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“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt
Unless you have the disposition of one of Santa’s elves, you probably are like the rest of us and secretly dread some of the social obligations and anticipated interactions of the holiday season. Perhaps the thought of family drama over Thanksgiving makes you wish that instead of going to grandma’s house, you were ordering in Thai food and watching a marathon of made-for-TV movies in your jammies. Maybe the thought of Hanukkah at Aunt Judy’s is enough to trigger a full-blown panic attack and fantasies of purchasing a one-way ticket to Tahiti. Or, possibly the thought of having to make brutal small talk at your office holiday party is making pre-party shots of tequila suddenly sound brilliant.
Like many, you might be bracing yourself for dreaded questions from people you haven’t seen since last year’s cookie exchange, such as, “So, what happened with your job? Were you let go??,” “You must be so sad about your ex. Haven’t you found anybody else yet, huh?”, “Wow. Do you like your hair that short?” or, “Oh…You’re going to have more pie?”
Along with jingle bells and menorahs, the holidays bring tremendous pressure to be “on” with little room for reprieve. This is a recipe for yuletide social anxiety.
Social anxiety occurs when we project our own self-loathing onto others and imagine that is the way they feel about us. Usually, this is an unconscious process that leaves us feeling uncomfortable, inadequate, and annoyed. We may believe the source of our poor feelings is the judgement is others. Truthfully, nobody can make us feel badly about ourselves without our permission.
After nearly 20 years of counseling people through the holidays safely into the New Year, I recommend the following:
- Calibrate your expectations to zero. Appreciate the power of self-fulfilling prophecy and don’t entertain thoughts of a cringeworthy Kwanza or you will be increasing the likelihood that things will play out exactly that way. Don’t imagine a Norman Rockwell Christmas or you will be setting yourself up for disappointment. Expect neither bad nor good, and accept things as they come.
- Understand that no matter how things unfold, you are fine. Whether New Year’s Eve is a blast or a bust, things are exactly as they should be an you are perfectly fine and lovable just the same. Your holiday antics are HOW things are, not WHO you are.
- Remember, human beings are all pretty self-absorbed. When ruminating about the dumb things you said after your second mug of eggnog, remind yourself that nobody is paying as much attention to you as YOU. Practice self-compassion and replace the self-flagellation with a soothing mantra, such as, “Nobody is perfect” or “I am doing the best that I can.”
- Silence your inner critic. We all have a voice in our head that can be meaner to us than our worst relationship. Tell that voice to put a sock in it and practice some affirmations.
- Detach from the toxicity of others. Recognize if somebody says something rude or insulting to you, their statement reveals more about them than you. Imagine you are separated from them by an invisible shield and all their negativity just bounces of it.
- Control what you can and let go of the rest. You can’t control how much Uncle Bob drinks or your dad’s temper, but you can control your choices, behaviors and actions. Set healthy boundaries for yourself (it’s okay to graciously decline some invitations, to limit duration of a visit, etc.) Take time to look your best so you feel confident. Exercise to increase endorphins (nature’s antidepressant.) Practice mindfulness techniques like deep breathing and meditation to ground yourself in the present moment. Watch your substance use as alcohol can fuel depression and anxiety.
- Don’t give other people the power to determine how you feel about yourself. Unplug from other people’s stuff and choose to like yourself. Or, even better, choose to LOVE yourself.
Tell social anxiety to take a sleigh ride and focus on your inner light this holiday season.
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