Thoughtful woman at dinner
The Winter Issue

Surviving the Season With Social Anxiety

The holidays are a time of many gatherings. Meanwhile, reuniting with friends and family after a difficult two years is becoming a closer reality for many. If you are socially anxious, the thought of attending these events may fill you with dread.

"Social anxiety is more than just being shy or nervous around people. It's a real condition that can cause significant distress," says clinical psychologist Dr. Nathan Brandon.

People who have social anxiety may worry for days or weeks before an event. They might even avoid going to holiday parties or get-togethers because they're afraid they'll do or say something wrong, be embarrassed, or be ridiculed.

Dr. Nathan Brandon

Social anxiety is more than just being shy or nervous around people. It's a real condition that can cause significant distress.

— Dr. Nathan Brandon

And Brandon notes that the pandemic has only worsened things for those struggling with social anxiety.

"The pandemic has only exacerbated social anxiety for many people," he says. "If you're someone who already experiences social anxiety, you may have found yourself avoiding people and situations even more than usual. Or, you may be experiencing social anxiety for the first time."

How to Ease Your Social Anxiety

If you're struggling with social anxiety, you're not alone—and there are things you can do to ease your symptoms and make holiday gatherings more bearable.

Don't Try to Push Yourself Too Far Outside of Your Comfort Zone

"Staying mindful of your social tank is the most important part of powering through the holiday season," says licensed mental health counselor GinaMarie Guarino. "You need to maintain a level of social energy to get through the holidays, so emotionally and mentally prepping will be important."

"Be prepared by knowing how much time and space you can offer your friends and family, know when you need to take breaks and where you can go for your breaks, and keep in mind that setting boundaries with your time and energy is well within your right," Guarino says.

While gently pushing yourself outside your comfort zone is important, don't try to do too much at once. You might want to set a goal of attending one holiday party or social event per week instead of every other day.

Seek Out Social Situations That Feel Safe

Not all social gatherings are created equal—and it's important to seek out ones that feel safe and comfortable for you right now. Some people with social anxiety feel more anxious in one-on-one situations, while others are more affected by parties or larger groups.

Think about what situations make you most anxious and try to put them off until you start feeling more comfortable. Instead, focus on attending gatherings that will give you a chance to rebuild confidence.

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Staying mindful of your social tank is the most important part of powering through the holiday season.

— GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Make a Plan in Advance

If you know you're going to be attending a holiday party or gathering, it can help to make a plan in advance. "Make a plan ahead of time. Decide who you're going to see, when, and for how long," says Brandon.

Think about who will be at the event and what you'll need to do or say when you see them. It can also be helpful to have an escape plan in place in case you start to feel overwhelmed.

Practice Relaxation Techniques Beforehand

There are a number of relaxation techniques that can help ease social anxiety, and it can be helpful to practice them beforehand. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization are all great options.

A 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Archives of Psychiatric Nursing investigated the effectiveness of relaxation techniques for people with anxiety disorders. Results of the study confirmed that relaxation techniques can be helpful in reducing anxiety symptoms.

Don't Forget to Take Care of Yourself

It's important to remember that you need to take care of yourself—both physically and emotionally—during this time.

Make sure to get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat a healthy diet. It's also important to find ways to cope with your anxiety in a healthy manner. This might include talking to a therapist or counselor, attending a support group, or journaling about your thoughts and feelings.

How to Reconnect With People

The holidays can be a tough time for people who have been isolated from their loved ones due to the pandemic. Here are some tips on how to reach out and connect with them:

  • Send a handwritten letter or card. One of the best ways to reach out to someone you've been isolated from is to send them a handwritten letter or card. This is a personal and thoughtful way to let them know you're thinking about them.
  • Give them a call. Giving someone a call is also a great way to stay connected. You can catch up on what's been going on in their life and let them know what's been going on in yours.
  • Set up a video call. If you can't be in person, the next best thing is to set up a video call. This way, you can see each other's faces and have a somewhat "normal" conversation.
  • Send them a gift. Sending a gift is also a nice way to reach out. It doesn't have to be anything big or expensive—just something to let them know you're thinking of them.
  • Check in on them regularly. If you can't be in touch as often as you'd like, make sure to check in on the person regularly. This might mean sending them a text message or email every few days or weeks.

