Candid and charismatic, author, vlogger, and all about empowerment, Grace Victory shares her experience and insight each month

That time of year is almost here – delicious mince pies, sparkly dresses, and Terry’s Chocolate Oranges. The time of too much prosecco, Mariah Carey on repeat, and social anxiety. Yup, I said it: social anxiety. The dreaded: ‘I have to leave my house and talk to people.’ The sweaty palms, days of worry, and last-minute cancellations of plans because everything feels a bit too much.

I’ve been there (we’ve probably all been there) and it’s horrible. It can often feel that with every breath you take, the anxiety monster is going to consume you, spit you back out, and leave you in a tearful mess on the floor. Fight or flight mode is activated, and you’re about to either lose your shit and scream, or fly out the door – with a high possibility of falling over and flashing your knickers.

Social anxiety is hard at the best of times. Whether your anxiety comes from unprocessed trauma or introvertedness, the physical and emotional toll can be completely taxing.

Grace Victory smiling with arms raised

Photography | Paul Buller

Back in 2012 and 2013, when I first started going to PR events and social gatherings for work purposes, I would succumb to worry. The journey into central London would be Googled 30 times so I was 100% sure I knew where I was going, and yet I still had an overwhelming fear that I would get lost, my phone would die, and I would end up in a gutter somewhere.

I’d panic most about what to wear and who would be there. There was practically nobody else within the YouTube scene who was plus-size back then, and I’d be lying if I said flying the flag for fatness was easy. It wasn’t, and at times it’s still not easy now. I’d be in a room full of thin, glamorous bloggers and I felt like the odd one out.

During those years, I desperately wanted to fit in because I was so hyper-aware of all the things that made me different. I would ask for a list of other people attending just so I could see if I’d know anyone, and then I would spend hours trying to put together an outfit – one that was appropriate for the event, to travel in, and to also feel comfortable and stylish in.

Attending these events alone was also not possible – even with the list of attendees. It just wasn’t even an option. If I couldn’t find anyone to go with, then I wasn’t going. Walking into a room full of people I didn’t know or feel comfortable around was something I absolutely dreaded, so before any event I made sure I had a plus one. Having someone close by made the anxiety more manageable.

Looking back, I think my event anxiety stemmed from low self-esteem, and not knowing how to protect and preserve my energy. I’m an introvert, which means I struggle with small talk and socialising because it depletes my energy, and can make me feel drained. I didn’t know how to recharge and put boundaries in place so that I felt safe and secure. Social anxiety, for me, was all about a fear of being seen, being judged, and being laughed at – which is funny because these are all topics I am speaking about in therapy at the moment.

As we approach the festive season, social anxiety can be heightened for those who already suffer with it, or it can be new and confusing feelings for those who haven’t really experienced anxiety before. Social engagements seem to happen every week, alcohol is nearly always involved, and you may have to attend events with people that you don’t particularly like or know.

I think my event anxiety stemmed from low self-esteem, and not knowing how to protect my energy

Towards the end of the year is also the time you may be around family more, and for some people this can be a real trigger due to childhood trauma. It can often feel like you’re forcing happiness and socialising, when all you want to do is hide under the covers with a box of Maltesers, while watching The Grinch.

I am an absolute advocate for having boundaries in place, and only doing things that you really want to do. But unfortunately, that advice isn’t always feasible. We can’t always get out of festivities, so here is a little list of things you can do to help you during this time – and remember, you aren’t alone in feeling anxious. This too shall pass. Love Grace x

Grace's top tips:

1. Have an escape plan. Know where the back door is, the toilets, a quiet room. If you feel uncomfortable or as if you can’t breathe, remove yourself from the situation. You can excuse yourself to go to the loo, or say you need some fresh air.

2. Keep your routine. There is nothing worse than having a mental health down day (or week/month) on top of your usual routine going out the window. With all the events towards the end of the year, you might find you’re not eating enough veggies, not having enough sleep, and not finding enough time for you. Try to keep parts of your life ‘normal’ so you remain with some of your familiarity and routine.

3. Organise a support group. This can be as simple as a WhatsApp group chat with a few of your mates; a place where you can all hold space for each other during this difficult period.

Come back next month for more from Grace!