Social Anxiety“A big dollop, I think at this time of year, a big dollop of self-compassion, a big dollop of generosity for oneself.”

As heard on Drivetime

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With a bit of preparation, anxiety can be made to melt into the background at Christmas time, making way for some welcome joy in the depths of winter. That’s according to clinical psychologist Dr Paul D’Alton. He spoke to Mary Wilson on Drivetime in the first of three chats on managing social anxiety and finding a way to survive work parties and family occasions over the Christmas period.

Dr D’Alton’s tips for being kind to your future self over the holiday season can be summed up as follows: Be clear about your “why”, do your imperfect best and find a wing-person to plan your coping strategy with and that should set you up to knock a bit of craic out of Christmas. The fun times will flow more easily and feel a lot safer with a bit of forward planning, says Dr D’Alton:

“We come together, we sit around a table, we eat, we bring lights indoors. So there’s so much there that can nurture us as human beings, that nurture that deep need in our DNA for belonging. But without planning around that, it can be a time of torture.”

Dr D’Alton has three tips for “emotional housework” when it comes to social anxiety. He rolls the first two into one easy-to-remember slogan:

“Knowing your why and then doing your imperfect best.”

The idea is to ask yourself why you are going to a particular event or gathering, to be clear about your “why”. Once you can hold on to why you are there, Dr D’Alton says we shouldn’t be aiming for total perfection in our interactions with other people, or be too harsh on ourselves when we fall short of that:

“A big dollop, I think at this time of year, a big dollop of self-compassion, a big dollop of generosity for oneself.”

The snowman on top of the cake then, is your ally. Once you’ve worked out some clarity of purpose and doled out some self-compassion,  you need to find someone you trust to be there for you in tricky social situations. Dr D’Alton says this needs to be done in advance:

“Know your ally. Know who’s on your team. […] Have the conversation with someone that you can trust and work out a plan. That plan might be about where that person sits at the dining room table. That plan might be about getting out for a walk at three o’clock in the afternoon.  It’s almost like you work out a kind of psychological first aid for yourself.”

If you want to hear Dr D’Alton fully flesh out his tips for minimising social anxiety at Christmas, have a listen to the full interview with Mary Wilson here.

Ruth Kennedy

© The Listener 2019

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