Health

How to Cope If Family Gatherings Trigger Your Social Anxiety

Thanksgiving is nearly here, and I’m starting to feel a bit jittery about all the awkward interactions I’m about to have with family members and long-lost acquaintances from high school. The small talk always seems to cover the same ground: work, relationships, politics, future plans—you know, all the touchy topics that get to the core of where you’re at in life. 

If the idea of seeing family or old friends overwhelms you or you experience social anxiety to any degree—whether you get jittery in social situations or have been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder—you probably know what I’m talking about. These feelings can manifest in many ways, but at its core, social anxiety stems from a dynamic fear or worry that you may be judged, watched, or embarrassed by others, per the National Institute of Mental Health. It can strike in the moments leading up to an event, in the middle of an interaction, or days later when you’re replaying certain moments in your head. 

From stressful small talk to deep discussions, the conversations that go down at holiday soirees can feel particularly intense; not to mention they can act as a reminder that maybe you’re not exactly where you’d like to be at this stage in your life—or that you moved away from home for a reason. “It’s normal to feel like a broken record when you’re sharing the things you decide to disclose to family or friends,” Mandy Doria, MS, a licensed professional counselor and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, tells SELF.

To help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety you may be feeling around all the social events on your schedule, it’s best to come up with a game plan. Below are three things you can do to prep for the scenarios that might make your palms sweaty and your heart rate spike.

Think of some talking points—and keep comforting people close.

Planning ahead can ease some worries, especially if you’re expecting to deal with a few uncomfortable interactions. Doria recommends brainstorming a few topics you actually want to talk about so you can easily dodge the stickier discussions you may be roped into.

For example, if you already suspect your nosy aunt will ask about your recent breakup, come ready to pivot to another topic or have some backup questions handy. After all, it’s not too hard to get people to talk about themselves, especially if you use a bit of flattery. Consider a response like: “Oh, I appreciate you asking but it’s not all that interesting. I want to hear more about how the renovation is going. Do you have progress pics of your lovely kitchen? I’m dying to see it!”

On the other hand, if your dad starts going on about how he wants you to move closer to home, you can try to put a positive spin on your response: “I guess that means you’ll need to visit me soon. Should we plan a weekend for us in 2023? I’d love to show you some of my favorite spots.” If it helps, consider rehearsing how you’d like to tackle these conversations to alleviate the pressure of being put on the spot. “Remember these annoyances are temporary and remain confident in what you decide to talk about or not talk about,” Doria says.

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