The holidays are often a time when social gatherings, parties, and family events can take over the months of November and December. For some, this is the best part of the holidays, but for others, the social overload can cause more anxiety than pleasure. If you are one of those individuals that feels tense, overwhelmed, or exhausted at the notion of all the social opportunities (or obligations), you might appreciate some tips of how to manage your feelings during this complex time of year. Below are some ideas about how to approach your holiday to help make it work better for you, and minimize any unwelcome social anxiety.

  1. Reflect on what you want your holiday experience to be like in broad terms. Do you want to feel energized and active? Do you want things to feel more paced or relaxed? Would you like lots of contact with others, or would you like to be more selective of who you invest time with? This is an exercise in exploring what would feel the most ideal if you were given the opportunity to choose. This can help highlight your primary values for this particular year. You might not get to have all values fulfilled completely, but it is a starting place to know where you stand.
  2. Grant yourself permission to prioritize your personal values, priorities, boundaries, and preferences for your social life over the holiday season. It is important to be mindful of others’ needs or wants, but not to the detriment of your own health or well-being. Trying to attend every event you are invited to might simply be too much, and it is okay to honor your inability to be two places at once. Remember, you likely won’t enjoy supposedly “fun” experiences if you feel overwhelmed or over scheduled. If you truly want to bring the best of you to whatever experience, social or otherwise, you must also make sure you are being true to your own needs.
  3. When making your holiday schedule, be as intentional and realistic as possible. Perhaps the thought of a small “ugly holiday sweater party” at a friend’s house appeals far more than the idea of going to the large, upscale office party. Create balance to your holiday schedule by pursuing social situations where you know you do best. If you know you must attend an event that will be more challenging for you, help yourself out by choosing how long you will stay, or how outgoing you plan to be at the event. 
  4. Practice relaxation or mindfulness techniques before and during social gatherings. If you experience anxiety around social situations, there are combinations of deep breathing, internal affirmations, and positive imagery that could help you weather the storm. Here are some ideas of how to do this: 
    • Draw your attention to your breath. Focus on breathing slowly and deeply, while at the same time noticing the various feelings and sensations that come with breathing. Notice the cool air going into your nose, and the warm air coming from your exhale. Continue to focus on the breath and the feelings it creates throughout your body. This will quickly promote relaxation, even if you are already feeling tense.
    • As you practice deep breathing, create an image of a peaceful, positive place in your mind’s eye. The image can be of a beautiful place you know about, or an imaginary one you make up yourself. Take a beach scene for instance. Picture the sand, surf, waves, and sky. As you do this, let yourself imagine what sounds might go with the picture. Maybe the sound of seagulls, and waves crashing. As you imagine these parts, let yourself consider the possible smells in this scene such as salt air. Then proceed to imagine the physical sensations such as sun and wind on your skin. Continue this process for as long as you like, knowing that your body and mind will begin to calm.
    • As you breath deeply, imagine breathing in strength, confidence, and empowerment during your inhale. As you exhale, breath out your anxiety doubt and fear. You can simply repeat this exchange, or you can add elements such as letting the breath come out as a spoken, whispered, or silent self-affirmation. One example of a positive self-affirmation could be “I am and have everything I need.” You repeat this process as many times as you like, but the longer you go, the better this usually feels. Some people like to use pleasant scents from lotions or essential oils when breathing in during these exercises. Try various methods to see what works best for you.

The holidays can be exhausting, but they don’t have to be anxiety-ridden. Be intentional this holiday season to give yourself the best possible chance to have the experience you yearn for.