A Social Anxiety Advent Calendar

helping photo

Advent calendars run the gamut from ornate wooden houses with doors that open to reveal small vignettes to inexpensive mass-produced dollar store chocolate in cardboard boxes. Whatever the package, children tend to enjoy them, but as adults we often lose this tradition.

The “Make Today Happy” blog offered a twist on the advent calendar to encourage children and adults alike to make the 25 days of Christmas more about giving than receiving.

In their “Kindness Advent Calendar,” each day you are instructed to complete a task that spreads a little bit of kindness out into the world.

Imagine if you could take that premise—an advent calendar about kindness—and convert it into something that would help others but at the same time help you to work on overcoming social anxiety?

Below you will find instructions on what to do each day for 25 days both to challenge your social anxiety and to spread some kindness into the world.

Dec 1:

If you are on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, share this article with your friends and let them know what you are up to this month. You might be surprised how much support you receive—and it’s an easy way to share a bit about yourself and the fact you may be coping with anxiety.

Dec 2:

Bring a special homemade treat to a friend, neighbor, family member, or colleague. Say something like “I am practicing kindness for 25 days, and I thought you might enjoy this batch of cookies.”

If you struggle in the kitchen, consider picking up something from your local bakery. This gives you two opportunities to practice social interaction, and also supports a local business.

Dec 3:

Help those less privileged than yourself by donating unwanted winter coats, hats, or mitts to a local shelter or the Salvation Army. You might even find a way to turn this into a chance to make new friends.

In my hometown of London, Ontario, Canada the group “Just a Bunch of Friends” travels the streets of the city once a month to hand out food, drinks, clothing, etc. to the homeless. Find a similar group in your area and ask if you can participate—or at least pass on items to be given away. You’ll be practicing many skills such as using the telephone and meeting new people.

Dec 4:

Some days are for reflection and rejuvenation in this advent calendar. Listen to your favorite upbeat song either on a pair of headphones or blasting through your living room and dance.

This is good practice for when people actually are watching, though for now this is just for you. (If you really enjoy dancing and have a game console, you could even consider investing in the Just Dance series to step up your moves)

Dec 5:

Be friendly with people that you meet. While your natural tendency is probably to used closed body language—head down, arms folded in front of you, turned away, standing at a distance—try doing the opposite today.

Stand straight, keep your head level and eyes straight ahead, relax your arms at your sides, turn toward people, stand close, and most importantly, smile.

Dec 6:

Talk to someone about their problems. Do you know someone who has been struggling with something recently? Perhaps you’ve noticed a friend or relative posting about an issue on social media or talking with someone else about a problem they need solved.

Offer a listening ear to that person and expect nothing in return. This will give you a chance to practice your active listening skills, and may even help the other person decide on a course of action.

Dec 7:

Give blood. Donating blood is a simple charitable act that most people can do. In the United States you can do this through the Red Cross Blood Bank.

There are certain eligibility requirements, so it’s probably best to call ahead and ask if you meet the criteria. Or, you can visit the website and read up on the process. Either way you’ll be working on your social anxiety in three ways:

1) Helping others has been shown to be related to lower social anxiety;

2) Using the phone is good practice if you’ve got phone phobia; and

3) Talking to  health personnel is a good chance to expose yourself to a new situation.

Dec 8:

Compliment someone indirectly. An indirect compliment can have just as much of a positive impact as a direct one. Choose between in-person, telephone, or electronic delivery, and then praise someone you know—without contacting them directly.

For example, you might tell a friend about how your sister has great style, email your mother about how your father’s help around the house has been a blessing, or post on Facebook about the delicious desserts a coworker brought in to work.

Word will eventually get around, and an indirect compliment can sometimes carry more weight. In the meantime, you’ve also practiced an important social skill.

Dec 9:

Leave something inspirational in public for others to find. Examples might include an envelope with a $5 bill and the note “Hope this makes your day a little brighter!” or a book (something along the lines of “The Secret”) with a note that whoever finds this book is about to be put on a path to success. Write a positive message on a rock and leave it somewhere to be found.

Here you challenge your social anxiety by getting out in public and risking possible embarrassment if someone wonders what you are doing. It’s okay to feel anxious while you do this—just keep going.

Dec 10:

Dedicate a half hour out of your day to mindfulness of your surroundings. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of the Christmas season. Perhaps you’ve rushed through a shopping mall or kept your head down as you go about your day, not paying attention to those around you. Be on the lookout for those struggling. Perhaps you can do something as simple as hold a door for a new mom. Bonus points for practicing mindfulness (which helps to conquer social anxiety) and helping others.

Dec 11:

Be kind to yourself and take the time to move your body today. Exercise is known to help improve mood and it’s likely to also help your social anxiety. Yoga, running, and a group exercise class are good options to challenge your anxiety while also getting oxygen pumping to your brain.

Dec 12:

Today, practice patience. This could mean patience with yourself, patience with others, patience with the world—all of which are going to help put your problems with social anxiety in perspective. Perhaps you’ve been impatient with finding work, making friends, or waiting on the world to change (as John Mayer says). Change takes time and that’s okay.

Dec 13:

Anonymously send a postcard of positivity. The website “Postcards for Positivity” allows you to register your name to be on a list of people who wish to receive an anonymous postcard with a positive message.

Add your name to the list, and you could soon find an inspirational greeting in your mailbox. Or, ask them to give you the name and address of someone from the list, and you can send your own greeting of positivity.

Dec 14:

Find a long-lost relative. Sign up for a program like Ancestry DNA or 23 and Me and discover your heritage. These programs also allow you to connect with far-flung relatives—people that you would otherwise never have the chance to meet. Challenge your social anxiety by actually reaching out to someone and learning what you share in common.

Dec 15:

Offer an item you no longer need for free on Kijiji or Craigslist. Conquer your social anxiety through challenges like emailing potential recipients, taking phone calls and meeting in person. Just remember to stay safe and meet in a public setting. This can be especially great to do with kids toys right before the holiday season!

Dec 16:

Write a letter of appreciation to groups that are helping the community or the environment, such as the “Just a Bunch of Friends” collective mentioned earlier. Your positive words may inspire them to continue doing good, and the act of reaching out will increase your confidence in giving compliments.

Dec 17:

Ask how a person is doing. This seems quite simple on the surface, but how often have you taken the time to ask this question and actually listen for the answer? Match it with direct eye contact and a genuine smile, and you’ve practiced open body language and active listening all in one shot.

Dec 18:

Buy yourself flowers.

Or chocolate.

Or a new tie.

Or a favorite magazine.

Choose a small indulgence you might not normally allow yourself, and realize that you deserve to feel good and rewarded once in a while. Consider this your reward for all the hard work you have been doing this month.

Dec 19:

Go to a tourist location and offer to take photos with other people’s cameras. What! I can’t do that, you think. That’s exactly the point! You can do it, if it weren’t for your social anxiety holding you back.

Wouldn’t you at least like to try. If you happen to live close to a natural wonder of the world (such as Niagara Falls) go hang out for an hour and see who you can help. Otherwise, keep this one tucked away in your mind for when the opportunity presents itself.

Okay—we are in the home stretch now, so we’re going to keep the last 6 days short and sweet.

Dec 20:

Drop off a toy, game, or magazines to a hospital waiting room.

Dec 21:

Drop off a grocery store gift card to a homeless shelter.

Dec 22:

Take teddy bears to the Children’s Aid Society.

Dec 23:

Tape change to a payphone with a note gifting it to the next person who needs it.

Dec 24:

Give a lottery ticket to a stranger.

Dec 25:

Call a relative who may be alone just to say hi.