How to Break Out of Social Anxiety During the Holidays

Many people enjoy attending holiday and New Year’s parties and mingling with old and new friends, but some people dread these kinds of social interactions. According to the American Psychiatric Association, people with social anxiety disorder have “significant anxiety and discomfort about being embarrassed, humiliated, rejected, or looked down on in social interactions.” Some people will go to great lengths to avoid social interactions and disengage from others. That is not to say that people with this kind of anxiety want to be in a solo environment, it is just that they experience such a great deal of discomfort that they don’t have fun or feel comfortable enough to meet new people.

Many people believe that they are the only ones suffering with social anxiety, when in fact, about 7 percent of the population suffers. The good news is that there are effective treatments to help people reduce their anxiety and regain a sense of control over their lives.

Psychotherapist Joyce Marter helps clients move past challenging life situations. Marter recommends that people silence their inner critic when they feel anxious, and instead of saying hurtful and mean things to themselves, they can recite positive affirmations, such as “I can do this,” and “I want to be able to enjoy social situations.” This is a much more effective way of working to stay out of a negative downward spiral. Marter also advises clients to recognize what they can control and let go of the rest. We are in control of our own thoughts and behaviors, but we cannot control people around us.

People who experience social anxiety often imagine “what if” situations in their heads. Common “what if” scenarios include:

  • What if someone wants to have a prolonged conversation?
  • What if they don’t like me?
  • What if I say something silly?

Instead of focusing on what people might say or what might happen, focus on things that you can control, such as maintaining a positive attitude, making a commitment to address triggers to anxiety, and going into social situations with a game plan.

One common complaint I hear from clients with social anxiety is the dread of managing small talk. This can be especially troublesome during holiday social gatherings. I recommend stepping up your small talk by asking interesting questions during parties and ditching old standards like “How are you?” Such a question leads to empty responses and awkward pauses. Instead, try asking about people’s favorite holiday traditions or what they are looking forward to in the new year. These questions can be perceived as more genuine and require more than one word answers. The focus will be taken off of you, which can be a source of anxiety, and onto the other person.

Managing social anxiety can feel overwhelming but it is something that can be achieved. Remember to silence your inner critic, focus on what you can control, and plan your holiday small talk to help you feel more in control when faced with holiday-related social stress. You are not alone in your goal to tackle social anxiety and working with a licensed counselor is another step toward achieving this goal.