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    4 MIN READ

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    Surviving the holidays when you have social anxiety.

    I’ve always been the life of the party. The class clown. The straw that stirs the drink. However you wanna put it, the point is that I lived to party. And as such, the holiday period was always my favourite time of year. Putting my Out of Office on and leaving my cocoon to hit dancefloors, meet new people and surround myself with my favourite humans for endless days and nights on end without rest was my idea of heaven. That is until this year. For the first time in my 29 years on this earth, the silly season has filled me with dread. It’s more like the scary season, really. And I chalk this up to one thing and one thing only: lockdown-induced social anxiety.
    Never thought it’d be me.
    For my whole life, I had only ever encountered anxiety by way of those around me. I’ve had close friends with anxiety and my boyfriend of three years has it too. I feel like I have grown up in the vicinity of anxiety, almost as a voyeur, but I myself had never been diagnosed with it. And since I’m now pushing 30 and as of recently hadn’t been diagnosed, I assumed that I permanently was out of the woods. But upon conducting research, I learned that you don’t have to be born with anxiety or be diagnosed from a young age to experience it. As it turns out, you can experience it at any age, even if you haven’t felt it in the past. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way, as have many people.
    You might feel alone, but you’re not.
    When lockdown ended and the social invites started tumbling in like an avalanche, I felt an immediate sense of dread. Since we were fresh out of iso and people were so keen to party again, plus so many of my mates are Scorpios and Sagittarians and all the Christmas parties were coming up, there were all these important events that I felt compelled to attend. Leading up to each event, I would spend days mentally preparing and trying to convince myself that I could try and tap back into my usual social self. That all I had to do was get through the party and everything would be fine. I was wrong.
    Watching my friends messaging the group chat about how excited they were made me feel like a loser. Like there was something wrong with me for not sharing their excitement. Feeling socially anxious is such a lonely, isolating place to be. But if you’ve been reading this story and already identify with my feelings, this is proof enough that you’re not alone, and this is backed up by stats. According to a survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics into the impact of COVID on Australian households, lockdown has led to a surge in psychological distress with a third of folks reporting feelings of depression and anxiety.
    How to navigate your way through social anxiety
    One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned during the pandemic is that you don’t need to have a diagnosed mental health issue to have poor mental health. These past two years have been so fucking rough on all of us, so it’s important that we give ourselves a break and embrace the possibility that we might be suffering mentally. With that said, a second lesson that I’ve learned is that just because you have yet to be diagnosed with a mental health issue doesn’t mean you’re forever immune. If you’ve been feeling a bit off since coming out of lockdown, if the idea of socialising with your family and friends during Christmas is more than you can bear, then there’s absolutely no shame in booking in with a therapist to have a chat and suss out if, like many Australians, including myself, you’re experiencing social anxiety.
    That’s what I did, anyway. After noticing signs of social anxiety, including suffering a panic attack while getting ready for a close friend’s birthday party, I decided to go see my doctor, who informed me that I may have anxiety. My doctor put me on a mental health plan and I’ve started seeing a regular psychologist. And ya know what? Being diagnosed actually gave me a huge sense of relief. Like I could finally put my finger on why I’d been feeling so lousy. The way I see it, the only way from here is up, because now that I know what the problem is, I can work on finding solutions and coping mechanisms to help me deal with it. So if you relate to my story in any way, I deeply encourage you to do the same.
    So, what’s next?
    Having social anxiety isn’t like having the flu or even COVID (*shudders*), you can’t get past it after a couple of weeks with fluid and bed rest. Rather than looking for an antidote or a cure, I’ve found that it’s best to learn to live with anxiety. There will be days where we actually feel like being around our nearest and dearest, where the thought of immersing ourselves in the warmth of familiar faces excites and nourishes our souls, especially during this Christmas period. And there will be days where we feel like shutting the blinds, hiding under our bed covers and pretending the world doesn’t exist. And ya know what? Both of these options are perfectly okay! More than okay, in fact. They’re totally natural and justified, especially after the last two years.
    Having recently backed out of a few social occasions at the last minute myself, I’ve found that your friends are more understanding than you probably think they’ll be. When I’ve bailed on a party due to anxiety, I’ve told my friends the honest truth and they’ve been totally empathetic and assured me that they’re more than happy for me to do what’s best for my mental health, which is the response all friends should have. And if they don’t, then they’re really not the kind of people that you need in your life, especially during your journey with social anxiety.

    + IMAGERY: @karmanverdi