Since the first Evite arrived, you’ve been tense. Worrying. Wracking your brain for the most believable way to say you won’t be there, or anywhere, no matter how merry the event.
Too many people in enclosed places, staring at you and small-talking, making you want to run for the hills.
Not deck the halls.
Yet, you know there is more to the life God promised you. You know that to love Him faithfully, you’re required to love others. Fearlessly.
That’s really hard to do when you feel compelled to keep the fellowship and fun of the season at arm’s length at best. In general, social anxiety is described as the extreme fear of scrutinization, judgment, and rejection by other people in social situations.
Regardless, you know you need to find a way to cope and connect. But how?
5 Practical Steps to Help You Cope with Social Anxiety During the Holidays
1. Sharing What’s Scaring You Makes Fear Feel Less Powerful
Social anxiety, like all anxiety, is fear. The very thing our faith asks us to surrender and learn to live without. Not to bear in shame. Not to hide in a corner. You can overcome this.
Do realize that social anxiety often begins early in life. It can mislead us into thinking we have to do life on our own. Millions of adults in this country report some level of social anxiety and too many wait years before seeking support.
What to do? Break out and reach out. Share the burden.
Not with a crowd of people… yet. But the numbers don’t lie. People will relate if you do decide to tell more of them about your issues in the future.
For now, call a friend, family member, or pastoral confidante. Align yourself with someone you can trust. Someone who will compassionately attend events with you or be available by text or Facetime. A “backup buddy” can be a great comfort when the holiday festivities become especially jarring.
2. Mentally Slow Everything Down and Be Present
Exposure. Humiliation. Rejection. No one wants any part of that. Still, when the fear of it looms too large, people can become too powerful in our minds. Dread then surpasses in importance God’s call to seek people out, connect and love them.
The thing is, you likely realize your social anxiety is irrational when it takes over. You just feel powerless to stop your panicked reaction. Social anxiety gets in the way of reasonable and calm discernment of the situation and others’ perceptions of you.
What to do? Focus on the present moment. Feel the floor. Smell the pie. Breathe the pine.
Keep your mind in the room and rein in any thought that assumes anything. Especially thoughts about what people thought about you when you walked in the room or will think when you walk out. Take your thoughts captive and focus on where God has placed you and be completely there.
3. Plan and Prioritize Social Interactions
Not everyone has the gift of gab. Especially in groups of people. What kinds of things would you like to talk about if you felt comfortable? People who overcome social anxiety don’t try to change their conversational hang-ups. They learn to work with them.
What to do? Thinking things through in detail can be an effective antidote to overblown emotion and nervousness.
Think about which events you want to attend and how long you want to be there. Consider the people there ( your neighbors, co-workers, church friends ) and try to prepare a few questions or conversation topics. You won’t feel blindsided if you don’t go in blind… or mute.
4. Celebrate Social Successes
Social anxiety can wear on our self-esteem and make us feel defective somehow. Self-talk can become self-defeating if we are comparing ourselves to other people in the room.
So, don’t let your challenges in this area convince you that something is wrong with you. God is still with you. Instead of focusing on the negatives, try to highlight, celebrate, and express gratitude for every change and success you are able to make.
What to do? Set small goals and praise God and yourself for the smiles, handshakes, and small talk you do accomplish.
Then, set more goals and celebrate more often. You CAN do this one step at a time. Share your goals and achievements with someone else who will help you stay accountable and progressing toward social competency.
5. Keep This a “God Thing”
To overcome fear—social fear too—stay cognizant of the One who created you and knows you best. He wants you strong and purpose-filled. Treat your anxiety as a challenge.
Challenging your thoughts and worries provides perspective. Testing assumptions against scripture brings clarity. Prayer connects us spiritually. Fellowship helps us focus outside our own concerns.
What to do? Worship. Serve. Praise. Volunteer.
When you focus on those activities, you may find a new kind of awareness and social capability emerges. Your fear may recede long enough to allow you to focus on communal and church activities this holiday season. Maybe you don’t need to start with parties. Start at a food bank, usher at a candlelight church service, or pass out church bulletins.
Generosity may be the thing to connect you comfortably and often well after the holidays.
Please know that you needn’t suffer social anxiety any longer. The Bible tells you so. Don’t beat yourself up, don’t go it alone. Try these tips and embrace some time with a counselor. Start a healing relationship with someone who gets it and can provide guidance.
Talk to God first and then a faith-honoring counselor. You are not alone and you are never powerless. If you agree, we can walk this out together. Please contact me soon. Start loving yourself and others the way you really want to.
For more information about anxiety counseling, click here.
About the Author
Julia Nelson, LPCA, LMFTA is a psychotherapist and owns a private practice in Flat Rock and Forest City, NC. In general, she specializes in couples counseling, anxiety and depression counseling, premarital counseling, and parenting classes. She is also a Certified Clinical Military Counselor. To find out more about Julia click here Nelson Christian Counseling.
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