The holiday festivities are ramping up, which for some can spark a sense of rising panic…
If that sounds like you, then you’re not alone.
Over 6.5 million people in the UK wrestle with social anxiety disorder. From college or university Christmas balls and parties, or office Christmas parties to crowded family gatherings, this time of year brings far more social events and obligations than usual.
As the invitations come flooding in, you may feel overwhelmed with worry about getting through all these social occasions unscathed. However, by using the techniques and self-care strategies we discuss here, you can survive and even start to enjoy this socially-charged time of year.
What does Social Anxiety Feel like?
Imagine receiving a party invitation…as soon as you register it's another Christmas event, your mind may kick into overdrive thinking…
"What if no one talks to me and I'm standing alone the whole time?"
"What if I say something stupid or boring?"
"What if I don't recognise anyone there and have to make small talk all night?"
"What if I get panic attack symptoms in front of everyone?"
Your breathing quickens. Your muscles get tense. You may even feel mild nausea. If these internal reactions sound familiar, you may be experiencing social anxiety on some level. The persistent fear that something humiliating or panicking could happen in social situations can hijack all logic.
While avoiding every party may seem easier on your anxiety, isolation often makes the problem worse long-term. Pushing your comfort zone in small steps can build confidence. By arming yourself with healthy coping strategies, you can prevent anxiety from ruining your Christmas season.
Helpful Tips for Managing Your Social Anxiety at Christmas Parties
Planning is key. Before any event, consider these management tactics:
Identify the most anxiety-provoking moments - arrivals, introductions, small talk. Then plan how to minimise them. Arrive late to skip the initial rush. Attend with a supportive friend who can facilitate conversations.
Have an exit plan. Scout nearby calming spaces like bathrooms or balconies you can retreat to briefly for breathing breaks when needed.
Set a time limit. Give yourself permission to only stay an hour or whatever feels right for you.
Keep your hands occupied by holding something, like a drink, clothing or a fidget toy. These tactics can help you manage nervous energy discreetly.
Focus conversations on the other person by asking questions rather than worrying about impressing anyone.
Appoint a trusted friend you can text SOS messages to if needed.
Most important of all, mentally rehearse things going well. Imagine what the event would look like if you feel more confident and enjoy seeing everyone. Focusing on this, rather than negative outcomes can make all the difference.
Anxiety has a sneaky way of escalating simple scenarios into catastrophes in our minds. But the reality is most Christmas gatherings actually go fairly smoothly! People tend to be distracted by drinking, eating and catching up. They are unlikely to be judging you nearly as harshly as your inner critic assumes.
The party season doesn't have to trigger anxiety if you strategically apply coping mechanisms and self-care strategies. While each social situation differs, having plans in place for common concerns can prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.
Lean on your support system, prioritise your mental health, and congratulate every small win when confronting anxiety-inducing gatherings.