To most people, this is exciting news! “Another invitation! Yes! I am ready to get my party on!” You get excited that someone thought enough about you that they wanted you to be a part of their celebration – conversing with others over drinks, dinner, and gawking at all the Pinterest flair that was used to make it a most memorable night.
But to a person who suffers from social awkwardness, or even social anxiety, the feeling they get seeing that invitation sitting on their counter, or in their inbox, is more a feeling of unease, apprehension and even anguish.
It takes a lot of energy for those that feel socially inept or just awkward in social settings, but even more energy for those that deal with social anxiety, to get out and mingle at events, making conversation with strangers or acquaintances and trying to blend in hoping nobody notices their discomfort. Using that much energy is draining, and therefore, getting invited to party after party is more dreadful than exciting.
This is what an internal conversation may sound like in the mind of someone who gets anxious at parties: “Oh gosh. Everyone is talking to someone already. What should I do? Do I just go over and stand next to someone hoping they’ll invite me to talk too? No, that would be stupid. They’ll think I’m a weirdo and what the h*!! am I doing over here butting in on their conversation. No, it’s best to just stay over here and wait for people to finish talking and then go find someone I know and talk to them. [time passes] Okay, so everyone is still talking, and I don’t see anyone moving over to talk to me. Maybe I can catch someone when they go to the bathroom, and they’re alone and then I can start a conversation with them. Wait…is that creepy?”
Do thoughts like this run through your head constantly while you’re at parties? Do you feel constant worry that you are saying the wrong thing, or think that everyone is judging you for what you said or didn’t say?
And you know what the truth of it is…
If someone wants to judge, they are going to judge you no matter what. Sticking to a corner and hoping nobody notices you may be worse than actually stepping out and making a deal with yourself that you will talk to at least 2 new people that night, and at least 3 people you already know. Not talking to people doesn’t make you immune from people, it makes it to where they don’t know the true you and what you’re really about. You can’t control other people, you can only control you.
I can feel your anxiety level already rising – your cheeks starting to burn from the blood rushing to them, your palms and armpits getting sweaty, and all kinds of thoughts rushing into your head right now of “I can’t do this; I’m going to make a fool of myself,” beginning to happen.
How do I know? Because I, too, get super anxious before a party, get-together, or event of more than 3-4 people.
But I’ve taught myself ways to manage my thoughts and actions, that have helped me to control more of my anxiety and have more fun hanging with friends and meeting new people.
Thinking this isn’t possible and there is no way you can change?
There is a basic formula that you can follow (and practice, practice, practice) that can help you prepare for your next event:
Affirmations; Act “as if”
You have to develop this formula to fit your personality and your individual style. There is not a specific, one magical way that can “cure” all social awkwardness, but plugging in your own unique method of using the formula can make this work in just about any situation.
You want to first relax those thoughts running through your mind that are creating anxiety and fear about going to a get together and mingling with others. Your mind controls your body; once you develop ways to control your thoughts, your physiological state will change as well.
What is it that relaxes you? Is it taking a bubble bath; or maybe doing some yoga stretches; even some type of exercise, like running, or stretching? Make time for it. Work it into your routine. If you know it takes you an hour to get ready, and you really need a good 30 minute run to relax your mind, then plan for that time beforehand (um, because if you do the run after you’ve already showered, you may be turning people off for a whole ‘nother reason than just being awkward – I’m just sayin’).
And if you need some ideas of different relaxation techniques, look at some of my other posts under “relaxation” for some fun and different ways of relaxing.
Affirmations and act “as if”
Having “words of wisdom” or “good advise”, is great and all, but here I want you to find what inspires you and motivates you to be your best.
I keep a journal of great quotes that I’ve received either through birthday cards from my parents or my husband, nice things that people have said about me, really anything that reminds me that I am a great person and people like me.
