Lifestyle

How to Deal With Social Anxiety During the Holidays

Sarah Ahmed, co-founder of Wellnest, a psychotherapy clinic in Toronto, agreed. “I know for me, I cap out at two events a week, a number that was much higher prepandemic,” she said. Use your body, she suggested, as an indicator to tell if you’ve reached capacity. “Our bodies are constantly talking to us,” said Ahmed. Common symptoms of social anxiety, she said, include exhaustion, headaches, sweating, difficulty speaking, nausea and increased heart rate. “If you are feeling particularly fatigued after a social event, I’d revisit future commitments that week.”

If you’re turning down an invitation, Dr. Lerman said, do it as early as possible, and keep your explanation brief and polite. (“That sounds fun, but I will need to pass this time,” or “Thanks for the invite, but I already have plans.”)

On the day of a holiday get-together, vow to be extra gentle with yourself, said Dr. Bryant. “Do things that you know will soothe and calm you, like playing music beforehand that puts you in a festive mood.”

Make a post-event plan of self-care, too, she advised. “It may be that you promise yourself, ‘I’m going to have a bubble bath after and a hot cup of green tea,’ or maybe you schedule a call with a person that you trust, and as soon as you get in that parking lot you know you can call them to debrief.”

If you are feeling overwhelmed at an event, create a little space to reorient yourself. “Depending on the neighborhood, you can take a quick walk, just to get fresh air,” said Dr. Bryant. If the walls are closing in at a family affair, “volunteer to be the errand person: “Oh, we didn’t get enough butter? I’ll go!”

And it’s a perfectly acceptable conversation-starter to “acknowledge and normalize the awkwardness” during this transitional phase, said Ahmed. “You can say, ‘My brain is remembering how to socialize, so pardon me if I’m still a bit rusty.’”

If you only feel up to attending an event for an hour, tell the host as soon as possible, said Monica Lewis, co-founder (with her husband, Darian) of the Monica Lewis School of Etiquette in Houston. Or you can ask when the best time would be to swing by. “They may say, ‘Oh, make sure you’re here for the cocktail hour,’ or ‘I don’t want you to miss the gift exchange,’” Ms. Lewis said.

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