Social Anxiety: Helping Everyone During the Holidays

Social Anxiety: Helping Everyone During the Holidays

Nov 14, 2023

The holiday season is here, and with it comes parties, work events, community gatherings, and family get-togethers. These can be exciting for many people, but for some, it can be tough to enter a crowded room, talk to new people, or deal with family, travel, or gifts. The reality is that instead of it being the most wonderful time of year, it can lead to feelings of anxiety, sadness, or even both.

Anxiety disorders are a widespread mental health issue in the United States, affecting over 40 million Americans. Anxiety isn’t something you can usually see, and not everyone who has it has been officially diagnosed. So, before you organize a party or get-together this holiday season, keep in mind these tips to help all of your friends and family feel seen.

Understanding Holiday Season Stressors

The holiday season can be tough for many reasons. The pressure to spend money during this time can make it harder if you’re already struggling to make ends meet or traditions can bring unwanted social pressures. The parties and get-togethers can remind us of loved ones we’ve lost or reminders of people we’d wish to be with. Some holiday traditions might remind us of a difficult memory or lead to conversations we’d rather avoid. Often, all these things can make us want to eat too much or drink too much to deal with the stress.

Want to deepen your understanding? Listen to the “Myths and Realities of the Holiday Blues” podcast featuring professors of psychiatry from Columbia University Medical Center.

Supporting Your Loved Ones

What brings you energy and joy isn’t the same for others, including your closest friends and family. Increasing your empathy and understanding can help you support your loved ones.

  • Understand their feelings, even if you can’t fully understand them. Don’t always try to make them feel better or tell them that everything will be fine. Avoid telling them to just move on from their emotions.
  • Ask how you can help and what support looks like for them. And refrain from giving advice unless specifically asked.
  • Don’t force activity. If someone really doesn’t want to attend an event, support their decision. If they are willing to share, ask about their “why.” Understand their why so you can support them in a way that matters. 
  • Create opportunities for quality time. Make chances for special moments. Your event might not be their favorite, but spending time with you is. Make that time, because it makes them feel good.

Managing Your Stressors

Whether you experience anxiety, have a diagnosis, or not, there are steps everyone can take to anticipate and manage stressors, particularly during the holidays. Be sure to take care of yourself!

  • First, figure out what’s bothering you. Think about what makes you worried or upset during the holidays, and try to focus on what is true. It’s okay to say no if you need to – you don’t have to do everything.
  • Be nice to yourself and don’t set unreal expectations. Whether you’re planning a party or going to one, remember that people aren’t thinking about you as much as you think. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
  • Prepare a few topics of conversation. Especially if small talk is uncomfortable or intimidating to you, come with a few readied questions or give medium-talk a try.

Seeking Help From a Professional

There is a difference between worry, stress, and anxiety. Bringing awareness to yourself, your triggers and your response can help you work through feelings and be more able to support your loved ones as they manage theirs. And sometimes, it’s best to seek help from a professional. If you’re wondering when anxiety becomes a problem, it might be time to seek out an expert.