The pandemic has been stressful and isolating for many people – but upcoming holiday gatherings can be an opportunity to reconnect with family and friends. Of course, holiday plans will have to be modified with social distancing guidelines in mind; the CDC has a detailed guide on how you can do that, as well as tips for hosting gatherings. To help reduce the spread of COVID-19 during the holiday season, you can check the infection rates in your area before attending or hosting events, avoid crowded gatherings and – as always – wear your mask, frequently wash and sanitize your hands and limit physical contact.
While the holidays bring annual family gatherings and allow you to reconnect with loved ones, it can also bring unwanted small talk and added attention; whether they’re curious about your career, love life, any major life updates, etc. Although this season will look a little different this year with social distancing rules in place, reuniting with family members and friends can trigger feelings of social anxiety. Dealing with social anxiety and anxiety when it comes to people and situations you can’t avoid can be tricky – but it’s all been covered in this TBF Podcast episode with therapist Kristen Howerton, LMFT, and in this blog post. When it comes to managing social anxiety during the holidays – whether you’re attending in-person or virtual gatherings – here are 6 tips to help you prep.
Plan ahead for conversation
Having conversation starters planned ahead of time can help ease anxiety before going into any social situation. My favorite trick is to ask people about themselves. I always do this when I feel stuck in social situations (like an award show that’s totally not my world). People usually love to talk about themselves – and it’s an easy way to get into a conversation! Finding ways to compliment people can have the same effect.
Planning ahead for conversation also works for when you know there are certain topics you want to avoid, whether that’s politics, your love life, etc.!
Come with a talking piece
Small talk is always inevitable at gatherings, especially when friends and family come together for the holidays. Going into a social setting with something that will catch attention (in a good way) may help ease the anxiety. This might sound terrifying at first, but wearing a Christmas sweater or having a cool phone case, for example, can start a conversation that puts a little distance between you and the other person by focusing on a neutral object. Talking about whatever caught their eye can naturally transition into conversations of similar topics!
Volunteer to help the most
Keeping busy is another way to manage anxiety. By offering to help the host, you can keep your hands busy – and not to mention, you’ll feel helpful by feeling a sense of purpose (and avoid long, unwanted conversations if that’s your goal). Contributing to the day in any way can make it feel way less threatening and intimidating!
Focus on what you can control
We can’t control others or situations, but we can set boundaries and focus on things we can control. Instead of focusing on the “what-ifs,” focus on maintaining a positive attitude, deciding which topics you will/won’t talk about, limiting how much you drink, etc. Going into social situations with a game plan by making a commitment to address any triggers can help ease the anxiety, at least a little bit.
Allow yourself to say no
The holidays are one of – if not the – busiest times of the year. Your friends and family may want you to celebrate and attend every event, but it’s important to remember that you’re not obligated to accept every invitation. The holidays are my favorite time of the year – but it can also be a really stressful time. I try not to overbook myself by picking out events that mean the most to me and politely decline the rest. That way, I’m also giving myself time to recover.
Don’t forget the positive affirmations
By reciting daily positive affirmations, you become more aware of your thoughts and words, which reduces the risk of letting negativity seep in. It keeps you in a constant state of gratitude and helps boots your self-confidence, motivation and focus. Daily affirmations also helps to keep things in perspective. So give yourself a pep talk before going into any holiday event.
Do you experience social anxiety during the holidays? I’d love to hear your anxiety management tips.