Counselling in Chichester &
West Sussex

Social Anxiety Disorder – And Those Christmas Parties

For many people this time of year can be great fun. Celebrations, parties, lots of drink and food together with an expectation of time away from work to be spent with friends and family.  What could be better?

Yet for others these same social events can bring on feelings of absolute dread and evoke concerns around what is often abbreviated to SAD.  Those initials usually refer to seasonal affected disorder. This condition is recognised as that all pervading malaise which comes into play when darkness descends early in the late afternoon and the long winter nights seem endless.

For some people however the term SAD refers to another much dreaded phenomenon which is prevalent at this time of year.  This directly relates to that endless round of social events which abound in late December. It is triggered by the invitation to attend this function, that party or just the casual ‘pop in for a drink’. It is characterised by a sense of dread and foreboding at the prospect of having to socialise.

The SAD initials in this case stand for Social Anxiety Disorder. It is a condition that is hidden, which often evokes shame and guilt from the sufferers and blights what is otherwise a happy festive occasion. As with many emotional challenges the response from others who have no understanding of the condition can be at best unsympathetic and at worst accusatory.  Even from those close to you, comments can seem critical and uncaring.

The condition is misunderstood by friends – ‘you are just being rude and unsociable’. The condition is misrepresented by a partner – ‘so you just can’t be bothered to spend time with my family’.  And the severity of the condition can be underplayed by colleagues – ‘so what if it is difficult, we all have to do things we do not want to do’.

These comments and more are likely to come from those who will have a very different approach to attending social gatherings.  As with so many emotional challenges there can be a reluctance to recognise that there is a real issue to be dealt with. Even if the condition is acknowledged there can then be uncertainty about what to do to alleviate the condition.

There is one obvious strategy to adopt and that is to retreat back into a place of isolation and shun contact beyond that immediate circle where there is a feeling of security.  The challenge with this approach comes from the side effects which may result.  Apart from having to deal with irritated partners and puzzled family members there can be feelings of loneliness and separation.  There is also the challenge of having to deal with feelings of inadequacy and guilt even if those feelings are unfounded.

So what are the alternatives?  Therapists should always be careful of being didactic, of knowing what is best for the client and setting out to provide guidance and support which tumbles over into giving outright direction.  Individuals are most successful in changing thoughts and actions when the decision to act comes from within and not as an instruction from others.

Nevertheless there are some approaches which may be helpful.  Talking openly about the condition and bringing light to bear on something that is hidden may bring about an understanding that one is not alone. There may be comfort to be drawn from realising that many others share this discomfort.  Friends and family may be more sympathetic than one expects.

Another option is to seek support from a therapist.  Different approaches within counselling may help in different ways. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) may provide immediate relief with the introduction of some techniques and strategies to help deal with the immediate concern.  CBT may not however always provide a lasting long term solution. For example the CBT approach does not encourage a deep understanding as to ‘why am I having to suffer with this’.

Psychodynamic counselling work over a longer period of time can help to develop that deeper understanding as to ‘why’ and that clarity may in turn help to diffuse the fear. Other approaches such as existential counselling may assist the individual to work through immediate choices and to take conscious control of those immediate decisions which need to be made whether for tomorrow, next week or for that New Year gathering.

With all the different counselling approaches there can also be the very real benefit that can come from just talking out loud to an empathetic listener about something that has caused so much internal anguish and yet has been kept hidden for so long.

So when the invitation does arrive whether to an informal drinks party in Chichester, a formal event  in London or just a drinks evening at a pub somewhere in West Sussex and the immediate reaction is ‘oh  no – please not’  just allow that reaction to occur without inward recrimination. Take a deep breath, think about the importance of the event together with the people involved and then decide on a next step.

Some counselling in Chichester if undertaken now may not resolve the New Year invite issue but it will help that socialising in Chichester in the future.  Appropriate therapy undertaken in West Sussex early in the New Year may allow for future attendance at social events in West Sussex in the spring.

That other SAD I referred to at the start of this note the Seasonal Affective Disorder usually fades as the days lengthen in the spring. Unfortunately this alternative SAD, Social Anxiety Disorder can persist throughout the year and be a continual blight on our social life unless we decide to take action.

The reality is that SAD does not have to cast that long shadow over your life.  It is a condition that can be eased but that requires action on your part. And the decision on when to take that action is one for you to decide when the time is right.  But I wonder if that time may be now?