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Holiday Social Anxiety: What It Is and 6 Ways to Cope

Struggling through the holiday with social anxiety? These six tips can help.

Taylor Leamey Senior Writer
Taylor Leamey writes about all things wellness, specializing in mental health, sleep and nutrition coverage. She has invested hundreds of hours into studying and researching sleep and holds a Certified Sleep Science Coach certification from the Spencer Institute. Not to mention the years she spent studying mental health fundamentals while earning her bachelor's degrees in both Psychology and Sociology. She is also a Certified Stress Management Coach.
Expertise Bachelor of Science, Psychology and Sociology Credentials
  • Certified Sleep Science Coach, Certified Stress Management Coach
Taylor Leamey
4 min read
Young man, sitting on a couch and looking worried.
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For those with social anxiety, a common anxiety disorder, the holidays can be a time of increased psychological and physical symptoms. The busy schedules, the family gatherings and the minefield of triggers can make the holidays considerably less jolly. 

Unfortunately, you can't just turn social anxiety off. But you can implement a few tips and tricks to make celebrating the holidays with social anxiety a little easier. 

Learn more about how anxiety may impact your memory and five life hacks you can use to relieve anxiety symptoms

What is social anxiety? 

Social anxiety is more than just being shy. It's marked by a significant and enduring fear of being observed and scrutinized by others. Symptoms peak when the person interacts or performs for others, like meeting new people, public speaking, dating or being interviewed for a job. Social anxiety can lead to avoidance, impacting someone's ability to function in work, relationships and social events. 

What are the common symptoms of social anxiety disorder?

  • Fear of interacting with strangers
  • Worry that other people can tell you're anxious 
  • Fear of physical symptoms in social situations like blushing or a shaky voice
  • Avoiding situations where you would be in the spotlight out of fear of embarrassment 
  • Anxiety symptoms when thinking about social situations
  • Anticipating the worst outcome of negative social situations 
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The holiday season can cause anxiety to spike. 

Doreen Marshall, vice president of mission engagement at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), explains the dynamic of social anxiety and the holidays as a potential challenge. 

"For someone with social anxiety, the pressure to attend large social gatherings may bring additional challenges. There may be gatherings with unknown people in celebration of events, and the challenges of navigating unfamiliar social situations can be very stressful for those who have social anxiety," Marshall says. 

6 strategies to reduce social anxiety this holiday season

The holiday season can be challenging with social anxiety. However, just because you have social anxiety doesn't mean you are doomed to have negative experiences in social situations. Use these six strategies to take control of your social anxiety and enjoy the holiday season by setting boundaries and respecting your needs. 

Learn about your social anxiety 

The first thing you should do if you have social anxiety is learn as much as possible. Learn about the physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety.

It's important to familiarize yourself with not only social anxiety but your social anxiety specifically. What are your triggers? How can you tell when you are pushing yourself too far? By identifying your triggers and reactions, you can more accurately identify situations unsuitable for you and learn how to respond accordingly. 

Define what is within your control

The holidays introduce unique challenges. Many parts of the holiday season are outside of your control. You can't decide how people will act or determine the economic conditions. That can be hard to grapple with as stress and anxiety symptoms flair. 

Marshall suggests that people with social anxiety find what they have control over. 

"You can decide to regularly exercise, eat healthy, improve sleep hygiene, seek comfort in mindfulness activities – all of which can improve things even when life feels out of control," Marshall says. 

By embracing what you can control, you will feel more empowered. It will allow you to plan where you can and ease the fear of the unknown. 

Two people sitting on a couch, having a friendly conversation.
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Give yourself topics to talk about

An integral part of social anxiety is the fear of being judged or scrutinized by others in social situations or performances. Another strategy to manage social anxiety during the holidays is to give yourself topics to talk about beforehand. That way, you don't have to worry about scrambling to find something to keep the conversation going. Having things prepared beforehand can help ease the pressure you feel. 

Another version of this would be bringing a conversation starter. Maybe it's a funny hat or holiday pin that always gives you a jumping-off point for conversation. 

Take breaks when you need them

Energy levels ebb and flow during the holiday seasons; that's normal. With all the family time, Christmas music and plates of food, sometimes it can all become a bit much. With social anxiety, the lulls in conversations are a time of worry about what to say. The highs are equally as draining. 

To combat this, take time for yourself when you can. You should always feel empowered to step away when you need time to yourself, whether it's a walk or a bubble bath. When you feel yourself getting close to your boundaries, take a break and do relaxing activities like reading or listening to your favorite music. 

Remember, it's OK to say no

The holidays introduce heightened social situations for many people. Settling boundaries and saying no when necessary are essential for managing social anxiety. You have the choice to take part in celebrations and traditions. Taking a step back is OK if certain events or festivities trigger you. You shouldn't entirely avoid situations; however, respect your boundaries and don't overextend yourself. 

Woman wrapped in a blanket on the couch, another person is handing her a mug of tea.
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Talk to your family and friends

Even with the best intentions, family members and friends can worsen anxiety symptoms. The questions and attempts to comfort or help can feel smothering. That's why it's important to talk. 

Establishing boundaries and needs is a good way to start an open dialogue. You can communicate your needs and ways they can assist and help them understand what you need when your anxiety symptoms flare. 

Marshall stressed the importance of finding resources when you need them. "If you struggle with social anxiety, it can be helpful to know that you are not alone and that there is help available." 

Don't forget there are community resources there to support you. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the resources available to you. Text 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line, or dial 988 to be connected to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.