This time of year can be difficult for so many people but especially for those with social anxiety.
The expectation to be constantly around people can be draining, even for those who love Christmas time. It is important to let your loved ones have time to be alone & recharge and not expecting everyone to be present all of the time.
Social anxiety is broken down into 7 stages by the DSM.
1. A persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others.
2. Exposure to the feared situation almost invariably provokes anxiety, which may take the form of a situationally bound or situationally pre-disposed Panic Attack
3. The person recognizes that this fear is unreasonable or excessive.
4. The feared situations are avoided or else are endured with intense anxiety and distress.
5. The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress in the feared social or performance situation(s) interferes significantly with the person’s normal routine, occupational (academic) functioning, or social activities or relationships, or there is marked distress about having the phobia.
6. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting 6 or more months.
7. The fear or avoidance is not due to direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., drugs, medications) or a general medical condition not better accounted for by another mental disorder.
I asked on twitter for people with social anxiety to share their perspective on how they feel at Christmas time.
Shy, Strange Maniac said “For me, the hardest part are the Christmas parties, having to socialise after work with people I’m not comfortable with and resisting the urge to drink too much. To cope with it is hard.”
Matt’s Views finds trying to maintain an expression that others can deal with so as not to cause hassle for them at this time of year and trying to manage with the influx of family, friends and colleagues while keeping a neutral expression thats manageable in the long run so as not to “ruffle feathers” the hardest part of the holidays.
Anonymous: “I love my family but there are so many of them & they’re so loud. I visit my relatives on different days in short bursts avoiding Christmas Day when I know it will be busy. I have a quiet Christmas and I spend it in my house with no visitors. I find it easier this way & my family are beginning to understand that that’s just how I am. I need to break it down or I can get emotional and cry which can annoy those who don’t understand. I spread my Christmas visits across a 2 week period.”
Hello Ninety Seven said “It’s often misunderstood that the holidays are happy, joyous times for all. When family comes over or there’s a party, I have to mentally prepare myself for the social event. With my sweaty palms, I have to keep telling myself that it’s only two hours and it’s not going to last forever.”
The Book Moo can feel overwhelmed with crowds when Christmas shopping. It can make her want to avoid going to certain places at certain times when she knows it will busy.
Beth Louise says “Social Anxiety can get particularly bad around Christmas time for many people, including myself. It’s such a trigger when you’re surrounded by lots of people in family gatherings and it’s not like you can just turn a switch on and stop yourself from feeling anxious just because it’s Christmas! You almost feel guilty because you feel like you should be happy like ‘everyone else’. Just remember if someone takes a step outside for a bit or is more quiet than usual, they aren’t being rude, they might just be feeling anxious.”
Everyone who I have spoken to has told me slightly different things, whether it be their triggers, their feelings, how social anxiety affects them, but what they do have in common is that it can be very overwhelming & not always like the dream we see in Christmas films so if someone you know withdraws a little over Christmas or seems distant, give them space or allow them an out. Perhaps you could take them somewhere quiet for a little while, a different room, outside if it’s not too cold. Don’t give anyone a hard time for not participating as much as you because they could be using every bit of their strength and energy just to be sitting in that room, not even talking.
Be kind always this Christmas & of course you can still invite people to events but don’t take it personally if they don’t go.