Everyone has felt anxious in social gatherings. It’s practically a universal human predicament. Depending on your psychological and emotional strengths, the level of anxiety you might experience in public settings can vary. During the holiday season where there are frequent social gatherings and distant relatives returning to town for family events, understanding and managing your level of social anxiety can be important.
It can be particularly important if your anxiety in the past led to drinking or drug use. For some, social anxiety can be strong. And for others, it’s so strong that they have what’s known as Social Anxiety Disorder (or Social Phobia). It’s a psychological illness in which the fear of social situations, specifically fearing judgment and embarrassment in those situations, is excessive. You might be excessively worried about how he or she looks or will behave and might even avoid those situations to escape the anxiety, rather than enjoying that experience. Social phobia tends to also come within an extreme feeling of self-consciousness and a fear of humiliating oneself.
Although not all people have social anxiety to the degree that it is debilitating or considered a mental illness, it’s common to either smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol as a way to manage social anxiety in public settings. Although the rate of cigarette smoking has significantly decreased in the last 10-15 years, smoking remains to be an unhealthy pattern for those who experience mental illness and/or addiction.
One way to facilitate better managing social anxiety is to learn how to relax. Breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, and meditation can facilitate a sense of ease when fear and panic feel like they are going to take over. For instance, feeling fear is usually accompanied by shallow breathing. If you were to become conscious of your breathing right in the middle of feeling afraid, making the breath long and deep, this could shift your physiological state. This could be the tool you use instead of pulling out a cigarette, accepting the offer of a joint, or drinking alcohol. When you’re at a party this holiday season, deep breathing is a much healthier coping mechanism than smoking or getting high.
In fact, other ways to relax include:
- Exercise. This releases endorphins and promotes emotional well-being.
- Step outside. Enjoy the sun and fresh air. You might try to find a beautiful view or landscape.
- Practice yoga. Yoga is a practice, a form of exercise, which invites an integrated experience of body and mind. Its effects can be experienced immediately as well as over time.
- Play with your dog or cat. Pets can creating a feeling of being loved and needed. When we spend time with them we can easily feel their love for us and this alone can help us relax.
- Listen to music. Soft and relaxing music can influence mood. If you’re feeling stressed, listen to music that is slow and calming.
- Light a scented candle. You can do more than just light a candle. You can create an ambiance in a room to feel more at ease by also lighting incense, playing music, lowering the shades, and making your favorite tea.
- Use scents to relax you. Breathe in the scent of fresh flowers or coffee beans, or savor a scent that reminds you of a favorite memory. Use your sense of smell to create a more relaxed inner experience. For instance, smelling the scent of sunscreen might remind you of being on vacation or being at the beach.
- Make yourself a steaming cup of tea. Teas like chamomile or peppermint can help relax the body.
Although not all of the above suggestions can be utilized during a social event, a regular practice of relaxation can support you in managing your anxiety in healthy ways when you need it.
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