Virtual gatherings and small, outdoor get-togethers have been the holiday celebration norms this year. With vaccinations more widely available and pandemic fatigue setting in, many people are considering returning to their pre-COVID-19 traditions.
If you're not ready to party like it’s 2019, that’s OK. We’re still facing a pandemic and many people have anxious feelings about returning to in-person events.
George Royal, PhD, a psychologist with Baptist Behavioral Health and chief of psychology at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center, gave advice for getting back to celebrating in a way that is safe and comfortable for you.
“Some nervousness about returning to in-person events is completely normal,” said Dr. Royal. “If you have feelings of panic or worry about being judged, embarrassing yourself or interacting with strangers, you may have social anxiety. Talking to a professional can help you change negative thoughts and build confidence.”
If you're feeling a little nervous but ready to take small, safe steps toward normalcy around the holidays, Dr. Royal offered seven helpful tips:
- Make a list and check it twice. “Write down things that make you most nervous about returning to gatherings, and then jot down things that make you least nervous,” said Dr. Royal. “If you are invited to an event with more pros than cons, go for it.”
- Stay small. “Small gatherings with a few people are a lot less stressful than a large gathering,” said Dr. Royal. “If you’re feeling nervous, keep the numbers low. Plus, avoiding large gatherings is a recommendation for COVID-19 safety from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”
- Host at your home. “Practice getting back together with people in the environment that feels safest to you, your home,” said Dr. Royal. If you can’t host but you do go to an event, Dr. Royal recommended finding a place you are comfortable, like sitting at a table or on a sofa.
- Find a friendly face. Dr. Royal recommended going to parties where you know most people who will attend. It’s always easier to talk to people you’ve already met.
- Practice relaxation. If more intense feelings of anxiety start to creep in, belly breathing is a basic exercise you can do almost anywhere. Put one hand on your stomach, take a deep breath in through your nose and then breathe out through pursed lips. Use your hand to help guide the air in and out. “Doing this exercise three to ten times can make a big difference in how relaxed you feel,” said Dr. Royal.
- Think positive. “Come up with reasons you do want to go to a party or gathering,” said Dr. Royal. “Tell yourself these things instead of thinking of the negative.” Will the music be good? Will the food be delicious? You’ve got this!
- Know before you go. Finding out more about the event before you go can help reduce nerves and unknowns. Will people be wearing masks? Are most people vaccinated?
Though the fear of missing out, also known as “FOMO,” is not festive or fun, it’s OK to say no. “The pandemic is still here and the risk is still out there,” said Dr. Royal. “Get vaccinated or get your booster, wear your mask, avoid big groups and wash your hands.”
Also, if you are ready to jingle and mingle, spread holiday cheer by introducing yourself to someone who looks a little nervous to be at the party. We’re all in this together.
Facing the holidays during a pandemic is undoubtedly difficult, especially if you may have social anxiety. Talking to an expert can help. Visit Baptist Behavioral Health for more information or call 904.376.3800 to schedule an appointment.