Each one of us curious humans has a unique take on the world. We are connected by invisible threads of culture and history that allow us to cultivate collective experiences, yet, even within families with shared traditions, the lived experiences vary from heart to heart. The meanings crafted by these threads create a life story for each of us. Some stories are light some years, some are quite heavy, while others remind us of the magic of the holiday season. Our stories can be honored in the telling and given space to evolve with time, crafting new traditions and ways of connecting with our community. But there is no denying that the holidays are stressful!
There is a sense of ‘holiday anxiety’ that surfaces because of so many factors, but often is driven by the need to share space with other people. There is the added stress of types of social anxiety that can feel overwhelming at this time of year when our traditions (both work-related and family expectations around the holidays) can create tension for us.
For some, the anxiety comes in the form of disconnection. For example, when life circumstances keep you from your loved ones, as with military families, people traveling for work, or financial struggles which can feel extra burdensome for all, but especially if it keeps you from traveling to be with loved ones. Or for persons grieving the loss of a loved one, the disconnection or disruption to traditions that were once grounding may feel untenable as a life story that was once integral no longer is.
Leaning in with love to provide a connection for those seeking fellowship in various ways within the community is a gift to people who may otherwise feel isolated. Many individuals, however, may experience holiday anxiety that is related to sensing more triggers or occurrences of social anxiety. Some examples are painful discomfort in a large social gathering, performing in front of an audience, interacting in an intimate, vulnerable setting such as public speaking for a fundraising engagement, or just eating or drinking in public. Many of these triggers are rooted in ‘being watched. Or feel we need to be ‘on’ to make a good impression, sometimes to more “important” people.
Social anxiety, as we generally think about it, is something we all experience in our interactions with other people for any number of reasons. However, even in cases of extreme shyness, we each usually find a way to work through these uncomfortable experiences, no matter how unpleasant at first. But social phobia, or social anxiety disorder, goes beyond the at-times painful experience of speaking in front of a crowd or meeting strangers or mingling with people who carry more privilege and power than you.
Social anxiety can be paralyzing and disruptive if you find the need to rearrange your daily life in order to avoid painfully uncomfortable situations. For someone who experiences social phobia, the holidays represent a particularly difficult time to manage because oftentimes multiple triggers present themselves throughout the course of an evening, for example at a work holiday function. There are therapeutic techniques to help address these aspects of social anxiety that you can discuss with a trained professional if you experience intense anxiety around social situations. Our trained staff at Ketamine Health Centers can provide various treatment options to explore.
I want to highlight another type of social anxiety that is rather invisible and yet can result in deep feelings related to self-worth. There are anxieties and uncomfortable feelings that may arise out of the relationship structure that exists in many community drives and gatherings during a time of generous giving. There are people in a position of privilege and power sometimes providing resources and fellowship opportunities to share with less fortunate communities. And even with the best intentions, the tensions present in generous giving may lead to feelings of helplessness or possibly shame for individuals receiving support during these challenging times. Again, leaning in with love and expressing intentions clearly with respect and grace is perhaps the best way to approach these moments. It is heartwarming to see the magic of the holidays and the power of giving that overcomes so many, to help share in the wealth of the human spirit. Yet, it is a vulnerable place to be in as the one to receive. Giving with grace might be providing a space to receive from a place of strength, which validates our humanity.
We can practice shining that light of love every day for the power it provides us to move forward with our personal growth and social development. And within that spirit of giving, we can extend open arms to our differences, opening a space to honor each of us as a unique individual each with a personal relationship with the sacred.
“Foreign” family traditions may be another source of social anxiety for some individuals who must navigate different cultures after marriage (and remember each family creates a culture, so family traditions will be foreign to a spouse sharing the same cultural heritage). Embrace new traditions from a place of loving intention to support one another, rather than as an acceptance or rejection of any underlying spiritual worldview the tradition stems from. Be curious.
Overall, when we approach differences that may seem more pronounced during the holiday season, with love and respect, we enrich our lives by adding to the flavor of our experiences. We can create welcoming spaces through our own energy output to help generate a little (or a generous amount of) holiday magic each day, inviting ease and calm with intention, as we join together and celebrate.
Wish you happy holidays!