Holidays and Social Anxiety

December 27, 2017
Anna Jankowska, LCPC

By Anna Jankowska, MA, CEAP, SAP, LCPC

Anna Jankowska is a mental health, addiction, and substance abuse counselor with over 17 years of experience and has specialized training and skill in working with individuals, groups and communities to improve mental health outcomes. NPI number: 1598843526

By CCI Team


Most people see the holiday season as a festive time in which there are multiple gatherings with friends and family.  On the flip side, for some others, the same holiday season can be stress, anxiety and even depression provoking.

Per a recent article from the Beauregard Daily News, during the holiday season 64% of people with mental illness report that their conditions worsen.   It may partially be related to the increased emphasis on family time and togetherness, and how this can serve to remind us of less pleasant life occurrences including: family conflict, loss and breakups.  It may also have to do with the shorter, darker days and de-emphasizing mental and physical self-care to meet a packed scheduled (Beauregard Daily News, 2017).

On the question of how to best maintain mental health during the holidays, Dr. Monika Roots of Teladoc suggests the following pointers for those feeling overwhelmed:

  1. Set boundaries. – Take time for yourself away from the festivities when you need it.
  2. Ask for help. – Don’t hesitate to call upon your therapist or even a telehealth service or an app when it’s necessary.
  3. Stick to routine. – Try to wake up and go to be at the same time even when traveling to help mitigate stress.
  4. – Anything, even a quick walk, counts.
  5. Get some sleep. – Aim for 7-9 hours to help improve mental focus and overall mood (Beauregard Daily News, 2017).

Medical News Today had previously posted an article on coping with social anxiety disorder during the holiday season.  So, what exactly is Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)?  According to Dr. Kalina Michalska of the National Institute of Medical Health (NIMH), “Social anxiety disorder is characterized by the presence of fear or anxiety about social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to possible scrutiny by others.”  Emotional symptoms can include: anxiousness around others, the inability to talk to others, feelings of self-consciousness, fear of judgement and severe feelings of anxiousness days or even weeks prior to a social event.  Physical symptoms may include increased heart rate, muscle tension, dizziness, difficulty breaking, sweating, shaking and feeling sick.  The severity may vary from person to person, and can be about a certain type of social situation, i.e. eating in public, while others may experience intense anxiety even when interacting with family.  If a person experiences symptoms for six months or more they can be diagnosed with SAD.  (Whitman, 2014).

Surprisingly according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), around 36% of individuals with SAD report having symptoms for over 10 years before seeking help.  Unfortunately, it seems that SAD may often be over looked as it is discounted as stress resulting from everyday life, because most people experience situations that create some degree of social anxiety.  As such socially anxious people may often just be seen as shy or introverted.  It is important to note that according to the ADAA of those suffering from SAD, around 20% are alcohol dependent, using alcohol as a tool to cope with symptoms and relax in social situations.  Those with SAD avoid large group situations for fear of self-humiliation, but avoidance of these situations may cause greater anxiety (Whitman, 2014).

So, what can be done for those suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder during the holiday season?  Dr. Michalska notes that the following strategies may help:

  • Invite a friend or a trusted person to an event for emotional support.
  • Focus on the external social gathering rather than on one’s own feelings about it, i.e. offering to help set up for the party.
  • Stay healthy – keep your body fueled during the holiday season. Holiday fare can be high in sugar, fat, caffeine and alcohol, all of which can impact energy and anxiety levels (Whitman, 2014).

To those suffering from anxiety over the holidays it is important to remember while it can feel isolating, it isn’t necessarily true.  Friends and family are available to provide assistance as are professionals.  With the growth of technology help truly can be available almost immediately after a stressful event, via a phone call or the use of an app, it’s important to know you do not need to suffer alone.  This is also a good time and call to mind any positive coping strategies you may have built up during less stressful times, to avoid falling back on bad, but too easily available coping mechanisms like alcohol over the holidays.   Take a deep breath, before you know it the season will be an over and we’re at a new year and a new beginning.

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