HealthONE - December 07, 2017

In the U.S., roughly 15 million adults experience some form of social anxiety, also known as social phobia. And it's no wonder. The season of giving and holiday parties means an endless to-do list, money woes and a packed events calendar. People with social anxiety often worry about what other people think of them or fear social situations. If holiday anxiety is severe enough, it can negatively impact mental health by interfering with your daily routine, performance at work, friendships and sleep.

While social anxiety varies form person to person, there are common signs. You may have social anxiety that detracts from your general wellness if:

  • Being around new people causes you anxiety
  • You feel self-conscious in front of people or feel like you have to perform
  • You worrying about being criticized, teased or rejected
  • You worry about upcoming events for days or even weeks prior
  • You avoid going places with lots of people
  • Social settings make you feel insecure or out of place
  • Being around other people makes you blush, sweat or tremble
  • Making new friends and maintaining friendships is difficult
  • Social situations cause nervousness or a racing heart beat

Isolating yourself during the holiday season can negatively impact your behavioral health. Instead of skipping the office Christmas party this year and missing out on all the fun, use the following eight tips to help put yourself out there and successfully navigate holiday celebrations.

  1. Observe others
    Being an active observer can actually help relieve social phobia. When you recognize that other people are being silly, it can help decrease your anxiety about doing something funny in front of other people. The next time you feel anxious at a social event, take a minute to do some people-watching to alleviate stress.
  2. Have a plan
    If you have social anxiety, you may negatively anticipate social events days or weeks in advance, which can create even more stress. Instead of worrying for an extended period of time, try prepping for conversations instead. People enjoy talking about themselves, so try to think of some conversation starters like asking people about their family, kids, jobs or current events. If all else fails, everyone loves a good compliment.
    You can also plan to do some relaxation techniques before you enter a room with a lot of people. Practice deep breathing and muscle exercises to calm your entire body and reduce anxiety levels. Simply hold your breath for a few seconds and then slowly let it out. Or try tensing all your muscles for as long as you can and then releasing. If you start to get tense during a party, politely excuse yourself to a private room or bathroom and practice these techniques.
  3. Offer to help
    If you don't feel comfortable being a social butterfly, don't worry about conversation hopping. Stay engaged without socializing by offering to help the host in the kitchen, refill snacks or clean up.
  4. Be open about it
    While you may not want to let others know you're feeling anxious, letting them in on the secret can go a long way towards mitigating anxiety. Find a trusted friend and tell them you feel anxious. You might be surprised that other people are dealing with similar issues, which can normalize your feelings and lighten the situation so you don't feel so alone.
  5. Find a friend
    Having a wingman at a party can be particularly helpful. Having someone you feel comfortable talking to at your side will give you an easy companion to socialize with during the event.
  6. Go for a walk
    If you start to feel overwhelmed, go for a quick stroll outside to calm your nerves. Remove yourself from the stressful situation and take a few minutes to breath in fresh, cool air before going back inside.
  7. Meditate
    A few minutes of meditation can be all it takes to take your mind off anxiety and stay present. You may not recognize anxiety until it's too late. Instead of panicking, take time to meditate, slow your breathing and pay attention to your body. Try rolling a bracelet through your fingers or focusing on a picture on the wall while trying to control your breathing. Keeping your hands busy and focusing on a specific object can help take you out of your head and ground you to the moment if you feel overwhelmed.
  8. Don't rely on alcohol
    Using alcohol or other substances to get through a social event can be risky. It's okay to enjoy alcohol in moderation at holiday parties, but you may need to seek help for your anxiety if you rely on an outside substance to feel relaxed.

While social anxiety is a common disorder, it can be serious. But you don't have to manage the condition on your own. Practice the above tips and seek the help of a healthcare provider to discuss possible treatment options.

Learn more about our Behavioral Health Services at The Medical Center of Aurora.