10 Tips for Navigating Holiday Parties with Social Anxiety

10 Tips for Navigating Holiday Parties with Social Anxiety

The winter holidays are a gauntlet of awkward social situations and none are quite so panic inducing as holiday parties. Whether it’s an office function, a family party, a neighborhood event or a charity gala, the thought of navigating a holiday party when you experience social anxiety is akin to spending a night in hell. But it doesn’t have to be so bad. With these 10 tips, you’ll be navigating your holiday parties like a pro.

1. Commit to Going or Bow Out Early

Before you ever even commit to going to the party, make sure you aren’t overbooked. Anxiety means you might need a day or two to prepare mentally for a party and might need a few days to recover. If your schedule is clear, commit to going. The worst that happens is that you end up not going.

If you can’t talk yourself out of your anxiety over going to the party, call the host or the person who invited you sooner rather than later. Explain politely that something has come up, but that you truly appreciate the invitation and would love to catch up with them in the future, perhaps in a more intimate get-together.

2. Mentally Prepare Yourself

Chances are good that you’ve already learned a number of coping mechanisms for easing your anxiety. The day of the party, prepare yourself. Treat yourself well. Exercise, take a bubble bath and eat your favorite treat. Indulge in all the little things that make you feel good so that you’ll be less likely to stress about the upcoming event. Even if your brain has you convinced the party will be a disaster, at least you treated yourself to a stellar day.

3. Bring a Friend

If you’ve got a friend who knows about your social anxiety, bring him or her with you. They can help ease you into conversations, help navigate the tough parts of socializing at parties, include you in activities and if need be, lend a supportive ear if you need to vent. A friend who understands social anxiety can be a lifeline in a terrifying situation like a holiday party.

4. Arrive Early or On Time

When a party is in full swing, it can be overwhelming. People already have their groups and are chattering away without a care in the world. Where do you start? How do you interject yourself into the situation? Aim to arrive at the party on time or even a little bit early so you can ease yourself into the action as other guests arrive.

5. Ask Questions

If small talk terrifies you, ask people about themselves. People are almost always willing to talk about themselves and you’ll have to do little more than listen to them. If it goes well, the conversation will flourish. If not, you’ll learn a little something about someone else.

Stick to innocuous topics like how they like the food, compliment them on their outfit and ask where they got it or even discuss the weather. Keep a mental tab of conversation starters and try to get your fellow party-goers to open up about themselves so that none of the pressure is on you.

6. Avoid Stimulants and Depressants

It’s already hard enough to cope with social anxiety, you don’t need extra chemicals clouding your judgment and making you doubt yourself (because you CAN do this and WILL get through it!).

Avoid coffee and caffeine which can add to your jitters. Nicotine, too, can exacerbate anxiety. And as tempting as it is, stay away from the alcohol. It won’t loosen up your inhibitions and you’ll spend the rest of the night worrying about whether you’re too tipsy or making a fool of yourself.

It should go without saying, but any illicit substances need to stay out of your body as well. The best way to control your social anxiety is to keep your wits about you and you can’t do that if you’re inebriated or otherwise under the influence.

7. This, Too, Shall Pass

Very little in this world is permanent. Even the largest rocks eventually erode into sand. This experience will pass at the end of the night and whether you’re glad you went or miserable because of it, it’ll be over. Keep in mind that everything is impermanent and that each moment is a chance to improve your social skills and have some fun.

8. Participate

If you see someone playing a game or having a conversation, join in. Even if you feel awkward, trying to get in on the action is better than just standing there wondering what to do. If you’re busy playing a party game or chatting about the latest blockbuster release, you’re less likely to worry about everything under the sun. Ease yourself into interactions with others at your own pace.

9. Take Breaks

There’s no shame in stepping out for a breath of fresh air. Slip out of the party as needed to find a quiet place to calm your nerves, but resolve that you’ll go back in when you start feeling better. There are no rules that say you have to be in the middle of the action 100% of the time.

Take a few deep breaths, calm yourself, don’t replay any perceived social boo-boos in your head and walk back into that party with your head held high.

10. Have an Exit Plan

You know your limits on social interaction, so set yourself a time limit and leave by that time. Have an exit plan in mind if you need to leave sooner. You could arrange to check in with a friend who could provide an excuse if you need to leave urgently because you’re too overwhelmed. However, most of the time finding the host and simply saying “Thank you for inviting me, I’ve had a lovely time but I have to get up early tomorrow,” is enough to allow you to make a smooth exit.


5 Signs Your SA May Be Turning into Depression

5 Signs Your SA May Be Turning into Depression

Anxiety and depression aren’t the same mental health concern, but they are closely related. Consider them to be cousins, if not sister disorders. It is possible to have symptoms of social anxiety (SA) and depression at the same time.

Depression is not the type of disorder that suddenly appears out of the blue one day. It’s much more subtle than that – and the signs and symptoms can develop slowly. You may be living with SA and not realize that your symptoms are evolving into depression. Here are five common signs that your SA may be turning into depression.

