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Dealing with social anxiety over the Christmas period

Christmas work party

For many the Christmas period is a time to look forward to. Christmas parties, long overdue catch ups with friends and spending time with family are anticipated with a sense of excitement. However, for those with social anxiety these added social commitments can be a source of anxiety or even dread.

What is social anxiety

The common understanding of social anxiety is one where people feel extremely awkward, uncomfortable, or anxious in social interactions. The added social pressures around this time of year may heighten these feelings. However, experiencing anxiety in social situations is just one aspect of social anxiety. I work with professionals where social anxiety may impact their performance at work. In a work context, those with social anxiety often describe feeling anxious in performance-based situations. They may experience: 

  • Thoughts that they are an imposter (commonly known as the imposter syndrome), 
  • Anxiety during presentations or networking events,
  • Extreme awkwardness or defensiveness when discussing their performance with managers or when required to “manage up”,
  • An intense fear of speaking up in meetings.

It is common to experience some nerves when meeting new people or engaging in performance-based situations. The right amount of nerves may even help to enhance our performance. However, those with social anxiety may experience overwhelming feelings of anxiety during social interactions or performance-based situations. They commonly fear feeling embarrassed or being negatively judged by other people. These fears may lead them to endure the situation with intense feelings of anxiety, or to avoid the situation altogether.

The good news is that we can learn how to manage feelings of social anxiety. This may in turn help us to feel more confident in social settings and to improve our performance at work.

Signs you may be experiencing social anxiety disorder

It is common to experience moderate levels of nerves or awkwardness in unfamiliar social situations. In contrast, those who experience social anxiety disorder have extremely high levels of anxiety. These feelings of anxiety are commonly driven by an excessive fear of embarrassment or being negatively judged by others. Signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder may include:

  • Fear or avoidance of social situations,
  • Excessive anxiety in performance-based situations,
  • Fear of embarrassment or negative judgement by others,
  • Excessive worry or rumination about social events, 
  • Physical symptoms in response to social or performance-based situations such as blushing, sweating or trembling.

Reaching out for support may also be challenging for those experiencing social anxiety disorder. The intense fear of judgement they experience, may prevent them from opening up and sharing their experience with someone who can help. Seeking support, may be a helpful first step to manage these feelings.

Tips for managing social anxiety

  • Uncover your communication superpowers

Identify those social situations where you DO feel confident. This may be speaking with a trusted friend or someone in your family. Then, make a list of the social skills used in these situations. This may include things like: eye contact, asking questions, or being an active listener. Being mindful of the skills you already have, may help to boost your confidence in social situations.

  • Remember, it’s not about you!

Those with social anxiety often focus more on their anxious thoughts or feelings, rather than the conversation itself. It may be helpful to shift focus away from thoughts and feelings, and instead focus on your conversation partner. We may do this by paying attention to what they are saying, their body language, or their tone of voice. Engaging in certain mindfulness exercises, may be a helpful way to practice shifting our attention.

  • Ride with the anxiety wave (not against it)!

It is common for people experiencing anxiety disorders to attempt to control their feelings of anxiety. These attempts to control anxiety often result in increased feelings of anxiety, not less. Imagine swimming in the ocean, where the waves of the ocean are like our anxiety. Attempting to control the waves has no effect. We have two options; we can swim with the waves or against them. Swimming against the waves takes a lot of additional energy. On the other hand, swimming with the waves involves far less struggle. Imagining anxiety like a wave that we can ride with (rather than against) may be one way to manage feelings of anxiety.

  • Just Breathe

When we feel anxious in social situations, one of the common changes that happens in our body is to breathe more quickly. We often start to take short, sharp and shallow breaths. This pattern of breathing may work to keep the anxiety response activated in our body. Conversely, taking slow, deep breaths where we breathe down into our diaphragm may help to “switch off” the anxiety response and shift our bodies into more of a relaxed state.

  • Ditch the need for perfection

The need for a conversation to “be perfect” or to “go perfectly” may lead to feelings of anxiety. Aiming for perfection in conversations is often an unrealistic ideal which may work to hinder our performance in social situations rather than enhancing our performance. Instead, it may be more helpful to set yourself some realistic goals in conversations. These may be things like: learn one new thing about your conversation partner, ask a question, or offer up one fact about yourself. Shifting our focus onto more realistic goals, rather than striving for an impossible ideal may be a helpful way to manage feelings of anxiety in social situations.  

  • Adopt a practice mindset

Learning new skills takes time. New skills to manage social anxiety are no different. By adopting a practice mindset, we provide ourselves space to test and practice these new skills in a safe environment. When we adopt a practice mindset, we allow ourselves room to fail, make mistakes and to not always get it right. Through regular practice, we can improve our communication skills and learn new ways to manage our social anxiety.

If social anxiety is getting in the way of being able to lead the kind of life you want, and you need support from a Psychologist or a Coach, don’t hesitate to reach out.


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