As an introvert, I prefer to hole up at home rather than attend lots of social events. That being said, I do like to spend time with family and friends too. As a result, I’ve developed several tricks for coping with social anxiety at parties.
If you have social anxiety, you know how terrible it can be. You’ll start worrying several days before the event, all the way through the party, and then, probably for days afterward. A single two or three hour social engagement can cause you a week’s worth of emotional turmoil.
Our friends who don’t have social anxiety, don’t understand. They share well-intended advice like “Don’t waste your time worrying. Everything will be great!” or “You’ll feel better once you get there.” They mean to be helpful, but since they don’t experience the same internal monologue you do, they don’t know how hard it is to adopt their “everything will be great” attitude.
Sometimes you need the help and advice of someone who knows exactly how you’re feeling. That’s why, even though I’m not a mental health expert, I thought it might be helpful if I shared the tricks that have worked for me.
My Social Anxiety
I married an extrovert who also happens to be from a large family (he has 13 brothers and sisters!). In addition, he’s in the military which meant our life together involves moving every few years, making new friends, and lots of mandatory social events. The things we do for love, right?
Thankfully, my husband’s family is amazing. I got along with them right away. Even so, spending time with his family always left me exhausted. Being “on” for days on end when we’d visit, coupled with the added noise and activity, always depleted my energy.
In our other social engagements, the toll was even higher. Since I didn’t know everyone at those events, I’d always assume they were thinking the worst of me.
My Tips for Coping with Social Anxiety at Parties
For me, the days leading up to a social event are almost as stressful as the actual event! I run through all sorts of scenarios in my head that all end with me doing something to embarrass myself.
Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do to quiet that worrywart voice in your head. These are my tried and true tips for coping with social anxiety at parties.
I know, I claim exercise is the solution to almost everything, but that’s because it really is! Whether you take a brisk walk after dinner or wake up 30 minutes earlier to do aerobics, physical activity WILL help with your anxiety.
First, exercise produces endorphins which reduce stress. Second, exercising will make you feel better about yourself, helping you feel more confident. Another great thing about exercise is it helps you sleep better, which is another of my tips.
Yes, we should all be getting regular exercise all the time. But, if you’re like a lot of people and sometimes stray from your regular workouts, make sure you reintroduce them in the week or two leading up to a social event.
Sleep is essential to your mental health. Sufficient sleep can help you maintain a positive attitude, which is essential for those of us with anxiety.
If you have social anxiety, social events will exhaust you. So, it’s especially important to get enough sleep each night during the week leading up to a party.
Likewise, don’t schedule an early morning the next day. Allow time for a good night’s sleep after the party.
Look your best
Self-consciousness goes hand-in-hand with social anxiety. When you RSVP for a party, make sure you ask about the dress code if you are uncertain. Then, choose an outfit that fits the code and that you also feel comfortable and confident in.
There’s no need to get a professional hairstyle or makeover, but do spend a few extra minutes than normal to do your hair and makeup. Feeling confident about your appearance will give you one less thing to worry about at the party.
Bring a buddy
If it’s appropriate, bring a friend or family member with you who knows about and understands your anxiety. It will help you to have a lifeline at the party. Plus, if you get overwhelmed, your party buddy can help ease your tension and speed up your departure, if necessary.
Bring a gift
One of my biggest worries when attending an event is that I’m going to unwittingly make a fool of myself or offend someone. A by-product of introversion is being socially awkward, so I have lots of experience to know these fears are well-founded.
While I haven’t found a surefire way to guarantee I won’t do or say something silly, I can control my first impression. That’s why I always make a point to bring a hostess gift when I visit someone’s home for the first time.
Don’t let choosing the right gift be a stressor! The simple act of bringing ANYTHING will be welcome and very much appreciated. If you’re still worried about choosing the right gift, check out my list of the best hostess gifts.
Be on time
It’s really tempting to show up late to a party to spend as little time there as possible and also to hopefully sneak into the crowd. After trying this technique dozens of times, I finally realized it is far less stressful to be one of the FIRST people to arrive.
Arriving early (not before the party start time, but within the first few minutes afterwards), allows you to enter a non-intimidating environment. There will be fewer people and the setting in general will be quieter and calmer.
Then, as other guests arrive, it will be easier to meet them one by one rather than trying to greet a group of strangers (like you would if you arrived late). Getting there early also increases the chances that you’ll get the opportunity to take on a job, which is my favorite way to accomplish my next tip.