What to Expect When Reconnecting With People During the Holidays

If you're planning on reconnecting with people during the holidays, it's important to be prepared for how things might have changed.

"I think there could be some tension in families where there is a lack of understanding or a lack of respect for the precautions that some individuals have taken in the last two years," says psychologist Lauren Napolitano.

"There is also the potential that some family members were using COVID precautions as a means of avoiding dreaded family events," she adds. "This undercurrent of tension or awkwardness could heighten social anxiety for some people."

There is also the potential that some family members were using COVID precautions as a means of avoiding dreaded family events.


That's OK—and it's perfectly normal. The important thing is to be patient and understanding as you reconnect with people during this time. For example, if someone is social distancing or not hugging, try not to take it personally. Social anxiety can make you feel as though you're being judged, but it's important to remember that everyone is dealing with reconnecting in their own way. Most likely, their actions have nothing to do with you.

How to Make the Holiday Experience Easier

During the holidays, there will be more events and gatherings to reunite with friends and family that you may have been separated from because of COVID. For some people, this may cause a lot of anxiety and stress because of the fear of interacting with others. However, there are ways to make the experience less daunting and more enjoyable. Here are some tips:

Choose Your Events Wisely 

Not every holiday event is worth your time and energy—so choose wisely. If you know that a certain event is going to be too overwhelming, it's OK to skip it. Nobody will be offended, and you'll be better off in the long run.

"It’s OK to say no if you don’t want to do something or you need a break. Setting boundaries and taking care of yourself are just as important when dealing with social anxiety," Brandon says.

Set Limits for Yourself 

"Set some short-term goals for yourself before going into any given situation, such as a holiday party," Brandon says. "For example: “I’ll stay for an hour and then leave.”

Other ideas of short-term goals you can set for yourself include talking to three different people at a party or introducing yourself to one new person. Choose goals that are realistic and attainable for you.

Have an Exit Plan

"Knowing ahead of time when you need to take a break will help you get through an event. It’s also best not to over-schedule yourself," Brandon says.

This might mean having a friend or family member on call who you can text if you need to leave, or having a backup plan for transportation.

Be Honest With People 

"Rather than trying to act cool or confident, be open about your social anxiety or the fact that your social skills have grown rusty since COVID. It’s likely that someone else at the event will be able to relate," says Napolitano.

Let them know that you might need to take breaks, or that you might not be able to stay for the entire event.

Focus on Acceptance 

"Everyone has an occasional slip-up and no one is perfect. Instead of letting that bother you, try to relax and practice acceptance of yourself as you are," Brandon says. This can help you to feel more relaxed and less anxious.

Tips for Maintaining Social Connections

Just because the holiday season is over, doesn't mean that you have to stop staying connected with your friends and family. There are plenty of ways to stay connected all year round that will make future gatherings less anxiety-inducing.

  • Set up regular check-ins. One way to stay connected is to set up regular check-ins—either in person, by phone, or by video chat. This can be a way to catch up on each other's lives and stay updated on what's going on.
  • Make time for fun activities together. It's also important to make time for fun activities together—whether that means going for a walk, watching a movie, or playing a game. Doing something enjoyable together can help to strengthen your bond and create lasting memories.
  • Be there for each other. Finally, it's important to be there for each other—especially during tough times. Whether you're offering a shoulder to cry on or just lending a listening ear, your support can make all the difference.

No matter what, remember that staying connected with your friends and family is an important part of maintaining your mental health. Reach out and let people know that you're thinking of them—it'll make all the difference.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Social Anxiety Disorder: More Than Just Shyness.

  2. Kim HS, Kim EJ. Effects of Relaxation Therapy on Anxiety Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysisArch Psychiatr Nurs. 2018;32(2):278-284. doi:10.1016/j.apnu.2017.11.015

  3. Pilkington K, Wieland LS. Self-care for anxiety and depression: a comparison of evidence from Cochrane reviews and practice to inform decision-making and priority-settingBMC Complement Med Ther. 2020;20(1):247. Published 2020 Aug 10. doi:10.1186/s12906-020-03038-8

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."