It’s the season to be joyful, and for the majority of people, this includes attending many parties with family, friends, and coworkers.
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How to Cope with Social Anxiety Disorder During the Holiday Season
It’s the season to be joyful, and for the majority of people, this includes attending many parties with family, friends, and coworkers. While most of us look ahead to such occasions, it is different for individuals who suffer from a social anxiety disorder.
“Social anxiety disorder is characterised by the presence of fear or anxiety about social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to possible scrutiny by others,” Dr. Kalina Michalska, a research fellow at the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) Section on Developmental and Affective Neuroscience, told Medical News Today.
“The individual overestimates their likelihood of being rejected and frequently fears that he or she will act in a way that will be embarrassing and humiliating,” she added.
Of course, we’ve all felt awkwardness or uneasiness in certain situations, such as giving a presentation to coworkers or meeting strangers for the first time.
People battling a social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, worry so much about social settings that the condition may become crippling, negatively impacting their career, social life, and relationships.
The Causes And Symptoms Of Social Anxiety
More than 15 million individuals in the United States suffer from a social anxiety disorder, which often manifests itself during adolescence.
Anxiety around other people, difficulty communicating to others, self-consciousness, concern that others will criticise them, and acute anxiety days or weeks before a social function are all symptoms of the condition.
“Physical symptoms can include increased heart rate, muscle tension, dizziness, difficulty breathing, sweating, shaking and feeling sick,” Sam Challis, of UK mental health charity Mind, told MNT.
“If you experience social anxiety, you might also avoid situations that could trigger your anxiety, such as meeting up with friends, going out shopping or even answering the phone,” he added.
The intensity of social anxiety disorder differs; some people with the illness dread certain social events, such as talking or dining in public, while others have a phobia of all social interactions, even suffering great anxiety among close family members.
If a person has social anxiety symptoms for six months or longer, they are likely to be diagnosed with the disorder. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), approximately 36% of those with social anxiety disorder have symptoms for ten years or more before seeking care.
“Many people wait too long before seeing their general practitioner, discounting social anxiety as just day-to-day stress,” Challis noted. “But it’s not the same as being a bit shy, and it’s important to seek help as soon as possible if you feel like your anxiety is interfering with your ability to do the things you normally would.”
Although the specific roots of the disease are uncertain, previous research has revealed that those with a family history of battling social anxiety are more vulnerable. However, it is unclear if this is due to heredity or acquired behaviour.
Other research has shown that the disease is caused by overactivity in the amygdala, a brain region that regulates fear response.
Social Anxiety Is Often Misdiagnosed As A Mental Disease
However, even though around 7% of the US population suffers from a social anxiety disorder, most health care specialists feel the condition is often disregarded as a mental health issue.
“Socially anxious people are often discounted as merely being shy or introverted. Other times, their behaviour can be misinterpreted as aloof or uninterested,” Dr Michalska said to MNT.
“Because most of us feel shy or even moderately socially anxious in certain situations, social anxiety can sometimes be overlooked as a mental illness.
Even though it is commonly perceived as less severe than other forms of psychopathology, such as schizophrenia or psychosis, research shows that it is associated with a variety of serious adverse outcomes, including the development of other psychiatric disorders such as major depression and suicide.”
Social anxiety disorder has been associated with a higher risk of substance misuse, especially binge drinking. According to the ADAA, around 20% of individuals diagnosed with social anxiety disorder are dependent on alcohol, relying on alcohol to manage their symptoms and relax in social circumstances.
According to Dr Michalska, there needs to be a greater understanding of the dangers of social anxiety disorder.
“Ironically,” she said, “people with social anxiety are less likely to speak about their anxieties in public, but giving them more of a public voice – potentially in writing – will help others understand and empathise with how debilitating this illness can be.”
The Holiday Season’s Social Issues
Although people with social anxiety disorder can find social situations difficult at any time of year, the festive season is particularly challenging.