To silence your inner worrywart, the best strategy is to stay focused on other things besides your own thoughts. One really easy way to accomplish this is to volunteer to help the hostess.
Offer to take guests coats, show them to the buffet, or pour drinks. The hostess will usually appreciate the help so she can focus on other tasks and you’ll get a pleasant distraction that gives you very manageable interactions with the other guests.
I’ll admit, sometimes my distraction is to find the family pet or the children. Their warm acceptance of almost everyone makes them a much safer audience than the other adults at a party. This is okay in small doses, but don’t be the weirdo that spends all the time talking to the dog in the corner.
Another very pleasant, and acceptable, distraction is to take in your surroundings. If you start to get overwhelmed, take a few minutes to look at pictures on the wall, books on the bookshelf, or art. If you’re really lucky and are at an outdoor party, you can wander the grounds and admire the scenery.
Don’t be afraid to take bathroom breaks even if nature isn’t calling. A few quiet moments alone in the bathroom can re-energize you for another hour or two.
This is the part where I REALLY get nervous. After all, its during these conversations where I usually make the mistakes that will haunt me for days. That’s why I wrote an entire post on How to Be a Great Conversationalist based on everything I could learn.
The very best way to handle party conversations is to focus entirely on the other person. Go into the party with the goal of learning as much as you can about the other guests.
When you focus on learning about others in conversation, you’ll ask sincere and meaningful questions. Plus, the other person will be doing most of the talking so you don’t have to worry about saying something you’ll regret!
If you have social anxiety, the paragraph above is not going to put you at ease. You’ll want a PLAN, right? Read Conversation Tips for Introverts for some additional help in this area.
Eating and Drinking Guidelines
Although you might be tempted to have a glass of liquid courage to help you get through a stressful event, DON’T DO IT. Alcohol actually worsens anxiety. So does caffeine, for that matter, so avoid caffeinated beverages too.
Stick with water which will always be available, runs zero risk of staining anything in the event of a spill, and is good for you. Dehydration can induce anxiety so drinking lots of water will help keep it at bay.
You might be tempted to skip the food since balancing food and a drink while also navigating around a party can seem like a multitasking nightmare. That’s why I recommend that you don’t try to juggle both a plate and a drink.
Get your water first, drink it. Then, set your glass down and get some food. After you finish your food, retrieve your glass and get another drink.
Don’t bypass the food altogether. Not only does eating give you something else to talk about (e.g. “These stuffed mushrooms are amazing! What kind of cheese do you think she used?”), you’re going to need the energy.
Even if you’ve followed all of the advice above, you might end up feeling overwhelmed or anxious at a party. If you do and your party buddy isn’t around to save you (and you don’t want to start a deep breathing exercise in the middle of a party), try one of these acupressure techniques for relieving anxiety. The HT7 pressure point is my magic button.
Plan your exit
Know your limits and leave just before or when you reach them. Ideally, the tips above allowed you to enjoy the party, mingle with some interesting people and create some pleasant memories.
Don’t feel like you have to be one of the last to leave to show your hosts how much you enjoyed the party. Also, don’t feel bad about being one of the first to leave if you’ve reached the point where you want to go home.
Because you worry about what others think or feel, you’ll feel compelled to offer a reason for your departure. Rather than try to change your nature, don’t fight this impulse. Instead, think of it beforehand so you’re ready with your exit excuse as soon as you’re ready to leave.
My reasons for leaving are usually that I have to get home to the kids or my dogs. Sometimes I have to get up early the next day. Other times I’ll admit that I’ve had a busy week and am exhausted and just need to get home and get some rest.
Just make sure to thank the hosts for inviting you and let them know that you enjoyed yourself. Your last impression will be as good as your first!
I hope you don’t let your social anxiety stop you from taking advantage of opportunities to connect with others. You are your own worst critic. And in social settings, everyone else is worried about making a good impression too so they’re probably not watching your every move or criticizing your every word.
I still get nervous about attending social events, especially with strangers. But thanks to the tips I’ve shared above, I don’t shy away from those events out of fear. As a result, I’ve met some wonderful people and shared many happy memories with my friends and family. I hope you are able to do the same.
Do you have a social anxiety coping mechanism or tip that I didn’t mention? Please share it in the comments!