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How To Cope With The Holidays When You Have Social Anxiety

All those events can get overwhelming.

11/21/2017 11:21 EST | Updated 11/21/2017 11:21 EST

The holidays are a wonderful time of year, but they can also be stressful, particularly if you find social gatherings, large crowds, and a busy schedule overwhelming.

"The holidays can be stressful and anxiety can be at an all-time high," Ryan Dumont, an OCD wellness advocate, tells HuffPost Canada. "Whether it is the pressure of preparing for the holidays or being around a ton of people whether that is family, friends, or strangers, social anxiety is never easy."

If you feel this way, you aren't alone. A 2015 Healthline survey found that about two-thirds of us find the holidays stressful thanks to things like financial obligations, scheduling, and gift shopping.

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So if you're beginning to find all the mounting social obligations overwhelming, check out the tips below on how to deal with the holidays.

Acknowledge how you feel

Denying your feelings around the holiday, whatever they are, will only make them worse. It's OK to feel stressed, anxious, or sad even if this is supposed to be a happy time of year, notes the Mayo Clinic. Giving yourself permission to express your feelings can take some of the load off.

Prepare in advance

Think of preparing for a holiday event like preparing for a public speech, suggests protocol expert Jacquelyn Youst. "Anxiety grows when we are not sure what to expect," Youst tells HuffPost Canada. "An estimated 80 per cent of people fear public speaking and this is the same scenario."

You can practice introducing yourself, introducing others, having conversations — anything that helps you feel more at ease.

Make a schedule

Feeling like there's too much on your plate? Make a holiday schedule that includes not only your social plans but also the time you need for buying gifts, making food, and having time to yourself. It's a helpful way to see when you do and do not have time to fit something else in.

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Be realistic

There's no such thing as a perfect holiday, and the consequences for "ruining" a gathering — or simply not going — are much lower than they may seem at the time. Be honest with yourself about what you can and cannot handle, emotionally and otherwise, and make your plans accordingly.

Remember to breathe

"When people get anxious, the body tenses up and shallow breaths make us spiral into those feelings more," Dumont says. If anxiety begins to make you uncomfortable, try to find a quiet spot — even the restroom — and take a few deep, calming breaths. "That will help you release your tense muscles and get you ready to interact again."

Find out who's coming

Getting a copy of the guest list can help you think of conversation topics in advance, Youst suggests. "A terrific way to overcome those pesky nerves is practicing until you 'own' your thoughts and words," she says.

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Set a budget

The Healthline survey found that finances are a significant stressor during the holiday, and an endless stream of parties and gatherings can certainly contribute to that. Make a budget at the start of the holiday season and don't be afraid to stick to it. Nobody will notice if you re-wear an outfit you already have, or if your host gift is inexpensive or handmade.

Gravitate towards groups

If you're at an event alone, gravitate towards groups of three or more, Youst says. "This allows you to enter a conversation gracefully," she says. "Doing so [helps] you avoid the awkwardness of having to begin small talk with one person."

Take a phone break

"If you're feeling overwhelmed with talking to too many people, find a corner and pull out your phone," Dumont says. A couple minutes to check Twitter or play a puzzle game can help you reset and decompress, and gives you a way to take a short break if the crowd becomes overwhelming.

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Plan alone time

It can be temping to say yes to every holiday party, and this time of year comes with a lot of social obligations. But it's also important to build in some time alone, or quieter gatherings with just one friend or a small group to avoid burning out. "Insist on giving yourself necessary alone time to recharge," David Bennett, a counsellor, tells HuffPost Canada. "And, assertively insist on having that time if people encroach on that time."

Pay attention to the point of it all

Ultimately, the point of the holidays is to gather with the people you love and have a good time, Dumont points out. "Having an idea of why you are all together could reduce anxiety and help you cherish the time you have with your loved one and friends," he says.

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