Social anxiety is more than just being shy. Someone can be so uncomfortable in a situation he or she becomes panicked or frozen.
For the those who do experience the condition, the holidays may feel especially fraught. While the idea of going to some or all of these gatherings is enough to make someone with social anxiety clam up, experts agree that sometimes it really is in a person’s best interest to go. Avoidance can only exacerbate a mental health issue.
We chatted with a couple of psychologists for the best tactics to prepare, attend and then rebound from the party that might make you extremely nervous or anxious to attend. Read on to learn what they had to say:
1. Practice light conversation before the event.
Engage in small conversation during low pressure situations, such as at the coffee shop or library, suggests Ricks Warren, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan.
Ask the barista how his or her morning is going, or ask someone on the street for directions to certain place. Then make an effort to only focus on your subject’s reply.
“This type of practice is important,” Warren told The Huffington Post. “Keep turning your attention back to the person you are talking to and then really focus on listening rather than planning in your head what you are going to say next.”
People who experience social anxiety have a tendency to retreat into self-defeating thoughts, such as, “I look so silly right now” or “I am incompetent,” and experience a heightened sense of worry, Warren explained. Concentrating on exactly what someone is saying to you is an effective way to prevent that thought process from rolling.
2. Stay in the moment.
Social anxiety is the summation of multiple factors, including fear of interaction and even physical symptoms. But one thing that keeps it going is an attempt at mind-reading, according to Warren.
“Mind-reading, one of the most common cognitive distortions, is when we assume that other people are thinking negatively about us,” Warren said. “We should switch our attention back to what is going on in reality.”
If you start to think that others are evaluating you in a negative light, stop and tether yourself to the present moment. Think about what you’re wearing. Concentrate on the conversation that’s actually occurring. Feel your feet planted on the floor.
– Allison Fox