You feel restricted from participating in everyday activities

SA makes it more challenging for you to manage things that other people seem to be able to do with ease, such as going out to parties and making small talk, which can lead to overall feelings of being worthless and incompetent. This is one of the symptoms of depression, a feeling that you can’t do anything or that you can’t do anything right.

You feel high levels of frustration

Everyone feels frustrated with themselves at times. When you have SA, you’re more likely to start bullying yourself and focusing on what you think is wrong with you. Even if someone started pointing out your positive qualities, you would either not see them at all or find a way to discount them to the other person.

If you stay in this mindset for too long, it opens the door for a cloud of depression to settle in. You can start to feel as though everyone else in the world is invited to some kind of a party and enjoying life but you aren’t able to do the same.

You feel stuck where you are, often without hope

Your anxiety about being in social situations makes it difficult for you to be around people, so you retreat to where you feel safe or where you feel that you can control the situation. It’s understandable, but it also puts you in a place where you can become frustrated. You may want to feel better but it can be difficult to see a way out of where you find yourself.

Depression can feel like a hole or a cloud to some people. They can get into a state where they don’t feel that things will ever get better and that nothing they do will provide them any benefits.

You feel limited in your career options

When you have SA, you may decide not to apply for a promotion because the position you’re applying for would involve being a team leader and conducting training sessions or presentations as part of your job. You could choose not to apply simply because the interview process involves appearing before more than one person at once and that prospect intimidates you.

Your anxiety may also lead you to believe that there’s no way you can succeed in certain careers. As a result, you don’t go through the necessary educational applications and processes if everything can’t be completed entirely online.

Depression works in the same way. It takes away a person’s energy and motivation to begin or complete tasks, even after already started. The mere thought of doing something can induce feelings of fatigue, even when the person is fully aware that the task would have a positive outcome.

You feel lonely, even when around people

One of the most basic of human feelings is wanting to belong: to a group, a family or as half of a romantic couple. If you’re anxious in social situations, you’re not going to be able to relax and let anyone really get to know you. Part of you will be sitting “above” the conversation or holding yourself back from the relationship, even if it turns intimate, because you’re concerned about being truly accepted.

Depression is lonely, too. It puts up mental barriers than make it hard for you to interact with people in your life. Everything they say or do will be interpreted through the veil that the depression brings. It affects your self-esteem and makes you feel as though you’re not worthy of being loved, which is absolutely untrue.

If you start to feel as though your SA symptoms are sliding toward depression, discuss it with a healthcare professional or your therapist right away so you can be screened for depression and receive appropriate treatment, if necessary. Treatment does help!


Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Right for You?

Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Right for You?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is widely used to treat a number of anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder (SAD). It’s a form of treatment that focuses on the sources of your anxiety, which are your thoughts. By teaching you how to first identify negative thought patterns, then how to replace them with more positive thoughts, it’s possible to stop or at least lessen worrisome thoughts so you can feel more comfortable when you’re in social situations.

Therapy vs. Medication for Anxiety

Should you give CBT a try to treat your social anxiety or is medication a better option? The answer is that both of them have their places in an overall treatment plan for SAD. Taking medication is a good way to deal with the physical sensations associated with social anxiety, such as:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Dizziness or lightheaded
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heartbeat

They can make you feel more comfortable when you need to be in situations where you would otherwise experience these types of sensations. However, the medication does not help you get to the root of your anxiety and attack it at its source, no matter how well it treats the symptoms.

Therapy, when used in combination with medication, can be a very effective treatment to help people learn how to reduce their anxiety symptoms or even achieve relief from them. Once the medication gets the physical symptoms under better control, you can start working with a therapist on doing the same with your thoughts. It is a two-pronged method of approaching your healing from SAD.

Two Parts to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT can be broken down into two segments. The first one, the cognitive portion, has to do with either addressing the way that your thoughts contribute to the anxious feelings you’re having when you are in or even thinking about, social situations. The behavioral part of the therapy looks at your actions (how you behave and react) in the situations that trigger your anxiety.

The basic concept of CBT is that your thoughts determine how you feel. A particular situation itself does not determine your emotions, but your perception of it has an impact on how you feel and how you react to it. When you change your feelings, you change the way you behave in similar situations going forward.

Identifying and Challenging Negative Thoughts

With the help of a therapist, you’ll be directed to identify your negative thoughts about social situations. This can take some practice, since thoughts tend to be very fast. There may be several thoughts that jump into your head when you think about going to a place where you’ll be with people or talking to people at an event. for instance.

Your therapist may direct you to picture going to a party and write down all the thoughts you have associated with that event. Here are a few examples of the thoughts you may have:

  • “I really don’t like parties. I’d rather go to a movie instead so I don’t have to talk to people.”
  • “I never know how to dress for a party. What if I’m over/under-dressed for the occasion? I’ll feel foolish.”
  • “There won’t be anyone there I know and I’ll spend the whole night sitting by myself.”
  • “I don’t know how to make small talk. I know I’ll blurt out something stupid.”

