Top 7 Tips to Manage Social Anxiety This Holiday Season

Holiday parties, work parties and family commitments can really be stressful for people who have social anxiety.

Under normal circumstances an anxious person might be able to come up with some excuses as to why they cannot attend a party or social gathering, but when it comes to the holiday season this can be even harder to manage.  People do not want to be obvious that they are really trying to avoid as many of these events as possible.

Experiencing constant stress and anxiety around holiday social events can be really exhausting.  It is my hope that this article will offer new insights and strategies over how to best curb social anxiety and stress to bring about a more enjoyable holiday season.

1. Pay attention to what you do have control over to reduce social anxiety.

When it comes to holiday gatherings, creating a game plan can be really helpful.  Maybe the plan means you decide to bring a friend or partner with you for instance.  If you decide to bring someone to the event, you can also share with them how you feel about attending holiday parties.  Sharing with them your concerns and being open in this way can allow for greater support and understanding.  Also having someone there with you can help manage anxious thoughts or feelings because you are going to the event with someone who knows about your social anxiety and can help you to manage any worries that come up.

2. Who will be there?

Anticipating who you will likely see at the party can reduce social anxiety episodes because you have already planned ahead.

Finding out ahead of time who will be at the holiday party can also help to reduce anxious thoughts.  Getting more information helps because you can then mentally prepare for what to expect, and who you will likely see at the party.  If it is a holiday work party, then you already likely know many of the guests.  If it is a work party, then the planning ahead strategy would include you making an effort to interact with colleagues you get along well with.  This also allows you to come up with a plan so that you can spend less time interacting with colleagues who you do not get along well with.

If the social gathering is with friends and family then a similar strategy applies.  Try to spend more time with the family and friends you get along well with while spending less time with those where the relationship is strained.  When thinking about the unique family dynamics around the holidays, it helps to remember that we do not have to get along well with everyone.  It really is ok to have mixed feelings around seeing certain family members.

Either way though, you can mentally prepare that you will see certain people at the holiday party.  The situation now becomes more about accepting that they will be there and making a plan on how best to interact.

3. What topics are good to talk about?

Creating a safe list of topics can help curb worries when being social with guests.

It can also help to brainstorm what types of topics would be safe to bring up at the event.  Creating a list of safe topics could be a part of the planning ahead process to help curb a person’s social anxiety.  So setting time aside to think of what subjects you are comfortable with can help fill in those moments where there might be an awkward pause or silence at the party.

  • So what topics are you comfortable bringing up in conversation?
  • As a rule, it is probably best to avoid politics and religion.

Maybe talking about how your kids are doing in school or sports seems like pretty neutral areas.  Or perhaps discussing house renovations or upcoming trips are more within your comfort zone.

This list of safe topics can help keep conversation running smoothly if you find yourself feeling anxious.  This step, along with the others mentioned so far, can help you have a greater feeling of control over how the event will go.

4. Breathe, breathe and breathe some more to reduce social anxiety.

When stressed we tend to use shallow breathing which can lead us to feeling more stressed and anxious.  Shallow breathing can also create tension in the body, making us feel even more anxious.  Luckily, deep breathing can help in managing these symptoms.  You can go here to read more about breathing techniques to feel less overwhelmed.

Deep Breathing Tips to Reduce Social Anxiety

Deep breathing means that when you inhale, you expand the belly out like an inflating balloon.  On the exhale though, the belly button goes inward toward the spine.  Breathing in through the nose and then exhaling out the mouth along with the belly moving in and out, can help to direct an anxious mind.  The mind is suddenly focused on the breath instead of the anxious thoughts.

You can also add calming statements or affirmations to the deep breathing exercise.  These statements can be said mentally and could include a phrase of breathing in calm, grounding energy.  On the exhale, the thoughts could be about exhaling out nervousness from being at the holiday party.

Practice Deep Belly Breathing

Overall, deep belly breathing is a great way to feel more connected to your current surroundings.  Now this practice of deep belly breathing can be hard to use if you are already feeling nervous at a party, so practicing ahead of time would help.  Setting time aside to practice a few days a week leading up the the holiday party can get the mind and body used to this new method.  Putting in the time can help you to gain the full benefit of deep belly breathing when you really need it to work.

5. Offer to help out.

Keep social anxiety under control by staying busy in a helping role.

Keeping busy while at a social event by offering to help where you can is a great way to manage anxious feelings. You can offer to help out in passing out the appetizers and drinks for instance.  You could also help arriving guests with their coats and bags.

These different helping tasks are also a great way to introduce yourself to people you might not know.  It can be an informal icebreaker and can help curb social anxiety.  In the helping role, you are in control of certain tasks which can reduce nervousness and increase confidence.

6. Ask open-ended questions and be curious.

Directing the attention to guests where they answer your questions can reduce moments of social anxiety.

If you find yourself in conversation with people you do not know very well you can:

Ask open-ended questions so that the other person has the opportunity to talk more and expand on their responses.

This gives you the chance to listen to them and ask questions based on their responses.  You can ask them to share more with you about the topic which can help strengthen the social interaction too.

It can also help to approach these conversations from a place of curiosity.  
Actively listening to someone is a great way to establish a friendly connection with others.

