Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Do the Holidays Make You Nervous?

How to reduce social anxiety in teens and young adults with ADHD.

Source: Micheal Burrell/iStock photo
Source: Micheal Burrell/iStock photo

Once again, the holiday season has arrived.

If you or someone you love struggles with ADHD and social anxiety, the holidays can be more stressful than enjoyable. Family gatherings, reunions or parties with friends, shopping excursions amidst crowds of people—these activities require a wide range of social interactions that put extra pressure on the developing executive functioning skills that come with having ADHD. It's easy for teens and emerging adults to feel overwhelmed and, if you add social anxiety into the mix, irritated and uncomfortable too.

Social anxiety is a commonly misunderstood condition. Often, people seem quiet or shy, avoid going out in social situations, follow along with the group and don't draw attention to themselves. Some teens have told me that no one suspects their nervousness because they drink alcohol or smoke marijuana before going out. Once you feel relaxed, you’re able to talk and joke with people and no one knows how anxious you really are. But, underneath it all, kids actually feel ashamed that they can’t ‘be like everyone else’ and engage with other people more naturally. They tend to hide what's really going on inside and lack language to discuss it. Having ADHD, with its typical challenges of missing social cues, impulsively saying the wrong thing or having big emotional reactions, intensifies social anxiety.

Victor Koldunov, Adobe Stock 144688741
Source: Victor Koldunov, Adobe Stock 144688741

Social media seems increase this type of anxiety among teens and college-age adults. Negative comments, teasing, and bullying happen online almost instantaneously. With 24/7 access, there’s no escape. If you misspeak or do something foolish, everybody will know about within 5 seconds. Worried about what others think or post about them, young people with ADHD who are already tentative about social interactions become more afraid of putting themselves in novel situations and reaching out to make friends. Viewing posts of other folks whose lives look so wonderful intimidates them even more. How could you ever measure up? It’s a self-defeating, frightening cycle.

Social anxiety, like ADHD, is best treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy in conjunction with insight-oriented therapy and perhaps medication. Building and practicing social skills is critical for developing self-confidence and increased comfort with social interactions. Group therapy can be especially helpful because people have to address their anxiety in the group context. Of course, reducing social medial comparisons and creating opportunities for hanging out in-person with folks also strengthens the capacity for comfortable connections with others.

So, how can you make it through this holiday season with more ease and less anxiety?

Source: Santypan/iStock photo
Source: Santypan/iStock photo

1. Set smaller social goals: Instead of pressuring yourself to hang out with a group of people on multiple occasions, set up some one-to-one get-togethers with friends or family.

When there is a bigger group activity that you have to attend, make sure you also plan for some of these smaller, quieter times to hang out. These will help you practice your social skills in less overwhelming situations where you can talk and listen without the distractions of having a lot of people around. If you are worried about having nothing to say or do, mix some hanging out at home with going out for a slice of pizza or a movie.

Source: Deagreez/iStock
Source: Deagreez/iStock

2. Create a strategy for larger gatherings: Before you go to the big family Chanukah party or Christmas Eve dinner at grandma’s, talk through a coping strategy with a parent, sibling, counselor or coach. Think about who feels safe to talk to, who understands that you struggle with social anxiety and who you want to avoid and what to say to them. A one-line, “Nice to see you, school or work is going fine, how are you” is enough to say to someone who makes you uncomfortable. If you are feeling overloaded, slip away into another room for a few minutes to regroup.

3. Plan for recovery time: Most people with social anxiety need time to recover from the output of energy, thought and emotion that interactions demand of them. Make a list of things you like to do that will help you chill out and nurture yourself, post it in your room and use it!

Source: Paffy69/iStock
Source: Paffy69/iStock

Remember to give yourself credit when you overcome your anxiety and reach beyond your comfort zone to interact with people. (If you're a parent, give specific positive feedback about what your son or daughter did well.) Noticing the positive helps to counteract negative internal messages and builds confidence. Don't expect perfection. You are practicing and learning as you go!

More from Sharon Saline Psy.D.
More from Psychology Today