Image via Flickr/Montclair Art Museum.
There are plenty of people who both crave human interaction and find it a terrifying experience full of social pitfalls. We contain multitudes! If you’re one of those people who struggles to leave the house even when you really want to, take some advice from a psychotherapist on how to get yourself out the door.
If you’ve experienced social anxiety, then you know that sometimes the smallest thing can set you off and turn an otherwise pleasant evening into a sweaty-palmed hall of mirrors. In an article for QZ, Megan Bruneau writes about her own experience of spiraling out at a dinner party, second guessing every comment she made and constantly questioning her right to be there. It was enough to make her reconsider trying it again. So, Bruneau compiled a list of suggestions for what to do if you’re thinking about giving up socialising, then marrying Netflix in a small private ceremony in the broom closet.
Bring a Bud
This isn’t so much because then you’ll have someone to talk to; it’s so you have someone to hold you accountable for bailing last minute. And Bruneau doesn’t write this, but be sure to pick someone who doesn’t have the exact same issue. It defeats the whole purpose if you’ve enlisted a similarly anxious friend who will then bail on you.
Remember You Can Leave
Keep in mind that showing up is often half the battle. So just show up, and if you have to do a runner, that’s ok:
If you’re nervous about attending a work event, make a deal with yourself beforehand: If you’re not having fun, you can leave after 45 minutes. Developing a plan in advance can help make events seem less overwhelming.
Bruneau is suggesting you make an excuse for why you need to leave early, rather than an excuse for not going at all. And hey, if you give yourself an out you feel comfortable with, it’s possible that you’ll arrive and decide you don’t need any excuses after all.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Several of Bruneau’s recommendations can be boiled down to planning, actually. She recommends you plan for awkward silences, meaning that you shouldn’t envision the evening going perfectly. When we have huge expectations for how things should go, we’re bound to be disappointed, which sets us up for sudden anxiety triggers. Consider what you’ll do if you cough while chewing a crudité. It might be awkward and that’s cool:
When things get awkward, don’t panic. It’s a sign that you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone and done something courageous.
And if you want to delve deeper, she advises picturing the worst case scenario. Your underwear falls off on the dance floor, your get your hand stuck in the elevator, your ex shows up with your sister. Picture those bad feelings, and know that those feelings won’t kill you.
She also suggests that you come up with some questions for the people you meet, because the truth is, most folks want to talk about themselves:
A few classics: “How do you know so and so?” “I love your (insert clothing item here)! Where did you get it?” “What brings you to [networking event]?” Among the many lies social anxiety tells us, one of the most common ones is that we have to be interesting ourselves. Focus on being interested in other people instead.
Most of Bruneau’s other pointers are essentially reminders that most people experience social anxiety, and you’re not alone. Sometimes folks seem standoffish because they’re in their own personal party hell. There’s nothing wrong with you because you’re nervous about going to a loud, crowded place full of strangers. But going can be the first step to making a friend.