This post is a part of Nicole Carman’s mental health-related holiday post series, “Taking Care of your Mental Health during the Holiday Season.”
To see the post line-up for the previous and remaining posts in this series, please visit this page on Nicole’s blog, Navigating Darkness. If you enjoy this post, please comment and consider sharing it on social media!
What do all of the above have in common?-Their badge credibility.
It’s, almost, cool to label yourself one of the above. Take a look at Tumblr-I’m-so-emo posts have evolved to I’m-so-anxious-posts. The acceptance is great! It’s great to be introverted; it’s great to awkward, and it’s great to be socially anxious. But unlike the predecessors, social anxiety can be a disorder and should not be claimed so loosely.
Do you need help? Please, reach out. Here are some resources:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
- Rethink Mental Illness: 0300-5000-927
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- PAPYRUS: HOPElineUK 0800-068-4141
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- Anxiety UK: 03444-775-774
- Teen Line: 1-310-855-HOPE (4673) or 1-800-TLC-TEEN (1-800-852-8336)
- YoungMinds: Parents helpline– 0808-802-5544
Holiday Bliss or Blues?
(Now, please bear with my short screenplay while I transition to the main point: social anxiety & the holidays)
A Perfect Fall/Holiday Moment
On a walkway in the middle of a park. A bench is facing a field of trees colored orange, red, and yellow. A couple is sitting on the bench, waiting for their pumpkin spice lattes to cool down, looking at their phones. Specifically looking at “day-after-Thanksgiving-it’s-Christmas-time-memes” and photos of Thanksgiving Day.
Leaves are scattered all around. Music is playing, Julie Andrews is belting,
♪“Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens. . .These are a few of my favorite things”♪
Okay, kidding. But this is how I imagine a “perfect fall/holiday moment”, whatever that means.
And the issue is, while, yes, I am fond of parks, and trees, and the overall season of fall, this image is not wholly my own. Thanks to media we all have some sort of cookie cutter-mental stamp of how life should be
But what if you don’t like fall or the holidays? What if the “happiest time of the year” typically is not from one Thursday in November to January 1st? What if, instead of holiday cheer, you feel holiday blues?
For so many individuals this a reality, especially those of us who struggle with our mental health.
Social Anxiety Vs. Holidays-Round 1
Imagine living in constant fear of basic “normal things” :
Going into a new store or building of any store is sure to result in everyone in there knowing you are “new” an “outsider”, their eyes will be all over you-judging you, they smell your fear.
Asking for help will result in someone thinking you are incompetent.
Dreading going to any appointment or meeting in fear of knowing what to say but not knowing how to say it.
(My social anxiety reality)
Now add that general fear to holiday time stress and expectations. . . .
Stores are filled wall to wall, bursting with overstocked shelves and over shoved persons. You feel pressured to connect with friends and family; to bring the right meals, the right gifts, the right you.
It feels beyond too much.
Yet it sounds so silly. Such mundane, ordinary tasks that we’re all expected to complete. Responsibilities, right? You’re just shy, get over it, right?
Social Anxiety Disorder is a real mental condition and it cannot be simplified to “that’s just life” or shyness. Having such an uncontrollable fear of functioning, of being is not something you can just get over.
Social anxiety can lead to depression and isolation. It not only prevents millions from going to work/school, but it also interferes with friend and familial relationships. When your “shyness” starts affecting your day to day life and your ability to live happily and healthily. . .it is no longer a personality trait.
The worst thing about it? It’s not a choice. It is not introversion and choosing down/alone time. It is the want to to be social but the overwhelming unknowing how to. . .even if you know how to. So holidays, at least for me, are particularly hard because of this.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Since social anxiety, aka social phobia, is so popularly associated with introversion or shyness, let’s take a moment to differentiate it.
“[An intense, persistent fear of being judged, watched, and evaluated negatively by
others. Leading to feelings of low self esteem, embarrassment, and depression.]”
