Social anxiety: How to cope at parties
Rachel Dubrow, LCSW is featured in this Bustle article from August 14, 2019. The full article can be found here. Rachel's contributions are below:
"A lot of people have anxiety in situations they haven't been in before because they feel out of control over one or more aspects of the situation," therapist Rachel Dubrow LCSW, who specializes in anxiety and depression, tells Bustle. Additionally, they might have had a bad experience in the past that is impacting how they view themselves in general or in specific situations.
"A lot of people get butterflies in their stomach or a little jittery when they don't know what to expect," Dubrow says. If this dissipates after a few minutes and is tolerable for the person, that might be where it ends. If it becomes more disruptive as time goes on, Dubrow says it might be time to seek some professional help with the anxiety.
Prepare the logistics in advance:
Just knowing some of the details before you get there can help so you don't have to worry about logistics. For example, if you're going to be at a new place, try to go there in advance to make sure you're comfortable with how to get there, Dubrow says. Little stuff like that can both help to distract you and ease some stress.
"A lot of people have what I call 'anticipatory anxiety' where they are more nervous or anxious about what will happen in the future and are more comfortable once they get to a particular place or situation," Dubrow says. "Preparation helps to ease some of that anticipatory or initial anxiety."
If You Can, Bring A Friend, And Keep Them In Sight
Maybe the most effective way to alleviate some of that discomfort is to have someone tag along who you love and feel comfortable around, especially if it's someone with whom you can share some of your feelings.
"[With a friend] you have someone to help guide you through the social situation if needed and can also help with an exit strategy," Dubrow says. Throughout the party, keep track of where they are so you can find them at any time.
When you're going to a work dinner or to the party of a new friend, it may be less likely that you can have a pal. If all else fails, simply texting a friend when you're feeling really nervous or awkward can help re-center you.
Have An Exit Plan
Know that you can leave at absolutely anytime. Bye everyone!
"Make a plan in advance to stay at the party or event for a certain period of time. This could be as little as 45 minutes to an hour," Dubrow says. "That way, you know that the maximum amount of time you could be anxious is the amount of time you set for yourself and you can feel more in control of the situation."
You can politely say you can't stay long and don't have to offer much more than that. "When it's time to leave, thank the host and say good-bye to any one else you might have met over the course of the event and then leave," Dubrow says. And listen, if the anxiety is super high, especially if the crowd is big and the energy there feels overwhelming, don't be afraid to just dip out if that's what you need.
Keep A Drink In Your Hands
Even if it's just water or pineapple juice. For one, there's always the "what do I do with my hands!?" question that arises when you're really feeling uncomfortable in your skin. Secondly, it can provide you with something to do. It might seem super simple, but it's a small thing that helps.
"This can be your go-to thing if you get stuck in a social situation and don't know what to say or you feel so anxious that you need to take a breath. Instead of standing in silence and letting your mind give you negative thoughts about what you are or aren't doing, take a drink and a deep breath," Dubrow says. "No one is going to know you needed the minute of silence to collect your thoughts and they aren't going to mind if you excuse yourself to get another drink."
Ask Questions To Other People So You Can Just Listen
Remember to listen more than talk, Dubrow says. It can really help you take your mind off your nerves to hear other people share about themselves, and it means that for the time-being, you don't have to worry about being charming or funny.
"Ask how they know the host and then about how the weekend is going, what they do for school or work, or anything about the event itself. Then, spend your time listening," Dubrow says.
Also, socially anxious people are often more likely to talk their way through their anxiety, which can create unnecessarily awkward situations, Dubrow says. So, remember that social situations are like playing tennis — hit the ball to your partner with a question, and then wait for a return question back from your partner.
"If they don't ask questions to you to keep the conversation going, you can always excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, or get a drink," Dubrow says. You've done your part.