People generally enjoy the experience when someone is really listening to what they have to say.  It can strengthen the connection between the two people and also encourages them in wanting to learn more about you.  Coming into the conversation with curiosity is usually a great way to ease into conversation at  holiday gatherings.

7. Allow yourself to smile, make some eye contact & relax to address social anxiety

Take a brief look at how you are presenting yourself. Are your arms crossed? Do you have a serious expression on your face? Are you looking downward and sitting with poor posture? All of these body positions and expressions are examples of how one can unintentionally send the message that they do not want to be social.

These body postures can actually feed into more negative and fearful thinking habits too. However, these thoughts and patterns can be altered just by adjusting body positions and expressions.

  • Studies show that when sitting or standing with proper posture, we can experience a boost in confidence and have a stronger belief in ourselves.
  • On the other hand, feelings of nervousness and fear remain the same or worsen if we continue to slouch or have poor posture.

This same rule applies when people talk to each other, make eye contact and smile.  Smiling has a positive effect in that feel good hormones are released when this happens.

Studies show that smiling can also boost self esteem which in turn has a positive impact on how others in the room feel around you.

Others will more likely respond in a positive way when they are interacting with someone who is smiling and providing eye contact. This type of social interaction can not only help you feel less anxious but it can also have a positive influence on the other guests too.

This list of ideas and recommendations can serve as a guide in helping to change the anxious thoughts and worries that come to the surface around the holiday season. By exploring some of these ideas, hopefully you will notice that there are a variety of tools and resources that can help shape how these holiday social gatherings unfold in a way that is less intimidating and more enjoyable.  The options explored here can help those with social anxiety feel more in control and comfortable so that the next time they need to attend an event, they can feel better prepared and confident upon arrival.

My message to you

I wish all of you a happy holiday season!  We are all bound to get stressed during this time with all the holiday obligations and expectations.  Whether you are stressed, anxious, depressed or overwhelmed please know that these experiences are normal.  Many people go though a variety of emotions so you are not alone in this.  However if you are finding this holiday season to be too difficult to mange then please consider working with a therapist.  This gives you the opportunity to talk about what is causing distress so that way the anxiety and overwhelm can be better managed.  We all experience difficult emotions in our own way and therapy can help you express these feelings and get support so that hard times can be navigated with greater ease.

Please feel free to contact me if you are wondering if therapy is right for you or someone you know.

Daniela Paolone

Daniela Paolone is a Marriage and Family Therapist and founder of Westlake Village Counseling serving residents of California and Wyoming. She helps those working through pain, illness, depression and anxiety using a secure online counseling platform ensuring client confidentiality. Using education, helpful resources, unconditional support and understanding, she strives to help people transform their pain into power so they can live their best lives!

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 14 comments
Sharon Martin, LCSW - November 29, 2016

These are really useful tips, Daniela. I know a lot of people will benefit from this!

    Daniela Paolone - November 29, 2016

    Thank you Sharon! So glad to hear this. My hope if to keep sharing useful and practical tips to help people get through these hectic times and come out of it with greater self-confidence and support.

Sean Boyd - November 30, 2016

This is very meaningful information. I particularly like your reference to Helping Out. Taking on a role has been a great way to channel the anxiety into something productive.

    Daniela Paolone - November 30, 2016

    This suggestion has been useful for many with social anxiety and I am glad you agree too!

Emily @ TheMommyhoodMoments - December 16, 2016

I really love these. I’m dreading the holidays because well… the “other” family. I have a chilled out family that I’m used to. Anticipating seeing the other halfs family (only certain people/person) gives me an extreme headache. I think I’ll offer my helping hand… Outside. 😉

Daniela Paolone - December 16, 2016

That is a great idea Emily! A helping hand outside may be a bit more peaceful. I am happy to hear that some of these ideas really resonated with you 🙂

Phyllis McColister, MS, LMHC, CAP - December 28, 2016

Your article was very helpful. I have often offered many of the same tips to my clients with social anxiety, especially deep breathing for reduction of stress.

    Daniela Paolone - December 28, 2016

    Glad to hear your thoughts Phyllis on the ideas shared in this post. I like to offer a free guided meditation on my homepage for people to try out some deep breathing techniques. It is always great to hear feedback from other therapists too!

Chris - October 11, 2017

Thanks, Daniela! I am particularly fond of the tip about staying busy. Adding that to my toolbox!

Kristin - October 28, 2017

Great tips. I like the fact that you mention active listening and open ended questions.

Norine VanderHooven - November 20, 2017

Wonderful tips, Daniela! So often I find people dread the holidays because of having to be more social then other times of the year.

Michelle - December 9, 2019

Great tips. On client of mine brought craft projects to do with the kids at an in-law Thanksgiving gathering. It helped her so much to focus on this and not worry about prolonged conversations. It goes back to your tip about staying busy. It also helped her bond with a family member who was impressed with her initiative.

Do you offer training in working with chronic illness and pain?

    Daniela Paolone - December 9, 2019

    I am glad these tips have been helpful to you and your clients Michelle and that it helped your client in a few different ways. I do offer consultation for chronic illness and pain so please let me know if I can be of assistance.


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