Bringing Your Social Anxiety With You For The Holidays
We have waited all year and they are finally here: The Winter Holidays. Holidays can be a time of excitement, fun, and celebration. They often brings us together with loved ones near and far, giving us the opportunity to reconnect and strengthen our relationships. The holidays are also a time to relax and unwind from the busy year behind us. For those who struggle with social anxiety, however, holidays can also be a time of great trepidation. Family get-togethers, office parties, gift exchanges, and more can lead to increased anxiety. While it may seem necessary to “get rid” of your social anxiety before you can enjoy the holidays, this blog will teach you how to “bring your anxiety along with you,” allowing you to enjoy the holidays in spite of your anxiety.
The Unworkability of “Getting Rid” of Anxiety
I know what you’re thinking, “Why on earth would I want to bring my social anxiety along with me for the holidays? I want to get rid of it!” It seems like a ridiculous thing to suggest doesn’t it? It would be so much easier if I could just tell you how to get rid of your anxiety so you wouldn’t have to worry about it at all. Unfortunately, “getting rid” of social anxiety is an unworkable strategy. In fact, research has indicated that our efforts to reduce, control, or get rid of our anxiety often makes our anxiety worse! Let’s try a quick experiment to show you how this works (or doesn’t work!): When I say go, I want you to try to do what I say for 30 seconds. Grab a watch or a timer to help you keep time if you’d like….Ok, ready? Here is what I want you to do…Don’t think about vanilla ice cream. Go!
How’d it go? Were you able to do it? If you are like most of us, the answer is likely no. In fact, you may have found that the more you tried not to think about vanilla ice cream, the more you thought about it! The same is true with how we deal with social anxiety. Trying to tell yourself to not be anxious at a holiday get-together will only result in you feeling more anxious. What’s more, the things we do to try to not feel anxious (like avoiding conversations, hiding in the corner, or pretending to be on your phone), often end up making us feel even worse! Sure they may help us to avoid anxiety for a little bit, but in the long run, that anxiety is still going to be there.
A Workable Alternative: Bringing Your Anxiety Along With You
This brings us back to my suggestion of bringing anxiety along with you. If you are reading this post right now, chances are you are struggling with some social anxiety this holiday season. Maybe it will get better but right now, in this moment, here it is. You are now faced with a choice: you can either try to get rid of it (which, as we already discussed is not likely to work) or you can allow it to be there and engage in your desired holiday activities in spite of it. Let’s try another quick exercise to help you make the choice:
Take a moment to picture a bowling ball. Bowling balls are round, smooth, typically pretty heavy and difficult to carry. Now, let’s say that this bowling ball you are imagining contains your social anxiety. Go ahead and picture all your worries and fears inside this ball. Do you see it? Ok. Now, much like you have to carry your anxiety around with you every day, I am going to ask you to carry this bowling with you. Given that it is full of everything you want to get rid of, how are you going to carry it? If it were me, I would want to carry it was far away from me as possible. I’d probably hold it in my hands and extend my arms as far away from me as I can! Let’s try that. What do you think would happen if we carried our bowling ball full of anxiety in our outstretched arms for a long time? Our arms would get pretty tired, right? It would also be pretty difficult to do anything else because our hands and all our energy would be consumed by the effort of keeping the ball as far away from us as possible.
What if there was another way to carry the ball that wouldn’t be as burdensome? Can you picture a way? What about carrying the ball close to our chest, hugging it to us? It would be a lot easier to carry that way, wouldn’t it? It may even free up some energy so you can still engage in other activities. This is probably the opposite of what you want to do with your social anxiety but think about how this may work. By giving ourselves permission to let our social anxiety be there, we free ourselves from the burden of all of the thoughts and behaviors we engage in to try to control or get rid of our anxiety. In turn, we open up space for ourselves to live our lives in spite of the anxiety. So what do you think: Are you willing to bring your anxiety with you this holiday season?
Anna L. Lock, Psy.D.
Board Member, National Social Anxiety Center; Training Director, NSAC Los Angeles firstname.lastname@example.org (310)-205-0523
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