For days, the red notification has haunted the corner of your Facebook feed, taunting you. You’ve been invited to a party, and you want to go, but you haven’t been able to bring yourself to RSVP. You’ve scrutinized the invite about a thousand times now, scanning the attendee list for familiar faces and feeling overwhelmed with anxiety.
If you’re socially anxious, it can feel like everyone else in the world lives for parties while you alone find them terrifying. All the things others find exciting–new people, conversation, drinking, dancing–you see as endless opportunities to embarrass yourself. What will you talk to people about? Will they find you boring? What if you spill your drink all over yourself? Will everyone stare at your awkward dancing? If you’ve been avoiding parties, here are 7 tips to help you feel more at ease during your next social gathering:
- Set a goal. One reason parties can feel overwhelming is because we set unrealistically high expectations for ourselves. We tell ourselves that we have to be the life of the party, talk to everyone, and meet an attractive stranger, or else the party was a failure. Instead, if you set smaller, more realistic goals like introducing yourself to two new people, or staying at the party for at least an hour, it can make the event seem less daunting.
- Consider bringing a friend. Some people find it easier to meet new people when they have a friend with them to help them join conversations. It’s okay to bring a friend with you as long as you don’t cling to them as a safety net to avoid talking to others. Choose a friend who is gregarious, and if you’re comfortable with them, tell them your goal of meeting new people and ask them to help push you out of your comfort zone.
- Prepare a few topics of conversation. Making small talk with other party guests can be tough, especially if you’re talking to a complete stranger. Instead of putting pressure on yourself to come up with the perfect opening line, know that most conversations actually just start with the basics (how do you know the host?). From there, try asking questions to discover shared interests, or read up on current events beforehand so you can participate in conversations about sports, news, and movies.
- Challenge the urge to flee. Anticipatory anxiety is a normal and expected response to situations that make us nervous. Typically, anxiety spikes leading up and at the beginning of a party, but slowly dissipates as you acclimate to your new environment. Instead of giving into the urge to leave right away, try staying in the situation until your anxiety lowers.
- Arrive early. If you’re anxious about an event, you might put off going until the last minute. But showing up to the party after most of the other guests have arrived can be extra anxiety-inducing: it’s harder to break into already formed-conversation groups to introduce yourself. Instead, if you arrive early when there are fewer people, it’ll be easier to strike up conversations and meet people one-at-a-time as they arrive.
- Avoid using alcohol as a crutch. Liquid courage can temporarily make you feel less anxious and more conversational, but studies show that it can actually increase anxiety, irritability, and sadness a few hours later. Also— you don’t want to become dependent on alcohol to get through a social situation. Give yourself the chance to see that you can survive a party without the aid of alcohol or drugs.
- Have a calm down contingency plan. There may be moments during the party where you feel your anxiety rising. Have a strategy prepared for managing your anxiety should it flare up. For example, plan to excuse yourself to the bathroom, where you can practice deep breathing or other relaxation techniques to feel calmer.
Invitations to parties often mark occasions for celebration: birthdays, housewarmings, holidays. If you’re struggling to join in on the happiness of these moments because you feel nervous in social situations, learn how Joyable’s online CBT program for social anxiety can help.