With Thanksgiving and Black Friday safely tucked away in the past, the holiday season has officially descended upon us. Your work may throw a party, old friends may be returning to town to see their families and want to organize something, or you may be among those who celebrate “the holiday season” in some way. Whether you are non-denominational, celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Winter Solstice, there is a pretty good chance that you will be gathering with people for “celebration.”
But what if you don’t feel like celebrating? If you suffer from anxiety year-round, this season is yet another series of events that you feel obligated to attend. Social anxiety is overlooked during holidays because you are expected to be with other people and be happy about it, but that expectation can be very upsetting and damaging.
Holiday stress is a special kind of stress; it comes from plastering on a smile in the face of chaos and pressure.
The holiday season 2021 is a whole new ballgame. While some of us spent the last holiday season in relative isolation, many of us anticipate a more “normal” time this go-around.
Permitted to reunite or feel safe enough, families plan get-togethers, including dinners, parties, and vacations. You may be looking forward to these events but also overwhelmed at the idea of being around that many people. You may have struggled with loneliness last year but relished avoiding some people with whom you disagree socially and/or politically, or just plain don’t mesh with.
Reuniting after the past two years of life-threatening fear adds an additional emotional burden to be grateful for being able to get together, exacerbating our existing feelings of holiday pressure. Amidst the holiday chaos of shopping, juggling plans, avoiding the common cold, and COVID-19, you are bound to feel added social anxiety during this season. There are a few key reasons why.
What triggers your social anxiety during the holiday season?
1. You feel increased pressure:
There are so many ways to experience pressure during the holiday season. You may feel more pressured to mingle with people in general, as opportunities to get together present themselves. When you do get together with family, there is more pressure to get along with family members that you don’t like “for the sake of keeping things cheerful.” There is often pressure to spend money on things you don’t want or can’t afford to keep up with everyone else. This can include excursions for winter activities like skiing or weekend getaways to the mountains. The fear of missing out can be overwhelming when the narrative of the season is “togetherness.” Even if the events are lowkey, you might not feel comfortable in groups at this time, but wish you did so that you could go and actually enjoy yourself.
2. The need to be “perfect”:
Maybe it’s the aesthetic we’re fed from marketing and holiday-themed media, but there is a sense over the holiday season that perfection is a major component of a successful time. We can place this pressure on ourselves as we decorate (everyone will be taking photos!), cook, bake, shop, even as we clothe ourselves for outings. It also rears its ugly head when it comes to our ability to “keep everyone happy.” People-pleasing becomes the norm, as we try to facilitate four different kinds of mashed potatoes, or as we accept too many invitations to parties or charitable events. And through it all, we’re expected to shimmer and smile as if we’ve just had a full day at the spa, with not a care in the world.
3. You are dealing with grief and loss along with joy:
The grief we feel or the losses we experience have no concept of a holiday season. Grief and loss can occur at any time of year, even during events or seasons that are “meant to be joyful.” For a lot of us, nostalgia and societal norms serve to make the holidays feel like a time you want to spend with those you love. This can make them extremely difficult if you are or have been experiencing a loss. Whether this is a new loss or one that happened years ago, holidays are always challenging to navigate in that context. If you have experienced a lot of fresh loss in the past year and a half, you are not alone.
4. You might have ongoing pandemic worries and insecurities:
The conversation around vaccination is only getting more divided with kids as young as five years old being allowed to be vaccinated. Wherever you are on this topic, it can play a big role in your feelings of anxiety during socialization. The idea of this topic coming up may cause you increased anxiety. Or you might worry about your personal safety. You might wonder, “Can I ask if they are vaccinated?” or, “Is it okay for me to not go because I still don’t want to be in a big crowd?” Regardless of how done we feel about dealing with the pandemic; it is by no means over.
So with all the pressure of the holiday season to “have fun” and “be joyful,” combined with the added stress of overdue reunions and a global health crisis, it makes sense that you might be dreading this season. The simplest advice is this: don’t let anxiety ruin the holidays. I know that that sounds easier said than done, but I am not just saying this without giving tools to use. If you decide that you aren’t going to let anxiety ruin the holidays and make a plan for how to achieve that, it is possible. It doesn’t mean that the season will be perfect or that some of it won’t be hard. That’s okay! All of life has good and bad and ups and downs. When we are prepared for the hard parts, we can see the easier parts more clearly and feel better and happier overall. There is no reason why you can’t find joy in the coming weeks.
5 ways to manage social anxiety during the holidays:
1. Focus on your values, not your anxiety:
One of the most effective tools to manage anxiety, worry, and fear, is to let your values lead the way. Because most often, we make decisions out of fear and anxiety. (Remember, we’ve talked about how human beings are willing to do more to avoid pain than gain pleasure.) We end up saying yes to things instead of no because of our fear of rejection. We end up buying more expensive stuff because of our fear of judgment.
This holiday season, start by identifying what you value, what matters most to you. And then let those values guide your decisions and behaviors. This means that when you say no to something, it is in favor of participating in something that you value more highly, even if that just means staying home and resting.
