Nowadays, hearing the term ‘social anxiety’ can come with a stigma; we are of a web-savvy, social-media-loving generation and in one way or another, are frequently expected to be social butterflies so some may not feel comfortable publically saying that social situations can be a significant source of stress for them.
What is Social Anxiety?
“Social anxiety is a result of the fear of a possibility that we will not be accepted by our peers. It’s the fear of negative evaluation by others, and that is [part of] a very fundamental, biological need to be liked. That’s why we have social anxiety,” says Stefan G. Hofmann, the director of the Social Anxiety Programme at Boston University.
Some may be happy to be digital hermits or introverts, but sometimes reclusiveness can be a sign of something more serious, so it’s wise not to brush it off. Social anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses, according to The Atlantic. However, the good news is that it’s highly treatable. A good thing too, given that the festive party season is here; such a busy time of year can fill those already anxious in social situations with dread. And many of us have likely been there; surrounded by a packed room of strangers, all happily chatting away while you find it hard to make conversation. As the evening wears on the fun factor in the room increases and your anxiousness goes through the roof. You’re fretting, sure you’ll be singled out – judged, even – for bringing the mood down. And often the issue isn’t down because you’re not participating in the fun and games, it’s looking at how blissfully happy everyone else seems to be – it can be tough to tell someone for the tenth time that no, you don’t want to talk to people you’ve never met before right now, and yes, you’re absolutely certain you’re perfectly happy sitting solo with mulled wine by the fire.
How can you combat this?
Obviously, there’s a difference between feeling this at one event as opposed to every place you go to, so the consensus is that if it causes either significant distress in that you can’t perform normally during daily life, that is the time to seek help or visit your GP as your overall wellbeing can be affected. In the meantime, below are small things you can do to help alleviate symptoms:
Focus on one person in the room
Kate Middleton reportedly does this on any of her outings; singles out one person in the crowd and makes them her focus. This eases the pressure straight away, focusing on one person, rather than an entire group and gives you time to get comfortable without feeling ambushed.
Try doing little tasks
Offer to wash up, hand out drinks, anything that keeps you occupied and busy. This will give you something else to center your attention on and help make chit-chat or banter that little bit easier.
Don’t worry so much about other people’s reactions
It doesn’t matter how your colleagues received your idea in the meeting. What matters is that you spoke up. It doesn’t matter whether your friend said yes to your dinner invite. What matters is that you asked. It also doesn’t matter if that less-than-nice-person was uncomplimentary about your dress. You were kind and took the higher road. You’re trying so give yourself a break.
Challenge your anxious thoughts
If you are focused on how badly you seem to be handling the situation, try and get some perspective and argue back at these negative thoughts. Yes, it was mortifying when you tripped down three steps and knocked over five glasses, but it’s happened to us all (we won’t mention last year’s Christmas party) so keep telling yourself that before you sit in a corner and fret.
Talk to someone
As it’s Christmas, it can be so easy to forget that this is a tough time of year for many, so remember that it’s okay not to feel the happiness that comes with watching the John Lewis ad – it’s okay to say that you feel anxious. Even saying the words aloud is a positive first step to overcoming the hurdle.