It happens. A work event. Dinner with your partner’s family. A friend asks you to be their last minute plus one. We all have to go to events where we know absolutely no one.
For a person with social anxiety, I can summarize our thoughts and feelings in one simple word:
It’s like asking someone who’s afraid of heights to jump out of a plane!
The first time I attended a party with my husband, the only time I let him leave my side was when he needed the toilet. And even then, I gave him dagger eyes! I probably would’ve gone with him, had it not made me look like a bunny boiler! If only they knew — it wasn’t possessiveness, it was anxiety.
Over the years, I’ve accepted that this was something I needed to manage. As a writer, I get invited to events frequently and I didn’t want to keep turning them down. I needed to face the demon, so to speak.
So, here are my top survival tips for dealing with social events if you have social anxiety:
1. Be honest
If possible, be open about your anxiety to either the host, a friend, or the person who invited you. Nothing dramatic or over the top. Just a simple text or email explaining that you experience anxiety during social situations.
This will immediately get said person on your side, and lift the weight off your shoulders.
2. Prep your outfit in advance
Choose what you’re going to wear at least one day in advance. It should be something that makes you feel confident, and is also comfortable.
Oh, and seriously, now is not the time to experiment with a new hairstyle or makeup look. Trust me. Unintentionally turning up as the bride of Dracula does not a good impression make!
3. Be kind to yourself
The journey to the event is when your nerves really start to kick in. So, preempt this by reminding yourself of how brave you’re being. Remind yourself that, in the long run, this experience will help to improve your social anxiety.
4. Distract yourself
Also on the way there, it always helps me to have some distractions or distraction techniques on hand. For example, I’ve recently become re-obsessed with Angry Birds. Nothing takes my mind off my anxiety like killing those laughing green piggies!
5. Talk to people
I know, this one sounds particularly alarming! Especially when all you want to do is hide in the corner, or in the toilets.
At first, I thought approaching people would be impossible for me: A sea of faces that I didn’t recognize, all deep in conversation. I could never hope to be accepted. However, I’ve recently started trying this tactic, and the results have been very positive.
Approach two or three people and be honest: “I’m so sorry to interrupt, it’s just that I don’t know anyone here and I was wondering if I could join your conversation?” It’s daunting, but try and remember that people are … well, human!
Empathy is a strong emotion, and unless they’re completely bonkers — in which case, you’re better off not talking to them — then they’ll be glad to accept you.
This technique has worked 89 percent of the time for me this year. Yes, I like stats. The last time I tried this, a girl openly admitted: “I’m so glad you said that, I don’t really know anyone, either!”
6. Have back up
There are a few select people in my life who I know I can text if I need encouragement. For example, I’ll text my best friend and say: “I’m at a party and I’m freaking out. Tell me three great things about myself.”
She normally responds with something like, “You’re brave, gorgeous, and bloody hilarious. Who wouldn’t want to talk to you?” You’d be surprised how much positive affirmations can really help.
You made it!
Once you’ve left and are making your way home, be sure to give yourself a symbolic pat on the back. You did something that makes you feel anxious, but you didn’t let it stop you.
That’s something to be proud of.