6 Tips For Tackling Holiday Parties When You Have Social Anxiety

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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 15 million American men and women who do experience the condition, the holidays may feel especially fraught. The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can fill up quickly with events and work parties. And 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:

Practice light conversation before the event.
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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.
Stay in the moment.
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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.

Mindfulness, at its core, is really just pinning yourself to real life. And when you're in the present moment, you can't be anywhere, or think of anything else.
Limit alcohol intake.
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It's common to feel nervous and then have a drink to calm said nerves. But if you are at a party and experience a bout of social anxiety, it's best to not overdo it at the bar.

"Drinking is rewarding and can reduce anxiety," said Keith Humphreys, a psychiatrist and professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. "It's very easy to do it if you are feeling kind of squirrelly, but your worst feelings are realized when you turn out to be a memorably bad guest."
Repeat a self-compassion mantra.
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Self love is a powerful tool.

Warren suggests visiting a websites like selfcompassion.org in the weeks leading up to the party you are feeling anxious over. The site offers free 20-minute exercises where you'll learn how to take better note of your emotions and how to talk to yourself the same way you would to a friend. (Heads up: It's often far more gentle and kind.)
Bring a friend.
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If it's appropriate, Humphreys recommends asking a loved one who makes you feel comfortable to tag along with you to the event. For work parties, ask a coworker what their plan is for getting to the event. Offer to go to the party together so it feels like you have someone in your corner.
Write in a journal after the event.
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"People with anxiety beat themselves up afterwards with [what they should have done or said], but everybody has difficulty in social situations sometimes," Warren said. Researchers call this excessive rumination after an anxiety-provoking engagement "post-event processing." This mode of thinking is tied to social phobia and also makes it challenging to concentrate on other things.

To rebound after a holiday party, write down the good things you did at the party in a self-compassion journal. Perhaps you accomplished the goal of saying hello to the host, or maybe you bonded with a coworker at the office party. Write down what you did and apply compassion to yourself regardless of how well you think you performed. Research shows that self-compassion is a key component to managing social anxiety.

Ultimately it’s important to remember that everyone experiences different levels of anxiety or jitters when it comes to certain situations, but healthy coping techniques can be the antidote. You’re not alone.

Anxiety is real.

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