Next, you determine which thought was the one that made you feel most anxious about the situation. When you find the one that was the most anxiety provoking, you challenge that thought.
Here are several examples on how to challenge such thoughts:

  • Ask yourself whether the thought is based on current events or something from your past that you need to deal with.
  • Are you predicting something that will happen? You’re not a fortune teller.
  • Are you trying to guess how others will respond to you? You’re not a mind reader.
  • Is your thought accurate? Using the example of the party, have there been times when you’ve been able to make small talk, have dressed appropriately and interacted with people you just met?
  • Try turning the thought around: What advice would you have to a friend who came to you with the same problem?

Replace Negative Thoughts with More Realistic Thoughts

Once you’ve gone through a list, your therapist will help you start replacing your anxious thoughts with more positive ones. You can start making plans for dealing with social situations and then carry them out.

CBT will give you several tools you can use when you are feeling anxious – tools you can apply in any situation where you’re feeling uncomfortable. Over time, you’ll start to identify your own negative thoughts and know how to switch them to more positive thoughts on your own – ultimately benefiting greatly from the results.


Using Meditation To Focus On The Now

Using Meditation To Focus On The Now

When anxiety grips you, it’s hard to think of anything beyond the reality of it. Your mind starts racing from one thing to the next and sooner than you think, a problem as small as a mistyped text message turns into the end of your marriage.

When you’re dealing with anxiety, it’s easy to jump to the worst conclusions, but those predictions borne of stress rarely come to fruition. It’s not always possible to make your mind stop, but you can intervene in your brain’s processing by practicing mindfulness meditation.

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness meditation, sometimes simply called mindfulness, is the practice of focusing your thoughts on the here and now instead of those “what if’s” and “what happens next” thoughts. The goal is to focus on your body and the world around you by merely observing it – without judging it as good or bad or trying to change it in any way.

While scientists and health care professionals aren’t 100 percent sure why mindfulness works, research from 2013 gives us a preliminary idea of what happens in our brains when we practice mindfulness. Researchers at the

Wake Forest Medical Center discovered that mindfulness works on two separate brain regions: the anterior cingulate cortex and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

The anterior cingulate cortex is the area of the brain responsible for thinking and feeling. When we meditate, activity in this area decreases. We’re able to put a dimmer switch on our emotions and stop over-thinking, even if for only short periods.

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is the area responsible for controlling worrying. It stops us from thinking we’re going to die of cancer or respiratory failure when we have a simple cold (no matter what our frantic, late night Internet searching tells us). Practicing mindfulness, this area of the brain is better able to control our fears – irrational or not.

How to Practice Mindfulness

Like any learned skill, mindfulness is not mastered overnight. The more you practice it, the better you become at using it when you need to.
Start practicing mindfulness meditation when you aren’t in a social situation that’s got even the slightest potential to cause agitation.

Consider trying it while doing mundane household chores. For example, if you’re washing the dishes, you focus on the act itself, taking note of how you’re standing, how you hold and scrub each dish or cup, the sound of the running tap water, the smell of the dish detergent and the motion of putting each dish in the drainer. Don’t try to change or control any action or sensation – just notice what you’re doing and focus on it.

You don’t have to maintain an internal monologue when you practice mindfulness – and there’s no pressure to keep it going. Just try to keep yourself calm and observant of what you’re doing.

Using Meditation During an Anxiety Attack

Your health care professional has probably already informed you that you cannot control others or the world around you – that you’re only responsible for your own actions and reactions to what life throws at you. At its very core, this is what meditation is about: giving you the tools to let go of all the stuff other people say and do, the stuff you can’t control and the tools and ability to focus on the things you can control.

When you feel an anxiety attack coming on, focus on your breathing. Feel yourself breathing in and out. Don’t try to change it, don’t criticize or berate yourself for breathing too quickly or too shallowly. Just notice how you’re breathing. Being mindful of your breaths will often slow them naturally.

Choose something in your immediate area to focus on; slowly examine each of the item’s features. If you choose a tree, take note of the movement of the leaves, how the sun slides through the branches or how many shades of green you can see.

Don’t judge, don’t zone out. You want to be in the moment. Keep yourself present and observant. Eventually you’ll get through the anxiety and you can get back to feeling okay.

Mindfulness is Just One Tool

Meditation is a powerful tool for giving you back control of your body, your thoughts and your wits, but it’s just one of many tools available for dealing with social anxiety. And remember – what may work for you doesn’t necessarily work for the next person and vise-versa.

Meditation is not a substitute for regular visits to your mental health care professional; it’s not meant to replace any treatment regimen your health care provider has worked out for you. What it can do is augment therapy and any medications you take.

Speak to your health care provider about meditation and the work you’re doing with it to help manage your anxiety. If you’re having problems or can’t quite seem to master it, your doctor can help give you some pointers. Most mental health providers are familiar with basic meditation techniques and the benefits they offer and will support you trying a new, helpful coping mechanism.