Tips for Managing Thanksgiving Dinner When You Have Social Anxiety

Health Writer

Thanksgiving is about family and friends. It is about family gatherings and social interactions. For many people, this is the highlight of the holiday season that begins with Thanksgiving dinner. But for those with social anxiety disorder, social functions bring a sense of dread, stress, anxiety, and panic.

People with social anxiety disorder have an extreme fear of being judged by other people in social situations. They often know this fear is unreasonable but feel powerless to stop it. They are terrified that they will say or do something that is embarrassing or humiliating. For some, their symptoms are so severe that they avoid social gatherings altogether.

Here are 10 tips to get you through Thanksgiving dinner with your family when you have social anxiety:** Arrive early.** This might sound like an awful plan, because it means you are spending more time at the gathering. But one difficult part of going to social gatherings is walking into a room full of people. Contact your hosts and let them know you would like to arrive early and help with dinner. Busy yourself with tasks, such as cutting vegetables or setting the table. It is easier to be in a room when others arrive than to walk in when the room is full of people.

Know how long you're going to stay. It is easier to navigate social interactions when you know there is an end in sight. Decide beforehand how long you intend to stay. You might feel comfortable staying for two hours or four hours. It is up to you.

Find a quiet getaway. Talk to your host about having a quiet place where you can spend some time when you are feeling overwhelmed. It might help to download a short meditation on your phone. You can sit quietly, take deep breaths, and recharge.

Remember that thoughts aren’t facts. When you have an anxiety disorder, you might find yourself believing that, for example, everyone is looking at you — even though it isn’t true. Challenge your thoughts and remind yourself that thinking something doesn’t make it a fact.

Keep in mind, you are with people who chose to spend their day with you. Thanksgiving dinners are usually filled with family and friends, people who love you. Keep in mind that you are accepted and loved.

Seek out someone who makes you feel comfortable. Look for your favorite cousin, a trusted sibling, or a much-loved aunt. If needed, let this person know you feel anxious and ask for their help and support.

Make a goal. Your goal might be to simply attend the dinner, stay for two hours, or talk to two people. It doesn’t matter what the goal is; decide beforehand what would make this a successful event for you. Make sure your goal is small and measurable, meaning you will know exactly when you reach it.

Support other people. You might know in advance through the family grapevine whether certain family members are going through a difficult time: maybe your cousin recently lost a job, your uncle is experiencing health problems, or your sister is feeling overwhelmed with a new baby. Focus on offering them encouraging words. Redirecting your focus can help lessen your own anxiety.

Allow yourself to be nervous. Anxiety can increase when you fight your feelings, believing that being anxious somehow diminishes you. Instead, give yourself permission to be nervous, accept you will be uncomfortable, and try to work through those feelings.

_Focus on one-on-one conversation_s. Joining in a group can be daunting. Instead, look for someone with whom you can talk privately. Pull your cousin aside with, “Tell me about your new job,” or ask your grandmother about Thanksgiving holidays when she was a child.

See More Helpful Articles:

Anxiety and Thanksgiving

Help for the Thanksgiving Holiday

Managing Holiday Anxiety


Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.