For those with social anxiety this time of year can bring added levels of stress and worry. From the office parties to the family get-together, anxiety levels are usually very high.
Self-consciousness, shyness and embarrassment are the common experiences of social anxiety. It also brings with it feelings of shame and much of the added stress comes from concealing this from others in order to fit in.
One of the great fears for someone with social anxiety is being put in the spotlight. Therefore sitting around a table in a confined space can be the source of huge stress. I remember dreading dinner parties and eventually avoided them at all cost.
Another challenging component to social anxiety is the after effect of a social occasion. As someone who has struggled with this type of anxiety in the past I recall how I would obsess about what was said, how I came across and then beat myself up for not being good enough. If it had been a dinner party I’d tell myself that I wasn’t interesting enough and, of course, expect never to be invited again. These days I’m much more relaxed about situations like these and not so bothered about how I come cross. Over the years I’ve learned to be kind to myself, manage my fears better, to show interest in others and to know that I am welcome.
On the back of my personal experience and my work with clients who struggle with social anxiety here are my 5 tips for surviving the various Christmas events;
- Know that you are welcome. Keep telling yourself this even if you don’t believe it. Understand that you are wanted and accepted. It’s sometimes enough for you to just be there and be yourself as much as you can.
- Understand that others are also afraid. It always appears that other people are relaxed and confident. Some are but most aren’t. Most people want to be liked and are fearful of rejection.
- Know that whatever you feel is a choice. If you don’t feel like joining in – smilingly decline. Stay interested in what is happening around you and allow yourself to say no if you’re really not ready. Saying no doesn’t have to be unfriendly or negative.
- Fake it ’till you make it. This sound like a dreadful idea but can be very effective. Imagine yourself however you’d like to be then take on that role. It can allow you to step beyond your comfort zone and discover new ways of being.
- Show interest in others. This is a great way to engage with others and make a good impression. Unless they also have social anxiety many people love being given attention, to have that space and to talk about what interests them. If you repeat back what you’ve heard in order to clarify this is even better as there is nothing better than truly being heard and understood.
Overcoming social anxiety can take time but it is possible as I have experienced. The key ingredients for me were; getting interested and curious about my fears instead of running away or covering up, being kind to myself and understanding where these fears come from, allowing others to be confident and relaxed without comparing myself, knowing that I’m welcome, valued and finding ways to move beyond all the self-doubt to know there is nothing wrong with me even if I do feel anxious.
For more information on social anxiety and weekly groups running in London check out – http://www.sashgroup.org