Self-help

Holiday Survival Guide: For the Person with Social Anxiety

If you have social anxiety, the idea of attending a bunch of holiday parties with friends, colleagues, or family members is likely to get your heart racing. The pressure to engage in small talk, be in crowded spaces, and meet new people can trigger those with social anxiety. Not to mention, the fear of judgment […]

therapist william snyder By William Snyder, LPC

Updated on Jan 12, 2024

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If you have social anxiety, the idea of attending a bunch of holiday parties with friends, colleagues, or family members is likely to get your heart racing. The pressure to engage in small talk, be in crowded spaces, and meet new people can trigger those with social anxiety.

Not to mention, the fear of judgment from other people, awkward interactions, or potentially being the center of attention can create a sense of dread leading up to the events. This might make you want to avoid all social interactions altogether and just hide away in your room.

But oftentimes, when you tackle your anxiety head-on and have a plan in place to cope, you realize all those events that seemed so daunting can actually be fun.

Here are six tips for all the socially anxious people this holiday:

1. Plan ahead

Planning ahead can help you feel more prepared when you’re heading into social situations. “Plan ahead and participate on your own terms,” says Stacy Thiry, a licensed mental health counselor with Grow Therapy. “Have an exit strategy if you start to feel overwhelmed, or if you need to step away and take a breather.”

It’s OK to put yourself first here. Don’t feel guilty if you need to step outside for some fresh air for a few minutes or if you have to leave early once your social battery has run out. 

Don’t feel guilty if you need to step outside for some fresh air for a few minutes or if you have to leave early once your social battery has run out.

2. Have a safe person

It’s great to have a safe person with you at a party so you feel less alone. For example, you may want to take a buddy you feel comfortable with for activities involving larger crowds if that stresses you out, says Catherine Del Toro, a licensed mental health counselor with Grow Therapy.

Let them know beforehand that you’re feeling some anxiety around the event. Even just getting this simple fact off your chest might make you feel a little better. Then, this person can check in with you throughout the night to make sure you’re OK. Or, if you start to feel really anxious, you can ask them to step out with you to help you calm down and feel more regulated. 

3. Remember to breathe

We often forget that we have such a powerful tool within us: our breath! “The physical part of anxiety causes our body to react with things like increased heart rate, sweaty palms, tightness in our stomach, and general feeling of being on edge,” says Marcia LeBeau, a licensed mental health counselor with Grow Therapy. “Breathing helps to calm our nervous system, and also helps give us something to focus on rather than being anxious.”

She suggests breathing slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth. “It also helps to count in your head as you do this, by inhaling for four seconds, holding for three seconds, and exhaling for four seconds,” she says. 

4. Reframe your negative thoughts

If you have social anxiety, you probably have a pretty harsh inner critic and negative internal dialogue, overthinking everything.

“When we’re anxious, we tend to internalize things and then question how others are perceiving us, what they might be thinking, and as a result, our anxiety goes to self-criticizing thoughts that increase our social anxiety,” LeBeau says. “It’s good to remind ourselves that others are not thinking about us as much as we think they are, and even if they are thinking about us, we can’t read their mind or control their thoughts no matter what we do.”

Others are not thinking about us as much as we think they are.

- Marcia LeBeau, LMHC

Remember that your anxiety is probably lying to you, making things out to be way worse than they are – so don’t get carried away by your thinking.

“Pay more attention to the people around you rather than what they think of you. Really tune into listening to conversations, and don’t put pressure on yourself to say the ‘right’ thing,” says LeBeau. “Just be your genuine self, and others will appreciate and embrace that.”

5. Avoid or limit substance use

It can be tempting to rely on substances as a coping mechanism during holiday parties – especially for those with social anxiety. You might find yourself desiring “liquid courage” from alcohol or feeling like substances can make things “easier” for you. However, Thiry suggests avoiding or limiting substance use.

Substances like alcohol might seemingly offer a temporary escape, but drinking can actually make your anxiety symptoms worse, especially the next day.  Instead, consider the above healthier, alternative ways to manage social anxiety.

6. Seek support with therapy

If social anxiety is preventing you from having a fulfilling social life or interfering with your daily life, consider speaking with a therapist. They can help you learn coping skills to tackle your anxiety so it doesn’t prevent you from enjoying yourself. With Grow Therapy, you can find an online therapist who accepts your insurance.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
therapist william snyder William Snyder, LPC

William Snyder is a licensed professional counselor with over 20 years of experience. He specializes in anxiety, trauma, PTSD, depression, and self-esteem.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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