February 21, 2024

Feeling anxious about socialising over the festive season?

10 tips to reduce social anxiety at family gatherings and work parties this Christmas

Social anxiety is normal and human. Regardless of our age, many of us experience social anxiety, including those who generally enjoy the company of others.

The Christmas season is soon upon us and for many it comes with an increase in social anxiety. We long to belong to the party whether it’s in our work or social context — we want to take part and at the same time we are dreading it.

Social anxiety is hard-wired into our brain. We are designed by natural selection to care — to care a lot — about what other people think.

During evolution people who were liked, admired and respected would have been the most effective gene propagators. In a hunter-gatherer village, your neighbours would have kept a vast database of your behaviours and you would be unlikely to do anything that radically altered their opinion of you. Knowing so much about the people you interacted with meant that most social gatherings were simple and worry free.

However, in today’s modern world we often find ourselves in the unnatural position of meeting people who know little or nothing about us. This can create pressure. The uncertainty can cause anxiety about whether or not we will be liked, accepted or approved of. As we wonder whether or not we'll be met with kindness, friendliness and openness.

Resent advances in neuro-science have demonstrated that, with practice, the brain has the ability to change, adapt and overcome social anxiety. Read on for my top ten tips of how you can reduce your social anxiety this Christmas.

A decorated indoor Christmas tree with blurred people socialising in the background

10 tips to overcome social anxiety and learn to enjoy the festive season:

  1. When an event comes up, notice feelings of anxiety when they arise. It’s not the anxiety that is the problem but how you respond to it. Acknowledge the feeling of anxiety with kindness instead of beating yourself up about it which creates more anxiety and makes you feel worse. You can say to yourself: ‘I’m feeling anxious about going to this Christmas party. It’s normal and human. Other people feel like this.’
  2. Be aware of the story you are telling yourself. For example: ‘Nobody will like me. Nobody will want to talk to me… Everyone will have a good time but me…’ If you examine your thoughts, and ask yourself: How do I know that nobody will like me? How do I know that nobody will want to talk to me? Is it true? Reflecting on this will help you realise that your thoughts are just thoughts, and not necessarily true. Seeing your thoughts for what they are will instantly lessen the anxiety.
  3. Make wise choices and be honest with yourself. You don’t have to go to every social event. Check in with yourself on how important a social event is for you and only go because you want to, not because you suffer from FOMO – ‘fear of missing out’.
  4. Before a social event, take a moment to centre yourself: feel your feet on the ground, take a few deeper breaths and reassure yourself that right now, you’re ok.
  5. During an event, slow down, take regular deep breaths to help you to stay present to what’s actually going on inside and outside of you (not what you think is going on). Look around the room to keep a broader perspective and spot others who most likely feel exactly like you.
  6. See who is at the event that you might like to speak to. Taking the initiative to approach someone at a social event can be hugely connecting and enjoyable! And remember, the person that you had the courage to approach most likely feels grateful to you for reaching out.
  7. Find a trusted colleague or friend who can be your ‘base camp’ or ‘anchor’ at an event. You can agree to check in with each other regularly throughout an event.
  8. Keeping alcohol to a minimum can help you stay clear-headed and in control of your emotions and thoughts. It also helps to have some genuine chats and enjoyment.
  9. Prioritise self-care during the festive season. Set an intention to sleep enough, to eat well, to exercise regularly to help you stay grounded and to manage your anxiety. You don’t have to be strict or deprive yourself of anything. Moderation and self-kindness are key here.
  10. Remember: It’s okay to feel anxious. It’s human. Applying these strategies and seeking support from friends, family, a coach or therapist can make a significant difference in managing social anxiety during the Christmas season.

Don’t let social anxiety ruin your Christmas

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