Do you want to participate in New Years’ Eve parties and family gatherings during the holidays, but the thought of being yourself around other people stresses you out? Do you clam up or feel unsure of what to say during social situations? Do your negative thoughts about yourself and how you are perceived run wild? Or–perhaps this is a familiar scenario: you go to family gatherings and friend get-togethers, but feel as if you have to put on a false front in order to fit in. At the end of the day, you are exhausted and you don’t feel any more connected to the people you just spent time with. You feel as if you are on the outside looking in. Everyone else but you seems to connect. For those of us who struggle in the social realm, the holidays have a way of highlighting this perceived deficiency. In fact, social anxiety is the highest diagnosed form of anxiety disorders, so there are probably many of us walking around feeling socially defective at this time of year.
Thankfully, the dawning of the new year can also spark hope. At this time of year, we are driven to reflect on our past and make resolutions for a better future. Perhaps you have not been as involved as you have wanted to be in your social life. Or perhaps you have not wanted to be involved socially, but something in your life seems to be amiss. If you are looking for a New Years’ Resolution, here are the top 5 ways to tackle social exclusion and anxiety in 2020:
One of the most effective ways to treat anxiety is through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT. The basic premise of CBT is noticing your own (often negative) thoughts. One of the best ways to become more aware of what we are thinking is to journal about our darkest thoughts and fears. Once we are aware of how often we think negatively about ourselves, we can then fight back against those negative thoughts. Going to a holiday party? Take 5 minutes to journal about what you are worrying (or dreading) about. Then, next to your negative thoughts and anxieties, write counter arguments against these fears and negativities. For example, if you write: “Everyone probably thought I was so obnoxious”, next to it write: “There is no evidence of anyone showing negative emotions towards me. Everyone was engaged and having a good time.” Another example: “I have nothing to say in social situations”. Try the counter-argument: “My presence is felt and welcome even if I have nothing to say. I am still making a meaningful contribution just by being present.” A journal can also help you develop mantras in social situations that you repeat to yourself.
This suggestion is controversial, especially around the holidays, but hear me out. Alcohol helps reduce our inhibitions, making it a very good social lubricant. The problem occurs when we start depending on alcohol to get us through awkward, tough, or just plain boring social situations. The use of alcohol to numb social anxiety can be insidious–it often takes a fair amount of time to develop into a full blown problem. Then, once it is a problem, it’s easy to brush off–because it is so common to drink socially. How do you know if you’ve gone into “problem” territory? One sign might be that you reach for a drink 5 minutes into a social situation. Over time you don’t develop the skills necessary to navigate conversations without the help of alcohol. Your brain chemically comes to depend on it in social settings. Another sign might be that you frequently drink to the point of getting drunk–and embarrassing yourself. Learning to set limits on how much you drink–and following through with these limits–can help you gain social confidence. You may find that you are less drawn to drinking over time.
Try making casual conversation with the grocery store clerk, or the barista at your local coffee shop. Head to a part of town you don’t visit frequently and chat up someone you are likely to never see again. If you “mess up” conversationally, at least you can console yourself with the fact that it isn’t likely your paths will cross. Ask a family member to help you practice your social skills through role playing. Have fun with this, and learn to laugh at yourself. Once you feel comfortable in a low-risk setting…
In 2020, social media CAN be your friend if you learn to not rely on it so much. For one, there is now an app called Meetup. The meetup app helps you locate groups based on common interests. Interested in Dungeons and Dragons? There’s a Meetup for that. Interested in makeup and fashion? There is a Meetup for that. Are you a writer? There is a Meetup for that. The interests vary widely, and if you can’t find what you are looking for, there is always the option to create your own interest group. Live in a small town? Try local community centers (such as the YMCA), churches, and gyms to get involved in activities you enjoy with other people! You could also create flyers for your group idea and post them around town. It’s easier to make conversation with people when there is a common interest, or a goal that is being worked on.
If the above suggestions still seem way too daunting, try seeing a therapist individually. He or she can help you identify and battle negative thoughts about yourself and you social skills. Your therapist can help you identify where your social anxieties came from, and can help you develop a more individualized treatment plan. Group therapy can also be helpful, because group therapies serve as a microcosm of the “real world”–that is, whatever you experience in the group is likely what you experience in the world at large. The same is also true of the group members’ perceptions of you. How you are experienced in the group is likely how many people see you in your day-to-day life. Groups can be a place of meaningful and–most importantly–safe constructive feedback. Looking for a group to join? Here at Northside Mental Health, Julia Moore, LMHCA will be providing group therapy to tackle social exclusion and social anxiety. This group will begin just in time to start your New Years’ Resolution–January 5th. The group will be on Sundays from 10-11:30 am.
Contact Julia via e-mail for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Julia Moore is a licensed mental health therapist associate and holds her degree from Indiana Wesleyan University. Julia’s counseling theory is heavily influenced by humanistic, cognitive, and psychodynamic counseling theories.