Summer and the festive season has started and often brings with it a busy social calendar. Work parties, end-of-year events with friends, family gatherings and catch-ups, holidays, Christmas Day (for those who celebrate it), New Year’s Eve celebrations, and more are all on the agenda at this time of year.
Not everyone enjoys these occasions. Some people feel uncomfortable and nervous before a social event. Not knowing anyone, pressure to be outgoing and confident, or feeling out of place are quite normal and common feelings.
Some of the feelings that might come up are:
- “I don’t know anyone there.”
- “No one will talk to me.”
- “I won’t know what to say.”
- “I have nothing in common with these people.”
- “I’ll make an idiot of myself.”
- “I have nothing to contribute.”
These feelings are usually temporary. There may be some awkwardness or uncomfortable small talk at first, but usually it’s still manageable.
For some people however, social events can bring on quite intense feelings of stress and anxiety, or nerves. With so many social occasions at this time of year, the worry can start to affect how you enjoy daily life. This may be an indication of social anxiety.
What is social anxiety
If you are constantly worried or stressed about social events, you may be experiencing social anxiety.
Social anxiety is a constant fear of social or performance situations where you feel exposed to unfamiliar people or judgement by others. It is more than just shyness, it can be crippling.
Social anxiety is also known as social phobia. People experiencing this might feel nervous, stressed and a strong need to avoid social situations altogether, even if they know that the fear is unreasonable. A person with social anxiety will usually experience these feelings for six months or longer.
Social anxiety can start to interfere with your work, school, relationships and confidence. You might have trouble relating to people, start to doubt people’s intentions, or even have difficulty making decisions.
There’s good news though – it can be treated and managed.
What causes social anxiety?
Anxiety is the second most common mental health diagnosis after depression.
There may be a number of causes, such as:
- Your genetic make-up
- The family and social environment you grew up in
- Your thinking style
- Your physical health
- Any stressful events.
How to deal with social anxiety
See a professional
If you feel that anxiety and worry is affecting everyday life, then consider arranging to see a health professional or your GP. They can help you determine the causes, contributing lifestyle factors and possible treatment paths.
A health professional might recommend therapy options. Cognitive behaviour therapy, sometimes known as talk therapy is one of the most common treatment paths. It works by helping you recognise, understand and change those negative and unhelpful thoughts and behaviours that are affecting everyday life.
Stress management can take many forms. Relaxation exercises are a great start to reducing stress. Make some downtime and do something you enjoy and find relaxing – read a book, watch a movie, or just lie in bed or on the couch.
Meditation and mindfulness techniques are another great way to reduce stress. Mindfulness involves relaxing your body and mind by focussing on the present and ‘feeling’ (being aware of) what’s going on around you. It’s calming and can also help with your ability to focus, mental clarity, decision making, confidence and attention span.
There may be things in your lifestyle that are contributing to your stress and anxiety. Try reducing stimulants like caffeine and alcohol, eat a healthy and balanced diet and get some regular exercise – even if it’s a short daily walk.
Get a good night’s sleep
How well you sleep can have a huge effect on your wellbeing. Poor sleep can have all sorts of ill effects on your health.
Resist the temptation to stay up late, stick to a set bed time, or go to bed earlier and then read for a while. Avoid coffee and caffeinated soft drinks after midday and try to reduce your time with electronic devices toward the end of the evening.
Talk about it
Grab a mate, a family member or someone you trust and talk it through. You don’t need to come out of this with solutions, sometimes just talking can help enormously. You can also talk to a professional. MensLine Australia (link) is available 24/7 nationwide and is staffed by professional counsellors who can listen and help.