We’re coming up to that time of the year when your calendar may be filling up with invitations to parties and get togethers in the lead up to Christmas and the New Year.

There can be an expectation that chatting and socialising is all fun and cheery, but if you experience social anxiety, these activities can add to the stress of the festive season.

If you find yourself dreading the social engagements, whether it be at work, with extended family or varying groups of friends, here are some tips that might help:
1. Tackle anxiety in helpful ways before the event
When you give in to the worries about how the event might go, like “What if I say the wrong thing?”, “People will think I’m a nervous wreck if they see me blush”, or “I won’t be able to hold a conversation”, you’ll become more anxious.

Instead, every time you catch yourself worrying, try to notice and slow down your breathing to calm your body, and try to focus on the things about the party that you are actually looking forward to.

You can also remind yourself of the times in the past when you enjoyed social events more than you thought you would. Recall the times when your fears didn’t come true and if they did, perhaps it wasn’t as bad as you thought. 

Doing these things can help ease anxiety so it doesn’t snowball ahead of the event.
2. Try to engage with others and participate fully during the event
When you focus on what is happening around you and participate fully in conversations and activities, you are more likely to enjoy them. 

People with social anxiety tend to avoid engaging with others to help get them through an event.

You might stick with someone you know and let them carry the conversation in a group, appear “busy” with food, your phone or other tasks, stand somewhere tucked away, make unnecessary bathroom visits or drink too much alcohol.

While these behaviours may help you feel better in the moment, they don’t give you the opportunity to challenge your fears and learn that you might not need to do these things to cope or to have a good time.
3. Resist the temptation to go over everything you did or said after the event
If you experience social anxiety, chances are that your mind tends to go over everything that happened at the event on your way home or as you’re trying to sleep that night. 

Usually, these thoughts are negative and judgmental – perhaps you tend to focus on all the things you think you did or said that were wrong, embarrassing, or wish you could take back.

If you find yourself doing this, try to shift your attention to something else or try to consciously think of positive things you did or things that went well.

Once again, if you give into the worries about how you “performed”, it will increase your anxiety.

It isn’t about trying to avoid thinking about the event, however, it’s about being kind to yourself, finding the positives, and giving yourself credit for facing your fears.

If you would like to learn other practical tools to help you manage and improve social anxiety, contact EAP Assist.