Sometimes when we let our mind take full control, and we just go through the motions, we can get wrapped up in the negative of everything going on and forget to focus on the good that goes on as well. It takes 3 positive comments to help you overcome a negative one; so keep up with all the good you hear and know about yourself. It can be useful to have a reminder.
Acting “as if” is a cognitive-behavioral therapy technique that teaches you to act “as if” you are comfortable being in a crowd, talking to strangers and striking up conversations with old and new friends. Act “as if” people looking in your direction doesn’t bother you because you know there are way more people in the room than you that they are probably looking at.
Doing this allows your mind to settle, and your body to relax, because even pretending that you are comfortable and going around the room mingling, sends messages to your brain that everything is okay. There is nothing to fear in this situation and you are perfectly safe. Eventually people will begin to respond to your “confidence” and you will appear more approachable and someone they want to talk to, leading you to forget your worries that people think you’re weird or they don’t like you. It’s like magic!
And last but not least, prepare for the conversations you are going to have! Okay, so you can’t predict everything someone is going to say back, but you can at least prep for conversation starters.
Don’t have any clue where to even start? No worries, I’ve got you covered!
No. Those don’t sound like good ways to start a conversation with a stranger? Well, aren’t you smart! These are actually the topics you want to AVOID, at all costs, especially with strangers!
But, seriously, I do have some ideas of conversation starters that are usually very successful:
1) The latest Buzzfeed list you saw that you have enough information on to have follow up (i.e. that list of the 90’s toys you remember having as a kid). You could make it flow by first asking the person if they remember seeing the list, and then talking about the good and funny memories you have with one or two of the toys. *Side note: this is not a conversation that should last for an hour while you reminisce about your childhood; that would be awkward
2) Any headline in the news that doesn’t have you speaking about your opinion on any of the 3 topics to avoid.
3) Talk about your favorite team’s most recent loss or win. *Be careful sharing too much of your opinion about the players, coach or owner in case you tick someone off for talking about their favorite person on the team. Oopsie. But if they bring it up, and you agree, you could definitely roll with it.
4) The newest show or movie that is out that you loved or are really dying to see. Don’t be upset if they don’t agree and roll with it. Just follow up with asking them what was their latest favorite movie/show. People have different tastes in things, and it doesn’t mean one is more right or “cooler” than someone else’s.
5)If you are friends with some of the invitees going to the party, watch some of their social media feed and remember some of the things you can bring up in conversation like the latest trip they took, or something funny their kids did or their pet that they posted.
*Side note: No Facebook stalking. You’ll get caught and it’ll make the whole situation very awkward, which is what we want to avoid. But knowing someone’s likes and dislikes ahead of time can give you an advantage on prepping for conversation. I mean, let’s be honest, people post stuff on Facebook mainly because they want others to notice and comment on it anyway. So you’re just doing this in person.
The main thing I want you to remember is pick conversations that you can relate to. If you are funny or enjoy a good laugh, go with a humorous topic; if you are more of a scholar, then maybe go with more of a news headline. If you aren’t comfortable with the conversation YOU start, then you will feel more awkward presenting it to someone else, creating your anxiety level to rise and rise.
Finding a common interest with someone is key to the ebb and flow of conversations. You may not find that with the first person you talk to. Don’t let that get you down. Keep trying and you will find that person that shares a commonality with you.
Just BE YOU, but a more prepared you, and I know you are going to do great at your next party!!
The best way to use this formula, is to make it fit YOU and then make it part of your routine for getting ready – along with choosing your outfit, fixing your hair, etc.
**As a licensed counselor, I want to make sure and point out there is a huge difference between social discomfort and social anxiety, with the latter being a mental health disorder that you need to talk to a licensed mental health professional to help diagnose and get specific techniques for you. If the thought of even just walking in the door of a social event is so overwhelming and terrifying that you end up staying home every time, I encourage you to be brave and reach out to someone as soon as possible. If you need help locating someone, check Psychologytoday.com or your local mental health resource system.
Do you have any other ideas that help you get through parties and gatherings? I’d love to hear from you! Share here or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.