Overwhelming fear or confusion on how to proceed, manage, or experience a
particular situation involving interaction (direct or indirect) with others.
Racing heart & Blushing
Dry Throat/Mouth & Difficulty Swallowing
Trembling & Muscle Twitches (esp. face/neck)
People (interpersonal relationships/strangers); In anticipation of a feared activity or event; Intense anxiety/fear while in a social situation; Expecting the worst possible consequences from a negative experience in a social situation.
Constant worrying about others perceptions
Fear of embarrassing self, being noticeably anxious
Strangers; people or situations that may produce anxiety or embarrassment (seeing someone you know but don’t want to talk to, situations where you’d grab people’s attention)
Globally, anxiety disorders themselves are the most common psychological conditions with 264 million people or 3.6% of the population having one. Furthermore, they are the 6th leading cause of disability.
Social anxiety is one of the five major types of anxiety disorders. In the United States, it is the third most common mental disorder, affecting 7% of the nation, and with 13% chance of developing the condition throughout a lifetime.
A combination of:
And while social anxiety may run in the family research hasn’t yet confirmed why some members may have it while others do not.
So, if you are one of the only socially anxious persons in your family it can be that much more difficult during the holidays spending time at functions. Ahh. . .I can hear the, “get out of your shell”s and the “don’t be afraid, make yourself at home’s now.
Social Anxiety Vs. Holidays-Round 2
So remember how I mentioned the holiday blues earlier? Turns out it’s not just an expression; there’s evidence for this holiday-induced downness.
According to a 2014 survey from the National Alliance on Mental Illness 64% of mentally ill Americans claim their condition is worsened by the holidays. NAMI medical director, Ken Duckworth said it best, “For many people the holiday season is not always the most wonderful time of the year”. A Healthline survey from 2015 indicated that out of 2,280 respondents the majority of them reported being negatively affected by the holidays.
The tops causes for these negative feelings include: monetary issues, feelings of loneliness, pressure and unrealistic expectations, family drama, remembering happier times in the past, unableness to be with loved ones, fear of working too much, and not adhering to your normal schedule
“The holiday season beams a spotlight on everything that is difficult about living with depression. The pressure to be joyful and social is tenfold.”
-Respondent to NAMI survey
So if you are feeling alone in your struggle with social anxiety, especially now during the holidays, know that you’re not.
Self-Care & (you guessed it) Social Anxiety
First, I would like to share to those of you who may be unaware or misinformed that the advice you may be offering might be total BS.
Does any of this “advice” sound familiar? :
‘ relax, you’re fine’
‘Just do it’
‘It’s no big deal’
If so then know,
“These comments, no matter how well-intentioned, are just platitudes for the person suffering from social anxiety. They are ineffective”
-Tim Henry, Contributor for the Social Anxiety Institute
Can we have a round of applause for this man?
Not that there’s anything wrong with relaxing and just seeing it through, but for many of social anxiety sufferers it is not that simple. Who one earth actively chooses to feel panicked about essentially just living life?!
Okay now for some actual tips (according to me and several sources).
- ME TIME. Take time for yourself.
And no, I do not mean eating healthy, exercising or meditating. I mean, if that’s what works for you great!
Nowadays self-care is a bit of a fad and if you have a physical or mental illness the above options are typically hurled at you like a cure-all antidote. But these typical ways of self-care can actually worsen your condition, especially if you have social anxiety.
So I’m talking about taking a minute to do absolutely anything (as long as it is not harmful) to make yourself feel better.
Are you going to a social event? Maybe stuff some of your favorite candy in your pocket, or screenshot your favorite memes or pictures of animals. If you start to feel overwhelmed go to the bathroom and hideout for minute-take a second to regroup and send a tiny burst of serotonin through you with your sweets or funny/cute images.
In addition to this, do not be afraid to not go to social events. I know it is hard to say no friends and family, or work but you are not obligated to go to any holiday event.
