struggle I’ve run into is recognizing my social anxiety, and then getting mad at myself for feeling the way I feel, which gives me anxiety, and so on and so forth. But stop right there. Recognize that you are feeling the way you feel, and just breathe. Take a deep breath in, and literally picture the anxiety leaving your body as you breathe out. You’re not getting mad at yourself, telling yourself that you’re wrong, or working yourself into knots – you’re just letting the anxiety come and go.
Remember That it is All Temporary
The holidays will come and go like they always do, and you will survive them like you always do. If you celebrate in the states, Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day is just under six weeks. That’s only 11% of your entire year. Then the new year will start, and things will quiet down again.
One thing that I struggle with is feeling “stuck” in the present. I get so worried about everything that’s going on and everyone that I’m needing to find time for that I forget that life after the holidays isn’t this chaotic. But soon, I get to go back to my normal routine, and that’s where I’m most content.
Recognize That There is No Cure, Just Management
Like many behavioral conflicts, there is no cure. You can’t make your social anxiety disappear, just like you can’t make a temper or depression disappear. All you can do is learn to manage it and live with it. Something I’m still learning to accept is that my social anxiety isn’t a switch I can flip. I can’t turn it off and on whenever it’s convenient for me, but I can learn to manage my mind and help train my way of thinking to be more positive.
The holiday season brings stress and plenty of triggers for your social anxiety, but you have the ability to stay in control. How do you manage your social anxiety? What are your biggest triggers?
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Shelby is a writer, artist, wife, and mom to three pups. She loves hiking, peppermint mocha coffee, and lazy Sundays with her family.