Do things you are comfortable with! I would be surprised if one of your values wasn’t self-respect. This doesn’t mean that we always make the most ideal choice for ourselves, but it means that we strive to nourish our minds, bodies, and hearts, set and uphold our boundaries, and form respectful relationships with others. If something you are thinking about doing makes you feel bad, nervous, or uncomfortable, it’s a good sign that it is not in your best interest. This can include spending time with people who make you feel bad, overspending, eating food you don’t enjoy, going to big crowd events, and more.
Every individual person’s comfort levels will be different; while you respect the rights of others to set their boundaries, give yourself permission to expect the same courtesy.
2. Let go of Perfectionism:
It is not your job to make everyone happy, no matter what you may think or what someone might tell you. The most special memories we have of the holidays are probably not the ones where everything went off without a hitch. When we look back, we think of the people we loved with whom we were able to spend time; often, what makes us laugh is recalling mishaps: salt in the pie instead of sugar, someone forgetting the stuffing, wonky decorations, etc.
This doesn’t mean that you will be able to get others to let go of their expectations, but that is not your job to worry about. You might think, “It has to be perfect because my aunt always comments on this!” or “I want my kids to look back at photos and see how lovely everything looked.” If you are worrying over someone else’s standards, it is not your job to meet them.
Instead, it is your job to plan how you will handle them. For example, you may tell yourself affirmations such as, “I am not in charge of that person’s happiness,” or “I have different priorities than they do.” You might want to tell the person your affirmation or keep it to yourself. And as for the décor that you’re worried will ruin your children’s photographs: it won’t. That’s not what they’ll remember, but if you spend more time not letting them touch the ornaments or fussing over tidying the house than you do interact with them, they’ll probably remember that.
3. Find balance:
In order to find balance, you have to give yourself permission to say no. Have self-care time; have alone time; have a balance between different areas of your life such as physical health as well as social life. That could mean that one morning you focus on going for a walk instead of meeting a friend for brunch, or vice versa. If you are able to go for walks, they are a nice way to clear your head and physically remove yourself from the bustle of the season. Remember to stay nourished and to stay hydrated!
Plan ahead for events and activities to carve out the time you need for yourself. This may mean looking at your calendar and blocking off entire days just to make sure there is breathing room for you to check in with yourself and non-holiday business. It could involve recruiting friends and/or family members to babysit or combine efforts in cooking and baking. Revisiting your values is a great way to figure out where your plans are off-balance. Whether you run through your checklist every time you consider accepting an invitation, come back to it once a week, or resort to pulling it out when you realize you are stressed and overwhelmed, you can find balance by evaluating how your values are being upheld in your goings-on.
4. Focus on positive self-talk:
Social anxiety comes with intense self-criticism that judges your every move. This talk tells us all we think is wrong with us and that others probably think the same thing. This can make it daunting to attend a social event, to say the least. A key to overcoming negative self-talk is to combat it with positive and kind affirmations.
These can range in topic, but a few examples include: “I am wanted here, or I wouldn’t have been invited”; “I can leave any time I choose to;” “It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing or what I look like at all”; or, “My time and presence are valuable.” Identify your biggest fears and worries and give yourself the advice you would give a loved one, then turn that advice into your affirmation. When you have taken the time to plan and prepare, you are better equipped to handle negative thoughts and feelings if and when they arise.
When you engage in anxiety treatment in Los Angeles, you will gain a sense of confidence and lightness. You’ll be able to let of worry, rumination, and self-loathing.
5. Feel your feelings:
If a big part of anxiety is that you are grieving a loss of a loved one while also celebrating the holidays, give yourself permission to feel all your feelings. You don’t need to deny or repress your sadness. Remember, opposite feelings can co-exist. You can be happy that you are experiencing something wonderful and sad that someone you miss isn’t sharing it with you. Human emotions don’t have a light switch that we can flip to turn them on or off; all we can do is stay present and gentle with ourselves as we encounter our feelings. Recruit support from loved ones for moments of struggle, and spend some of the time you’ve reserved for yourself reflecting on your emotions.
All around the country, from Woodland Hills to the south, the east and the north, people are experiencing varying levels of anxiety while trying to communicate about and organize their holiday festivities. Do not think you are the only person struggling or worrying or that you “should” be grateful for the season regardless of grief or worry. Reach out to those you trust about your concerns; they may have the very same ones. Allow yourself the space and time to prioritize, organize, plan and rest. Have grace for yourself when your plans don’t work out like you want them to. And stay present in the moments that are everything you could have dreamed they’d be.
Other Services at Embracing You Therapy
Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
At our mental health practice in Woodland Hills, CA, we offer individual therapy and couple’s therapy. Both Dr. Menije, Ani Seferyan, AMFT, Cindy Sayani, AMFT, and Ani Seferyan, AMFT offer virtual therapy to treat mental health concerns including panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and stress; Mood disorders including depression; Relationship issues, both in couples therapy and with individual clients; Perinatal mental health issues such as postpartum depression, Codependency, and Addiction.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools-that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinator.