By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Holiday time means party time for many, but for people who struggle with social anxiety, festive get-togethers can be very difficult.

Social anxiety disorder affects more than 15 million adults in the U.S. Onset is most common during early adolescence.

And this time of year, for them, is anything but festive.

Dreading holiday invitations, for people with social anxiety, all the festive get-togethers this time of year can be more stressful and upsetting than fun-filled.

Experts say it helps to keep events in perspective.

“If you think about them as, ‘I have to go, it’s critically important and I have to perform and people have to like me,’ it puts so much pressure on, it just makes the anxiety worse,” said Joseph Rock of the Cleveland Clinic.

Doctors say people with social anxiety overestimate their likelihood of being rejected and frequently fear they’ll act in a way that will be embarrassing and humiliating.

It’s unclear what causes it, but there’s some evidence that people with a family history may be at higher risk.

Other studies say the disorder may be triggered by overactivity in part of the brain that regulates the fear response.

Doctors say, just because you have social anxiety, doesn’t mean you should exclude yourself from being a part of social events. The key is learning to manage your anxiety, not mastering or completely avoiding it.

“If you can take somebody with you, who is sort of a support person; someone who understands your issues, someone who’s sympathetic, someone who will be there with you. It’s easier than when you walk in to a place alone, walking in with somebody,” Rock said.

Relaxation techniques, even deep breathing, can help overcome social anxiety.

People are usually diagnosed with social anxiety if symptoms last for six months or more, but one study found that 36 percent of people with the disorder live with it for 10 years before seeking professional help.

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