We all know that the Grinch did his best to ruin Christmas, but social anxiety (sometimes called a social phobia) can also make the holiday season a nightmare. It’s not easy to live with at any time but, as the party season comes closer, it can be more difficult than ever. Family gatherings, parties and other festivities can be a nightmare for those who are not at ease in company, all the more so because everyone else seems to be having such fun.

What is social anxiety?

Just as it ‘says on the tin’, social anxiety is anxiety that is triggered by social situations. It’s much more than being shy, or even anti-social. For those who experience it, social anxiety symptoms include an overwhelming sense of panic, a dry mouth, trembling, nausea, rapid heartbeat, shaky voice, sweating, paranoia, insecure, or out of step with everyone else.

Many sufferers simply avoid social events whenever possible but this leads to a problem. When you avoid something that makes you anxious, you feel relief. That’s a good feeling, so the next time you think about socialising your anxiety levels will go even higher to make sure you avoid it again. By the time you come to an event you simply can’t avoid, your anxiety levels will be really high.

Worrying in social situations

The good news is that social anxiety can be beaten, although I would always recommend discussing your anxiety with your GP before you take these steps, in case there’s another cause.

Helping anxiety in social situations

Before you go out

One Learn some simple relaxation or breathing exercises before you go out, so you can use them when you’re there.

Two Share the fact that you’re anxious with someone you trust, feeling the need to hide it makes it worse.

Three – Avoid props like alcohol and party drugs which might lead to you doing something silly in reality instead of in your imagination! (This one goes for when you’re there, as well.)

Four Worrying that something bad might happen doesn’t mean it will – challenge your negative thoughts by adding BUT and an answer to them. For example, if you think ‘I don’t know what to say to people I don’t know’ add ‘BUT I can always ask them about themselves’ to make it feel more positive. There are more tips to combat negative thinking on this link.

When you’re at an event

Five – Face your fears – go to the party. If it’s easier, make a ‘hierarchy of fears’ (a list of events in order of how scary they are) and start with the easiest.

Six – Focus outwards on what’s going on around you instead of inwards on your thoughts and feelings. This works because you can think and you can feel, but not both at the same time. Using the logical brain to notice the colour of the wallpaper or the number of people wearing red helps to switch off the emotional responses.

Seven – Taking this a step further, remember that most people enjoy talking about themselves so being a good listener is a plus. Ask questions and then sit back and listen. After a while, you’ll feel confident enough to add to the discussion.

Therapy for social anxiety

If you suffer from extreme social anxiety, or social anxiety disorder, you may find that self-help isn’t enough to feel better.

In that case, looking for therapy to improve the situation is a good idea. Hypnosis for social anxiety can be helpful for many people as it combines learning new skills with relaxation, and addressing the root cause of your worrying.

Get in touch to see how I can help.

Author: Debbie Waller is a professional therapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues, including gut-directed hypnotherapy to help with the symptoms of IBS. She also offers EMDR/Blast which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD. For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593. 

Researcher: Rae Waller is an experienced researcher and writer with a special interest in mental health issues. Rae offers drafting, fact-checking, proofreading, and editing for anything from a leaflet to a website, a blog or a book, and can also provide diversity reading, especially for LGBTQ+ and autism-related issues. Please contact rae@debbiewaller.com for further information.