“People with social anxiety disorder have difficulty in any large groups, which tend to be a staple of the holiday season,” explained Dr Michalska. “It is also a time when people are expected to be with family and friends.”
Although individuals with social anxiety disorder avoid interacting in big groups over the holiday season out of fear of humiliation or judgement, avoiding such circumstances worsens their anxiety.
A solid case of this is provided in a December BBC News of last December piece, in which a 38-year-old lady diagnosed with social anxiety disorder stated: “Most years, I buy a ticket for the work [party]. I actually bought the ticket, knowing full well I won’t go. I buy [it] to make sure people don’t think I’m tight-fisted, or that I hate Christmas, or that I don’t like their company.”
Others who suffer from social anxiety disorder may even avoid spending time with their relatives around the holidays. “People can suffer from social anxiety in the family unit,” According to BBC News, Dr Gillian Butler is a consultant clinical psychologist in the United Kingdom and the author of the book Overcoming Social Anxiety and Shyness. “You may, as an older person, feel a real fool talking to the children. It can bring back memories of adolescence and embarrassing times in the past.”
Suggestions For Coping With Social Anxiety Over The Holiday Season
However, some measures may help with social anxiety disorder in coping more effectively with social difficulties throughout the Christmas season.
Dr Michalska told MNT that anticipating social activities that may cause social anxiety and knowing how to cope with them in advance may help to relieve anxiety.
“For instance,” she added, “at an office holiday party, a socially anxious person might consider inviting a friend for support or letting one trusted person know how difficult it is to interact in social situations and asking them for emotional support. That person might then help buffer interactions with a, particularly difficult individual. Most people are honoured to be a source of comfort and feel an affinity to those they help out.”
Challis said that it is also essential to discuss any concern with friends or family:
“It’s key not to take too much on and to be honest with people close to you if you are finding it difficult to cope. Keeping anxiety bottled up can make things worse, so find someone you can confide in and let them know that you need some support.”
Dr Michalska advised us that people suffering from social anxiety should concentrate on the exterior aspects of a social occasion rather than their internal feelings about it. For instance, she said that if a gathering is being thrown at a friend’s house, they may ask about contributing in any way possible – such as preparing a dessert.
“If they can explain that having something to do is more comfortable for them, most people will be more than happy to accommodate – and have an extra pair of hands to help!” she said. “The key is for the person to not stay at home, even if they are anxious. Avoidance of social situations only leads to more anxiety.”
Challis said that it is equally vital for those with social anxiety to stay healthy over the Christmas season.“Festive fare is notoriously high in sugar, fat, caffeine and alcohol, all of which can impact on energy and anxiety levels,” he added. “Even making small changes to your diet, such as having a breakfast of porridge, which releases energy more slowly, can help keep anxiety levels in check.”
Ways For Family And Friend Help
Unsurprisingly, many people who suffer from social anxiety disorder avoid discussing their concerns with others for fear of generating a negative response.
The friends and family need to notice the signs and urge them to get help.
“One important step is to learn about what social anxiety disorder is and the strategies that are helpful in the long run, including seeking out treatment,” said Dr Michalska.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may be used to treat the condition. CBT teaches individuals to think, behave, and respond in different social settings to ease anxiety. Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications could also be used to manage social anxiety disorder.
Offering support is one of the most critical things family members or friends can do to help someone suffering from social anxiety. Challis told MNT that one does not have to be an expert in mental health to do this:
“Simply asking them how they’re feeling and listening non-judgementally can make a big difference, as does reassuring them that it will pass and that you’re there for them. If someone is obviously very anxious in a situation, it can help to find a quiet place for them to be until their anxiety eases.
Being supportive in the long term can be a question of finding the right balance. You need to accept the person as they are and not push them into situations that are beyond them. Yet, at the same time, it can be helpful to encourage them to overcome small challenges. In this way, they can build up their self-confidence and feel in control.”
Source: Medical News Today