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5 Things to Remember When You’re Anxious at a Social Event

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Humans are social creatures. Even the most introverted person will need companionship at some point to fight feelings of loneliness. There has been a notable rise in loneliness among not just the older and vulnerable, but the young and supposedly “functioning” adults (I wrote a post about this here).

While we know we need to socialize for the sake of human nature, why is it so darn hard? I am naturally a loner. I am introverted and I prefer my own company to literally anyone. There is nothing I love more than being at home, in my nest, doing my own thing. Being with people can limit who I am as a person. It’s not that I despise people; I just find myself struggling to understand the people around me, which can cause me to feel really stressed. I was always the unpopular kid with the introverted parents, so I never stood a chance. Maybe this is because of my traumatic childhood or maybe it’s just how I am programmed. Whatever the reason, social events make me quake in my boots.

Unfortunately, no one is completely immune to social events. Be it for Christmas, a birthday or a charity event, I will have to leave my home at least once a year and face social interaction. It’s terrifying. Honestly, I’d rather sit in a room full of puppies; can I do that instead? I try to tell myself that because I don’t see people often, I should enjoy it. I try to remind myself that once the event ends, I will be free. I spend more time bargaining with myself than the time spent at the actual event itself.

I guess socializing feels like a prison sentence for me. I’m just not good with people. My throat literally feels like it’s swollen shut and no words will come out. Not to mention, those incredibly uncomfortable, itchy and clammy hands that make me want to spend the duration of the event at a sink. It’s not to say I always hate social gatherings. I do sometimes enjoy being around others. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without family around the fire and holiday movies on television. There are times when my body literally craves a night out with friends or an adventure to the next town over. Just because I usually hate the idea of these events doesn’t mean they never appeal to me.

This is something I want my friends to know. Please don’t exclude me from plans because you know that I am likely to say no. Being invited out makes me feel valued and you never know, I might just say yes. Socializing is stressful, for sure. My body goes into this rubber band mode where I feel myself being torn back to my safe place: my room. Sometimes it gets to be too much so I will just leave, which makes me worried that I’m a bad person. Palms sweaty, ears muted and my mind in another generation– it’s like I lose myself with an audience.

So, how do I deal with this? We can’t avoid people forever, unless we tried really hard. I once avoided leaving my house for a year, and didn’t see friends for three years, but it drove me into a relapse. Through this experience, I’ve developed some tips for handling this stress. This is my handy list to help you get through those difficult social interactions:

  1. Be yourself. I’m guilty of spending hours before an event redoing my makeup over and over again, and trying on every outfit in my closet. I practice what I need to say and rehearse  my persona for the night. Social pressure can make me feel like an alien, so I do what I can to fit in. But this isn’t healthy and will only make the situation more stressful. Don’t worry about what people will think. Bring your true self and if your friends don’t like it, that is their problem, not yours.
  2. Remember: you’re worth it. It can be easy to let people encourage you to do things that you may not feel comfortable doing, especially while at social events. When there are many people pressuring you and making you feel like you will be rejected or judged for not following their ways, you may conform to their pressures. But you are forgetting your worth, your values and a part of who you are. Who you are is your identity and your worth, and you are worth more than a group of people trying to change you. You are allowed to say no and walk away!
  3. Communicate. How many times have you wanted to leave a party, ask for a drink or find the bathroom, but you couldn’t because your anxiety left you voiceless? Then you end up leaving the party exhausted, upset, with a full bladder and a throat drier than the Sahara Desert. I know exactly how hard it is, but you can ask for help. You will not be judged for having human needs and if you are, why spend another moment in that situation?
  4. Be honest. Have you lied to the host or a friend when they noticed you struggling? When they have encouraged you to rest, go home or find a moment of peace, have you just said you were OK, just tired? A real friend will care about your well-being, and they don’t mean to insult you by suggesting that you go home to rest instead of staying at the event when you are clearly unhappy. Be honest and if you want to take their advice, you have every right.
  5. Breathe. It sounds pretty basic, right? Breathing is literally needed for us to survive, and social events are no exception to this human necessity. But we can often forget to pace our breathing and calm ourselves when we feel our blood pressure rising and our anxiety stamping its feet. Follow your instincts, find quiet places away from music or people and bring yourself back down to a calmer state. You are only human and you don’t have to brave it, even when you believe that people expect it of you.

Social events are supposed to be an enjoyable experience for everyone. It’s a chance to let go of daily struggles and see people you care about. A mental illness does not need to limit that; you deserve to have fun and enjoy these events just as much as the next person. Listen to your heart and don’t be afraid to ring those warning bells; you’ll make it through any social event in one piece.

Unsplash via Yoann Boyer

Originally published: November 7, 2018
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