Your mental health is always more important than being a good *insert noun of choice*. And no holiday is ever more important than your wellbeing.
Not talking about self-affirmations of love, again, it’s great if that works for you and totally keep it up. But again, that doesn’t work for everyone and is a bit overused.
What I don’t hear or read often is this:
Everyone is just as self-conscious as you.
Sure, it may be worn differently but everyone is constantly thinking about themselves and their lives. Consequently, they are often too self-concerned to be analyzing us the way we’re analyzing ourselves.
I know that knowing this does not change the feeling of being watched or judged. And those feelings are 100 percent valid.
It is important though, in this picture perfect society, to be reminded that so many of us are simply trying to get by, and in doing so, so many of us are worried about our way of living. Are we successful enough? Are we attractive enough? Are behaving normally enough?
Individuals with Social Anxiety Disorder are not the only ones who feel fearful of what others are thinking. Not saying everyone has this disorder, and not saying that some level of self-consciousness is equitable. But as the adage goes, there is nothing new under the sun.
Remind yourself you are not the only one who feels this way. Remind yourself you are not alone. Remind yourself your feelings are valid.
- Unexpect the Expected
Another disclaimer- I am not suggesting to “not worry about it” or to “give yourself a break”, and again, that’s great if that works for you, totally keep it up.
I am saying set 0 expectations for yourself. Or in other words be fair to yourself. During the holiday season, it is super easy to prepare for the worst so to speak. Bracing yourself to endure the inevitable overwhelming interactions you’re expecting.
But these interactions may not be inevitable.
Would you tell your friends to be prepared to do x,y and z over the next couple of months and if they don’t execute x, y and, z they are less than? Would you tell them to be ready to commit themselves to persons or events they don’t want to commit to? If the answer is no, then give yourself the same compassion.
Do not force yourself to do anything you are feeling will impact negatively. The only person you are obligated to is yourself; however, I am not advising or encouraging self-isolation.
Reach out and spend time with your loved ones. If large events are too much see if you can spend some one on one time with some people instead. But do not be afraid to give yourself an out if you should need it. Whether it’s while making or canceling your plans you have the right to say you may not be able to or you cannot make it because you need the time for you.
If your social anxiety is so bad you feel guilty for taking time out for you then know you are not a bad person for needing leeway to cancel. And if it helps, try to not think about itas selfish decision think about as selfless. If we burn ourselves out to the point of not wanting to communicate for days or weeks we not helping out anyone.
Which brings me to my last tip. . .
- Do Not Be Ashamed
If I accomplish anything with this post I want to stress you are not some socially anxious mess. You are you and it is okay to feel whatever way you do. Your truth matters.
You are allowed to express your inability to commit to an event due to your social anxiety. It is a valid reason, and no one, no family member, friend, or coworker, needs to understand it for that to be true.
People will always have their opinions but that does not make them your truth.
Stay sound in your truth.
Here some sources:
Social Anxiety Disorder is a real condition and is one the most common mental disorders. The holiday season worsens many individuals’ mental conditions, especially those with social anxiety.
If you do not experience any struggle with your wellbeing during the holiday season then, please be mindful, of the millions of others who are.
If you are one of those millions who struggle every day and are feeling especially heavy now during this holiday time. . .please remember, you are not alone in your fear, confusion, or self-doubt. Remember to treat yourself to what will bring you safety and comfort. Remember to not self-isolate, you’re not alone so don’t force yourself to be. Social anxiety is a valid reason to modify life but it is never a valid reason to cease living it. You are more than your disorder. . .and you deserve to live comfortably.
And in this “season of giving”, please, remember to give to yourself.
Thank you for reading! I hope this post helps to spread awareness on the misunderstood condition of Social Anxiety Disorder.
Do you have any thoughts on how to deal with the stress of social anxiety and the holidays? I’d love to hear your what you think.