Raise your hands if you have social anxiety when you’re about to head to a social event!!! (Ugh!)
Does it go a little something like this?…
You’ve been invited to some sort of social event (or you’re required to show up for “mandatory fun” at your work’s company Christmas Party or some potluck your manager decided to throw) and your immediate thought is, “Ugh, I don’t wanna go.” The main reason is likely due to the known fact that you have moderate to severe social anxiety.
Oh goodie. Here come all the scarries of “mingling” and “small talk” and “very, very crowded rooms” and “am I over/under dressed” and wondering what people will think of you and every move you make.
I’ll just be honest, coping with social anxiety can be difficult. I mean, it’s not like you’re going to just wake up one day and be like, “WHOOHOO! Let’s do this!” and practically stumble over yourself as you RUN out the door because you’re just that excited to make it to that social event.
We’ll leave those fun feelings to the Extroverts of the world. Love ya, Extroverts! What would we do without you!
Today, I’ve invited Anna from the hilarious blog The Anna Files, to bring some of her humor our way and talk with us about how to cope with social anxiety as you plan for a social event.
Thanks for joining us Anna!
Hello! I am Anna McCluskey, and I am pleased as a pig in a punchbowl (that’s a thing, right?) to be guest blogging here at Silver Jasmine!
I am here to talk about coping with social anxiety. Specifically, I’m going to share how I plan for a social event without freaking out and spending the whole evening hiding under a table (preferably with a cat or two and a purloined tray of drinks and hors doeuvres . . . actually, this sounds awesome, and I’m starting to re-think my whole strategy, and aim for this under-the-table scenario instead).
But, alas! Sometimes we just have to be grown-ups and grown-ups are supposed to be able to handle parties and networking and all kinds of terrible, terrifying things like that.
So, how do you, a real, live grown-up, cope with social anxiety, and mingle and smile and make small talk, when inside you’re screaming and trying not to throw up all over your co-worker or your mother-in-law or the random person your friend wants to set you up with?
3 Ways To Cope With Social Anxiety
My own social anxiety has affected my life in many detrimental ways, and so I have developed three basic strategies:
1. Go in Costume
I am 95% serious about this, and have done it on multiple occasions, even for parties that weren’t supposed to be costume parties – nay, especially for parties that aren’t supposed to be costume parties!
Obviously, there are situations in which it isn’t appropriate (professional gatherings, funerals, weddings, etc), but if you think you can get away with a disguise, I highly recommend it, even if it’s just wearing a silly hat. The benefits of this are two-fold.
Firstly, it’s really hard to feel tense when you’re wearing a silly hat or a beautiful mask or fairy wings or a full-on giraffe costume.
I am automatically more relaxed when I’m wearing a costume. In fact, when I was in college, I used to dress up like a fairy at least once a semester, and go to class in my wings, pointy ears and gossamer dress, my face dusted with purple shimmer. And that was always the best day – I felt like I was spreading joy throughout campus, while staving off my own mental breakdown!
But even more important than helping you to relax, wearing a costume will ensure that only the awesome people will talk to you at the party.
The vast majority of the people there will be sort of freaked out by you, and they’ll be all,
“Ermergerd, why are they dressed like a freaking giraffe? I just, like, don’t even know what to say to them.”
And so they won’t say anything to you, and it’s the best thing ever.
But the 3-4 people at the party who totally get you will be able to overcome their own social anxiety (see, you’re helping others too – the benefits are actually three-fold), and they’ll nervously sidle up beside you and tell you what a fabulous giraffe costume it is, and within six minutes, you have a whole group of new best friends, and you can all spend the party happily making non-small talk (large talk?).
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2. Make Up a Game to Play
No, not a drinking game.
I mean, I definitely tried to use booze for coping with social anxiety when I was in my 20s, but you and I know that it never quite works out. In fact, the more anxietous you are, the less you should be drinking – it just makes everything worse.
Side note: “anxietous” is a word I made up for when one’s anxiety is playing up. “Anxious” is fine for when you’re just worried that you left your oven on, but an actual anxiety disorder needs a bumpier word. It’s pronounced ang-zie-at-us.
This will be a game you can play in your head as you navigate the party (or stand by the snack table, trying not to make eye contact with anyone), to distract you from the tornados of off-kilter brain chemistry spinning around inside your head.
Personally, since I’m a writer, my favorite game is to try to catch snippets of conversations and make up a story behind them. This works best if I hear something and then immediately move to a different vicinity so that the snippet is isolated without context, and I can happily assume that the “Carol” that lady was talking about was her pet dragon, and have to deal with the disappointment of learning that she’s actually just the woman from HR she’s meeting with on Monday.
Not only does this help my game, but it also helps me to feel like I’m actually circulating, because I’m moving around like the proverbial butterfly.
You should pick something that works best with your own interests or personality. If you like fashion, maybe look for people wearing a certain article of clothing and try to guess where they got it. If you like home décor, look around the location of the party and decide how you would redecorate if it was your house.
The sky’s the limit. Or the ceiling, if you’re indoors. Don’t try to go above the ceiling. That’s where madness lies. And head wounds. And people staring.
3. Have an Escape Route
Honestly, I find that if I walk in the door with my evacuation plan in place, I’m less likely to need it.
Just knowing that I can leave at any time is a very relaxing feeling. But sometimes you do need it. Coping with social anxiety isn’t always about facing down the people – sometimes it’s about respecting your own needs, and just leaving.
So go in with a plan. In fact, make it an elaborate three-tiered plan.
Tier One is simply planning out a place where you can go for a few minutes to take a wee little break from all the people pressing in around you.
It can be the backyard or an out-of-the-way nook or the bathroom. Or under the table with the cats and hors doeuvres.
Plan it out as soon as you arrive, or in advance if you can (you could steal the blueprints, like in a movie!). That way, there will be no need to panic in the moment – you can just excuse yourself and go.
Tier Two is a spot where you can go for a longer period of time, say half an hour, even if you’re not ready to completely ditch the party.
Not the bathroom this time, unless you’re okay with everyone thinking you ate some questionable tacos earlier.
Maybe scope out the neighborhood on your way to the gathering and find a park or a café. Someplace you can go, decompress, and then return a little while longer, and just tell anyone who asks that you were “in the other room.”
And, of course, Tier Three is when you ride off into the sunset, gratefully shedding the manic rictus of a grin you have inevitably acquired over the course of the evening. Tier Three is your strategy for leaving early without stepping on any toes, and hopefully without having to say goodbye to too many people.
I can’t really give you a lot of advice on how to do this, because it will vary situationally. And also because I’m terrible at it. I usually just duck out the back door and make up an excuse later.
Don’t be like me. Have a polite excuse ready, and if you need it, make a beeline for your host or hostess and then straight out the door from there.
You’re never alone. 🙂 Find us on Facebook! Join our Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders Talk And Support Group.
The bottom line
Coping with social anxiety is a delicate balance. Interacting with other people is necessary and often rewarding, but for some of us, it can be a real drag. I mean, literally, we have to be dragged, pushed, and cajoled into it.
I hope these strategies can help you as they’ve helped me!
What have you done to cope with your social anxiety at parties and other social events? Comment below!
About the author: Anna McCluskey is a self-proclaimed weirdo, working her way through the shenanigans of our world, and living to write about it. She resides in Oregon with her partner and quite a lot of pets. You can find more of her ramblings, rants, and adventures on her blog at TheAnnaFiles.com.
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