Christmas tree

How to deal with social anxiety over the Christmas period

Christmas can be a great time of year – family time, socializing with friends, work parties, festive cheer, Christmas meals – but this can be a struggle when you suffer from social anxiety.

The festive period is often seen as a time to come together, a time to share in laughter, fun and spending time with family and friends. This can be a hard time for anyone who has to deal with social anxiety, in fact, the disorder is known to affect up to 10% of the population of the UK.
With Christmas being the peak time for socialising, while many of us look forward to these occasions, many suffering from anxiety fear them.
While it is natural to feel nervous or uncertain about some situations, people suffering from social anxiety can find it disabling and it can severely affect their social life, work and their relationships.
Naturally, the frequency of these anxiety attacks increases in December due to more people relaxing and encouraging Christmas social events.
Symptoms of someone suffering from social anxiety can be physical – blushing, shortness of breath, excessive sweating – as well as mental effects which can centre around the feeling of social inadequacies.
A combination of social events, financial struggle and awkwardness of meeting with extended family can become a melting pot of uneasiness for sufferers.
Furthermore, Christmas can often be a reminder of people that you’ve lost who you were close to. This could be anyone from a family member, a friend or even a pet – with the festivities around you it can often bring back fond memories.
With people around you often in high spirits, it can be difficult to feel involved and join in with everyone, so it is important, to be honest with the people that you are close to.
Confiding in someone can help them understand how you feel as well as avoiding the feeling that you are bottling up your emotions. If you feel like you don’t have anyone to confide in, then there are online forums and communities that are trained to help you.
Planning ahead of social situations can help the person suffering from social anxiety and the people around them to ensure Christmas is as stress-free as it can be.
A lot of sufferers struggle with Christmas shopping – the busy shops and streets are a scary thought for people with anxiety. Buying before the rush can not only soften the financial blow of Christmas shopping, reducing anxiety over money but also allow it to be less stressful due to the shops being less busy.
The stress of work Christmas parties can be reduced by reassuring anyone suffering from social anxiety. The parties can be a minefield for anxiety sufferers – socialising with work friends, alcohol and not causing embarrassment around your colleagues or boss can be hard to juggle. Offering to attend the party with someone could be the difference between them attending instead of succumbing to their anxiety.
Opening presents can be a daunting task for someone suffering from anxiety – everyone looking, the pressure to look surprised and grateful – offer to open the presents at the same time, taking the spotlight away from them and making the occasion more enjoyable and less uneasy.
Christmas dinner, though very enjoyable, can also trouble anxiety sufferers as it is another social occasion which can be daunting. The pressure to essentially eat as much as you can, wash it down with plenty of drink and then come back for your fourth serving, later on, is difficult.
However be mindful, some may feel easy about not wanting to eat as much so try not to pressure anyone – if you feel uneasy – be polite and explain that you do not feel as hungry.
On the other hand, it can be hard to ask for more food – try not to make it a spectacle if someone asks you for food as it may demoralise them and make them feel self-conscious.
Increased anxiety correlates to a decrease in confidence so by not showing them up in front of a large group you can help sufferers of social anxiety.
Mental health charity, Mind have released statistics regarding social anxiety:
– 76% of people who have anxiety have had problems sleeping at Christmas.
– Nearly 60% experience panic attacks over the festive period.
– 52% of individuals with mental disorders have considered harming themselves at Christmas.
– 36% have self-harmed to cope with the pressure of Christmas.
– Last year, more than 21,000 people with mental health problems spent the festive season in the hospital because they were unwell.
Christmas is a time for enjoying socialising with your friends and your loved ones. However, it is important to be considerate for people who struggle with social anxiety so that they can enjoy it too.