How to help your socially anxious friend out this Christmas

Social anxiety at any time of year isn’t fun to deal with, but at Christmas time with all the events and gatherings it can be downright overwhelming.

It’s not just a fear of awkward conversation – which we all have – it’s the over analysis of that conversation. What may just be an uncomfortable silence for you can feel unbearable to them and they’ll interpret many things that may not be true from that silence.

Getting through the season and actually enjoying it can be made all the easier by someone who understand what they’re going through and is there to help. Noticing the signs that your friend may be experiencing anxiety in a social setting can help you to step in and help them out this Christmas, the best gift of all to someone who finds Christmas meet ups to be stressful.

They don’t seem like themselves

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It might not be unusual for them to be quiet in a group setting, but if they’re acting differently to their usual, it might be more than just their natural quiet nature.

They may be avoiding speaking to people, or even speaking too much. Making conversation when feeling socially anxious can make you distracted and have you feeling adrift. They may even disappear off to the bathroom or kitchen for a little while to calm themselves or just check out of the whole situation for a while.

If you can be there for them as the person they can hang out with but not necessarily have to try hard socially with, it can be a big relief when in large group settings. Having someone there who’s your anchor means that they’re not left to make awkward conversation with people they aren’t comfortable with or find their way out of situations that make them feel under pressure.

They keep making excuses

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If your group has a few meet ups planned over the holidays and your socially anxious friend seems to have an excuse for all of them, it might be no harm to check in with them.

The holidays can be a tough time of year for anyone, but the sudden flood of invitations may stress them out. While to some of us they’re an exciting and important aspect of the holiday, for others it can be pressurising and daunting facing into a full calendar.

Help them know that it’s okay to pick and choose what they want to go to, and that the smaller. More intimate group meet ups might be more comfortable to them. Remind them that their friends do want to see them and that they don’t have to stay if they’re not comfortable. Sometimes when lots of events are grouped together, it can seem overwhelming, but giving them space to attend what they’re comfortable with can help them feel wanted and at ease.

They over-analyse social situations

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Leaving a party is like a post-match breakdown for people with social anxiety. Every raised brow, every small comment and every awkward silence can be loaded for someone who is reading into them all.

Unloading and unpacking all the perceived subtext to every conversation can be exhausting for anyone and you telling them that it wasn’t meant that way won’t change how they viewed the conversation. This is something their brain is wired to do and only they can change that.

However, what does help is being around people they trust and the occasional rationalisation that ‘No, I don’t think she was referring to that thing that happened ten years ago that no remembers but you’. It can seem totally crazy to you, but to them it’s how they see the world.

They avoid asking for help

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This time of year is too easy for someone with social anxiety to curl up and hibernate until the social season is over. The overthinking in the lead up to attending an event can be crippling and sometimes it’s just easier to decline all invites and stay home.

And while they may feel that’s easier, and of course, everyone has a right to do what they feel is best for their mental health, sometimes being entirely alone is exactly what they want.

If you notice a friend is conspicuously absent from all social events this Christmas and hasn’t been particularly responsive in the group chat, they may be struggling with this time of year more than you know. Everyone gets busy at this time of year and the buildup can be stressful so your friend may not reach out for help or let anyone know they’re struggling.

Reaching out can be a huge help to socially anxious people, as they can automatically assume they’re bothering people at times and don’t want to irritate them with their problems. Reassuring them you’re there and you care can make all the difference at Christmas time.