We all feel anxious or nervous in front of other people from time to time. That’s pretty natural. But for some folks, the idea of having to deal with people in social situations can be seriously debilitating – and at Christmas time, even more so.
The general consensus is that Christmas should be a time of joy, sharing and connecting with the people most important to us. But for anyone who suffers from social anxiety, Christmas can be a time that strikes feelings of intense anxiety and dread.
What is social anxiety?
Social phobia, also known as social anxiety or Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) affects around 10% of people and can be particularly intense during the festive season as we are exposed to more public events (i.e. work Christmas parties) and time with our extended families, some of whom might act as triggers for us.
According to Beyond Blue “social phobia can be generalised into a fear of social situations, including:
- Performance situations (such as having to give a speech or being watched while doing something at work)
- Situations involving social interaction (such as having a meal with friends, or making small talk)”.
“It’s perfectly normal to feel nervous in situations where we might come under the scrutiny of others, whether they are strangers or people we know. Giving a speech at a wedding, presenting a conference paper or hosting a seminar for work colleagues is likely to cause nervousness and anxiety before and during the performance”. BEYOND BLUE
For people with social phobia, being the focus of other peoples’ attention can lead to intense anxiety. “They may fear being criticised, embarrassed or humiliated, even in the most ordinary, everyday situations. For example, the prospect of eating in front of other people at a restaurant can be daunting for people with social phobia”.
What are the signs and symptoms of social phobia?
According to Beyond Blue, the most common symptoms for people with social phobia include:
- Excessive perspiration
- Blushing and stammering when trying to speak.
What’s even more debilitating is that if/when these symptoms appear, they only further escalate the fear, paranoia and trauma that the person is already feeling (and trying to hide).
Other feelings or behaviours that social anxiety might trigger include:
- Lack or loss of confidence
- Panic, distress
- Inability to go about their daily routine.
All of these factors can have a serious negative impact on a person’s personal relationships, professional lives and ability to carry on with “regular life stuff”.
OK, so how do I deal with social anxiety?
Social anxiety can be approached in much the same way as any other kind of anxiety disorder. The trick is to learn how to control the condition so that it doesn’t control you.
As well as traditional healthcare approaches, there are also a number of effective self-help tools that can support you to overcome or manage your experiences of social anxiety. The big ones include:
- Regular physical exercise – it’s a no-brainer for reducing any kind of stress
- Reducing or avoiding caffeine and other stimulants – they’ll only jack your heart rate up higher
- Avoid using alcohol as a relaxant – it often makes things worse
- Practice some breathing techniques – anxiety escalates really quickly when we’re not breathing well. Slow, deep breaths send a message to our brain that it’s OK
- Take up yoga, meditation or relaxation – a regular practice in these can be a strong long-term strategy for dealing with anxiety
- Learning to be realistic about your capabilities and expectations – be aware of overloading yourself at Christmas time, especially when it comes to work demands. Focus less on how you want people to be (i.e. difficult family members) and instead focus on what you can give to them (kindness, generosity, humour, understanding, compassion, a listening ear, love).
- Always be kind to yourself and others – gentleness has a nice way of soothing anxiety.
Where symptoms of anxiety are moderate to severe, psychological and/or medical treatments are likely to be required.
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For more information about social anxiety disorder visit Beyond Blue