Your friends might think an evening of mulled wine and mince pies sounds like a good idea, but if the thought of going to your friend’s flat to mingle with their distant cousin, work colleague and neighbour sounds like a nightmare, you may be suffering with social anxiety.
What is social anxiety and how do I know if I’m suffering from it?
Social anxiety can affect people in many different ways: some of us are quite happy to just cancel plans and do as we please, whereas some people find it very hard to say no, feeling pressure to attend while at the same time dreading the prospect.
You may have social anxiety if you spend the run up to an event preoccupied with ways to avoid or cancel these plans. Alternatively your anxiety could translate to relying on alcohol to make things ‘less awkward’ - but alcohol is a depressant so guzzling lots of bubbles can actually make you feel worse.
For people who have a more severe form of social anxiety, it can be very difficult to even leave the house. If the problem is this severe it’s important to speak to a medical professional, but for many with milder anxiety – more common at the Christmas season, there are things you can do to better handle stress associated with festivities.
What can I do?
Acute and sudden feelings of anxiety can build and feel uncontrollable but breathing exercises can help ease it. Practice breathing deeply through your nose while lying on your bed, resting your hands on your abdomen and slowing your breathing to eight breaths per minute. When you start feeling anxious and aware of your breathing, if it is shallow and rapid, try to consciously shift to slow abdominal breathing.
Also, remember to explain how you feel. Rather than bailing on your friend’s Christmas drinks without a reason, arrange to do something just the two of you and explain to them how you’re feeling. A good friend will understand and won’t pressurise you into going out if you feel anxious.
Anxiety makes people turn their attention to themselves, which often makes things worse. A way to combat that is to shift the focus: think about elements of the task itself, rather than how you may perform. If you’re in a conversation and anxiety starts to build, focus on neutral factors such as the colour of the walls or the texture of the floor rather than what you’re going to say next. This can help to interrupt the anxiety cycle.
And remember – Importantly - there’s nothing wrong with saying “no” to all the invitations you’re getting and having some ‘me time’. People like Kristen Bell, Lady Gaga and Adele have all spoken about their battles with anxiety, so you are not alone.