Dealing with social anxiety during the holidays

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That laugh kind of says it all—the laugh of discomfort, like Chevy Chase in that scene from Christmas Vacation, illustrating holiday stresses. Will the meal be good? Can I put up with my uncle’s jokes? Am I going to eat too much? All of that stuff. Therapist Joyce Marter is joining me now to talk about some coping mechanisms for dealing with in-laws or family members you may not necessarily like all the time and only have to spend time with if you have to. Thank you so much for coming in, Joyce.

Thank you, Nita. I’m happy to be here.

There are a lot of stresses, but I want to focus on the social stresses because, for many people, navigating these situations can be challenging.

Yes, the holidays require a lot of social engagement with family, friends, and in the workplace, and there’s a lot of pressure to be “on” without much reprieve.

Alright, let’s go through some of your suggestions. You say to calibrate expectations to zero. What do you mean by that?

Sometimes, if we’re dreading an event, we fear the worst, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy where things don’t go well. Alternatively, we set our expectations too high and end up disappointed. By calibrating expectations to zero, we accept things as they come, making the experience generally more pleasant.

And similarly, understand that no matter how things unfold, it’s going to be okay. You’re fine no matter how your Uncle Fred acts or what he says.

Exactly. Practice mindfulness, get yourself in a good, grounded space, and detach from other people’s issues.

What about people who are really self-absorbed and only want to talk about themselves? How do you handle those situations?

It’s fine; you’ll get through it. Be yourself and take care of yourself. Ask them questions—they’ll love that—and just know that you can go home, put on your pajamas, and watch your favorite movie.

Now, what about those moments when you want to speak up and say something like, “Hey, I didn’t like how you did that,” or “Hey, don’t say that”? Should you just zip it?

There’s a balance. We want to advocate for ourselves positively, honestly, clearly, and directly. Pick your battles. The holidays might not be the best time for arguments. Be like a duck and let some things roll off your feathers. Sometimes you can say, “You know what? That’s not okay. I don’t want to talk about politics right now.”

What if the situation is unavoidable?

That’s tough. Imagine surrounding yourself with white light or a Plexiglas shield between you and the other person. Let their negativity roll off you. You’re still fine.

The key is realizing you can’t control everything, right?

Yes, you can control your own actions, behaviors, and boundaries. You can choose to decline invitations or leave early, but you can’t control other people’s actions or behaviors. Don’t give others the power to determine how you feel about yourself.

Some might suggest having another glass of wine, but that could lead to loose lips. What’s your take?

It’s all about balance and moderation. One glass to relax is fine, but two might lead to saying or doing things you’ll regret later. Avoid the “shame hangover.”

No shame hangover is good. Thank you so much for coming in and giving us so many lessons on how to cope and strategize for holiday parties.

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