The holiday season can be a particularly difficult time for individuals with social anxiety due to increased pressure to interact with others as well as engagement in larger social events (e.g., holiday parties). Social anxiety is one of the most common anxiety disorders in the United States. This condition is associated with a number of mental and physical symptoms including: fear, dread, nausea, racing heart, and/or dizziness. Below are strategies to promote successful social interactions.
Social communication strategies:
1. Effective listening. Focus on the other person, not yourself. You can’t concentrate on what someone else is saying if you are focused on yourself and thinking about what you’re going to say next. Focus fully on the other speaker and show interest in what is being said. Consider setting a goal of trying to learn 3 things about the person you are speaking with.
2. Engage the other person. Ask them questions about themselves, such as: what they do for a living, what their hobbies are, where they grew up, etc.
3. Ask an open-ended question. This helps engage the other person and keeps the conversation going.
4. Comment on the surroundings or event. This can be a good way to start a conversation as it gives you something in the moment to relate to.
5. Try to find something you have in common. This gives you something to connect over.
6. When possible, give a genuine compliment. When you spread kindness and positivity, you’ll feel better about yourself.
7. Comfortable/familiar locations: A great way to ease the stress of socializing is to choose a location that you are comfortable with, e.g., a coffee shop or restaurant you frequently go to.
8. Be active. Engaging in an activity can also reduce social stress as it helps you focus on the activity as opposed to your anxiety.
9. Step outside your comfort zone: Putting yourself out there, via small gradual steps, is one component of treating your anxiety. Say ‘yes’ to as many experiences as your social anxiety allows.
10. Coping statements: Calming yourself down in a stressful situation is crucial. Having a mantra to tell yourself is one way to promote relaxation and confidence in the situation. For instance: I can handle this. Anxiety is not dangerous – it is just a discomfort. I don’t have to listen to what my anxiety is saying.
Consider opening up to a close friend or relative about your anxiety. A supportive ally can help ease your discomfort in social situations. If you or a loved one is suffering from social anxiety reach out to a qualified mental health provider in your area who specializes in anxiety and utilizes cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy, including exposure exercises, is an evidence-based approach for treating social anxiety. This type of therapy teaches individuals specific strategies to target dysfunctional, negative thinking. It also teaches tools for coping with stressful situations and managing discomfort. Don’t let your anxiety get in the way of your happiness. Reach out for help today.