Curbing Social Anxiety During The Holidays

Dec 15, 2014

The drumbeat of the holiday season begins soon after Thanksgiving appears in the rearview mirror. That may mean a laundry list of chores, presents to buy, and holiday preparations to wrap up in time for family visits, parties with friends, or trips out of town.

For some people, this is what the holiday season is about; they may even welcome—and enjoy—the challenges. For others, though, the stress is unbearable.

Those who grow anxious in social situations may feel tremendous pressure about fulfilling holiday obligations, particularly workplace ones. They may drink heavily to mask their distress, and the alcohol consumption may start long before the office holiday party.

“While alcohol in moderation can act as a social lubricant,” says Franklin Schneier, MD, an expert on social anxiety in Columbia’s Department of Psychiatry and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, “it can be problematic for people who have difficulty coping in social situations. What seems to be a quick solution can easily spiral out of control.”

Not only is alcohol a poor substitute for actual treatment of anxiety, but one drink often leads to many more, and excessive drinking is no way to make a favorable impression on other partygoers.

Dr. Schneier offers these additional tips for the socially anxious:

·       If you’re feeling anxious about a holiday social activity that you otherwise want to participate in, try it anyway. It is well established that when an individual enters a new situation, initial feelings of fear and avoidance tend to disappear over time.

·       Set reasonable expectations for yourself. If you go to a party thinking that you should never feel an awkward moment, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. That goal is unrealistic—and out of your control. Instead, make a commitment to achieve a few specific goals that you can control. (“I’ll go to the party and I’ll start conversations with three people, even if I feel anxious.”)

·       If conversation doesn’t come easily to you, come up with a few topics beforehand. And when it’s all over, be kind to yourself. Give yourself credit for trying and remember what went well.

This story was originally published by Columbia University Medical Center on Dec. 15, 2014.