So that’s it for another year. Christmas has been and gone. Whether you’re feeling relieved, exhausted or on a complete comedown, if you are here with me reading this right now then I think it’s safe to say we got through it in one piece.
So what next? New Year isn’t quite ready for us yet but that time between is, the time they call ‘Twixmas’.
When the discourse shifts from let’s all stuff our faces to let’s all get out for a walk, this is received unanimously and acted upon accordingly. We go out for a walk, and so does everyone else.
The problem with the universal nature of Christmas and its add-ons is just that, we’re all trying to live out the same life routines, emotions and activities simultaneously. That’s a lot of pressure for everyone as our lives are not the same, and we all face different circumstances.
Firstly, some didn’t get a Christmas break, and only now might be catching some time to relax and enjoy themselves. Secondly, others are quite simply relieved that Christmas has now passed and just want to enjoy whatever time they have before the regiment of life resumes itself. Whatever the case, and whatever circumstances you face, I’m sure we’ll agree that for those of us with social anxiety this time of year is perhaps one of the most difficult.
Everywhere is busy. It’s a narrow window of time where a large proportion of society is trying to find nice things to do after days of intensive work or sitting in the house. Our usual tranquil walking places have turned into a hive of activity, and wherever we go it feels like the summer holidays on steroids. Where the winter days are short this only adds to the intensity, no one wants to walk in the dark or 40mph wind with lashing rain. 12pm – 3pm is happy hour.
It’s not just busyness though. Social anxiety is broader than just numbers. It’s the fear of seeing someone you know and having to speak to them. It’s a life of avoiding these kinds of interactions that are all too often imposed upon us.
So, how do we navigate this and find space for ourselves?
Space to think
1. ‘It’s only a few days’
Ok, so before the solutions, firstly let’s put this one to bed. Sure, Twixmas is a few days but for so many of us, our routines and lives have already been turned upside down. We’ve seen weeks of bright lights and intensive social activities, we’re tired now and just want to find some peace and quiet.
Not everyone has a big garden or a private field they can enjoy without observance from others. If only huh?
The difference for those of us with social anxiety is that this isn’t about frustration or inconvenience. When you live with this type of anxiety it can literally stop you from being able to do things that others can, leaving you housebound.
A few days for those of us with social anxiety can feel like a lifetime.
2. Time of day
This is a big one and perhaps obvious so apologies in advance.
Most people want to live a relaxed routine right now, but there will be variances of early birds and night owls. The vast majority of people however seem to be out and about during the light hours – particularly during the middle of the day.
The media play a big role in prescribing what people should be doing and when (as above). Of course, no one wants to feel as though they are a sheep but society has its norms and we are all a part of that. How many of us feel we should get out for a walk on Boxing Day?
There’s no actual logical reason why we should get out for a walk on Boxing Day but we’re all a bit ‘let’s get out for a walk’ when Boxing Day arrives. Media discourse is powerful stuff.
So, watching the mainstream media and choosing an unpopular time (even after dark if safe to do so), might help you find some peace.
3. Place and activity
We all know that going for a hill walk is going to be a completely different experience from going to the shops. But social interactions can happen anywhere and everywhere. I was once down an isolated country lane helping my brother after a car crash when a man appeared and literally asked me whether I ‘come here often?’. I kid you not.
It’s worth thinking about what kind of activities and social interactions you can handle (if any). Sometimes, busy places are actually easier to navigate as more people present less scope for chat. But then you have the noise and additional sensory stimuli in these spaces.
If you decide to go for a more rural/outdoor activity, it might be helpful to plan what time you go. People love to chat in these locations – there are only so many ‘Oh it’s lovely here’ responses we can muster.
A key tip here is that the early morning dog walkers tend to be much less social than those out later in the day. You’ll likely just get a curt ‘alright’ if anything because they tend to be like us and just want to have their morning walk in peace.
4. Embrace winter
Ok, so one reason why I love winter is that it allows for extra garments to be worn, aka avoidance props.
I pretty much live in a beanie for as long as I can get away with throughout the year. You can simply pretend you haven’t heard someone speak to you and we perhaps don’t look quite as approachable.
Scarfs are also great – especially when combined with the beanie. You might feel a bit like an Egyptian mummy but it’s the one time of year when it’s not going to gain you glares and stares to do this.
Add a big winter coat and you’re away.
5. It’s ok to go home
We’ve all been there. Me and J drove four hours in the summer and turned straight back because it was a complete people overload. Our take-home from that day was a fine for driving into a bus lane (both of us overwhelmed), and a cake in a quiet Morrisons cafe.
It’s disappointing, frustrating and not an ideal situation but sometimes it works out. The place you chose to visit might be out of bounds but you might find somewhere better on the way home.
The main thing is to not internalise ‘going home’ as a failing. There’s no shame in changing plans or diverting to something else if it’s going to be more accessible and enjoyable.
6. It’s ok to stay home
If going out during a busy period feels too overwhelming then it is ok to stay home. There’s way too much emphasis placed on ‘battling through’ and championing being outside of our comfort zones when actually it’s a marker of self-awareness for staying within them.
I think that we should be credited for that. Avoiding a panic attack or a stressful situation isn’t a weakness, it’s a huge indicator of self-awareness.
And going back to the first point, that Twixmas is just a few days. So it won’t be too long until normal life resumes. I find my emotions and sensory tolerance can vary from day to day, so it might be that you don’t feel able to do that thing today but perhaps tomorrow could work.
It’s ok to stay home if that’s what is needed today.
Whatever your plans are for the next few days, I hope that you find some quiet spaces, places and activities that allow you to breathe a little.
These are just my own strategies, so feel free to add anything I might have missed through the comments below or come and chat with us on Twitter.
p.s - Here's our first episode of Social Anxiety Chat.
A new podcast that looks at what social anxiety really is. It won't tell you how to 'overcome your fears' (as many others do) but what it will provide is a critical lens on society and how we navigate this unforgiving world.