When it comes to parties and social gatherings, here's the secret: Everyone is worried about themselves. In general, most people feel a degree of self-consciousness during social events. Even extroverted social butterflies can feel stress before large gatherings!
The stress is heightened for people with anxiety. Social events can be unpredictable, with the capacity to bring about the unknown and unexpected. The fear of the unknown, and the increased sensory stimulation, lead people with anxiety to focus inward on themselves.
“What if everyone is looking at me?”
"What if I say something wrong?"
Those questions are familiar to anyone who has felt anxiety in social situations. It's tempting to avoid social gatherings and veto parties altogether. However, avoiding all social events diminishes opportunities for growth and experiences. There are several ways to make social occasions much more manageable.
Focus Your Attention Outwards
During social gatherings, shining the spotlight on other people through observation may lessen social anxiety. Examining other people and the environment can help to distract from feelings of inadequacy. Who are other people talking to? What are other people wearing? What might be going through their heads? Imagining what concerns other people have takes the concern off of the self.
When possible, do or say something nice for one or more people during the event. Expressing kindness and taking time to help others is another way to focus on other people. Through observation of others and the surroundings, there is less attention focused inwards. By feeling less self-conscious, social events can become less threatening.
Plan and Memorize
Another way people with anxiety can manage social events is to have a list of talking points already memorized. One of the major reasons people with anxiety dread social gatherings is the unpredictability of social interaction. It's often challenging to find a quick response when the mind becomes frozen with fear.
Before social events, it’s best to prepare. Have a list of talking points or questions memorized. Then, when stuck in a conversation, you can pick out a question or topic to keep the conversation going.
Hint: Most people will talk about themselves at length if you ask a question about them.
It can also help to have a standardized routine to use for introductions and conversations. For example, smile. Make eye contact and shake hands. "Hi, I'm Dylan's wife. Nice to meet you. And you are?" Then discuss the list of memorized talking points that. Ask questions to get the other person to talk about themselves and avoid political or religious topics.
How about when you want to leave a conversation? It's essential to know how to disengage from an interaction politely. Have some memorized lines for times when you need to end a conversation. For example, smile and say, "It was so nice talking with you. I think it's time for me to touch base with my husband. I'll see you later." Then shake hands and walk away.
Having a predictable “script” to fall back on that focuses on others can take some of the unpredictability away from social situations, making them much more manageable.
Remember to Breathe
Social anxiety can change how the body breathes. To prepare the body for social situations, you can calm yourself down just by breathing. Breathing deeply and slowly, by allowing your abdomen — not your chest— to rise and fall. CalmiGo can assist in helping you train your body to breathe in a way that's good for both your physical and your mental health.
Let’s Get the Party Started!
Social gatherings can be daunting for everyone, not just people with anxiety. There are ways to get through the situation and, perhaps, even enjoy your time there. Who knows, you may find yourself looking forward to the next event.