“I struggle with small talk. I feel that people are judging me for not speaking, and when I do, it’s like they’re judging me based on what I had just said. I wish I didn’t have to go for the family reunions, but I’m obligated to.” – Tapestry reader.
Festive occasions can be fun, but they are also unforgiving and unbelievably stressful, especially for individuals who suffer from social anxiety and depression.
With the Lunar New Year looming (in two days’ time to be exact!), if you’re anything like me, you might have that sense of inexplicable dread which no amount of pineapple tart, bak kwa and tin-foiled chocolate goodies can fully suppress.
Besides the spring cleaning and frantic running of errands, the festive season often coincides with another season – the one where everyone catches the cold/flu. Being ill depletes your body of its ability to cope as well it usually does during other parts of the year.
There is also the added stress of having to interact with people you only meet once a year, let alone know. It’s practically being trapped in a room full of strangers.
Having effective coping strategies can help cut through the anxiety associated with these obligatory events. Even if that means going against all instincts of wanting to hole up in your room and never coming out.
- Identify the stressors
Ask yourself, what exactly do you dread at such gatherings? Is it being asked the awkward questions or answering them that puts you in a spot? Is it a relative you dread meeting because he/she has a scathing, critical personality? Do family gatherings trigger bad memories such as an unhappy childhood or a sad incident? Is it the fear of losing control over a conversation or situation?
- Buffer yourself emotionally
As I’ve learnt during my days of therapy, it is important to create an emotional buffer for yourself to “neutralise” the impact of stressful interactions. Do something nice for yourself. Grab a drink or snack (is that the real reason why they’re there in the first place??) Or have a quiet walk in the neighbourhood. In fact, do happy stuff before and after the potentially stressful situation.
- Arrive early
This allows you to ease into the environment without feeling overwhelmed by new people streaming into the room. It also allows a sense control over whom you feel safe to approach for conversation.
- Equip yourself with information
Avoid awkward conversations by switching to topics you’re familiar with, jokes you’ve heard, or even current affairs. It also helps to “do your homework” by finding out more about the other person’s interest prior to meeting. Bernardo Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University calls this “social reconnaissance”.
- Pre-empt the questions
And have an answer in mind. Like it or not, it is typical of relatives to probe into the personal. This includes your spending choices, salary and work progression, eating habits, recent weight gain or loss, choice of hairstyle and procreation plans.
- Prep your attitude
There’s one in every family. The one who constantly puts you down, or the one who gossips to others about your successes and/or failings. Know that other people’s comments/actions are a reflection of themselves and not of you. Simply exit the conversation by either walking away or switching topics. Perhaps it might just be that they lack the social skills to create conversation without sounding antagonistic. Either way, you have a choice over your actions.
- Reframe your mindset
It is natural to feel powerless in a situation that seems forced upon you. But you can still take charge by setting yourself a goal or two this Lunar New Year, such as getting to genuinely know perhaps a cousin, this year. By building relationships instead of avoiding them, you might just find a good friend who is family, which will make the next family gathering more bearable.
It’s one thing to experience anxiety during holiday seasons, it’s another to experience it all year round. If you find that your anxiety is spiralling out of control and is impairing your daily functioning, why not consider seeking help as a New Year’s resolution? After all, the year is still new!
Thoughts and questions? Write us at thetapestryproject.sg (at) gmail (dot) com
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