Are you someone who dreads the annual office party? Does the thought of mingling and making small talk make you want to run for the hills?
If you suffer from social anxiety this time of year can be extra tricky as there is often pressure to attend events you would normally avoid at all costs.
What constitutes social anxiety?
It is essentially the fear of being judged. So it is any fears or worries that you have about what others think of you. We all create some social anxiety, it is really normal as we instinctively want to be liked and to fit in. But excessive worrying about whether people will think you look awful, won't want to talk to you or that you will make a fool of yourself can cause a person to feel very anxious and even avoid the situation all together. Here are my top 5 strategies for minimizing the impact of these worries:
When you dread an upcoming event what happens is that you build up 'anticipatory anxiety'. Every negative thought that you have leading up to it, every time you imagine it being awful you will build your anxiety levels up so that by the time you get to the event you will feel really stressed and even panicky. Keep this at a minimum by doing the exact opposite! Try imagining how you WANT it to be not how you FEAR it will be. Picture yourself walking into the venue, shoulders back, head up, smiling and greeting people with ease, completely calm and relaxed. Every time you do this leading up to the event you will be dialing down the anticipatory anxiety levels so you will feel much more in control and relaxed. Your imagination is the most powerful part of our mind so when you imagine what could go wrong it builds stress and anxiety but if you imagine it being really easy, fun and enjoyable you won't build any stress and will acutally look forward to it! Expect to have fun not a terrible time.
Challenge your thoughts
Social anxiety is created purely in our heads and is not based on reality. We are worrying that other people see the same flaws and insecurities that we see in ourselves. It is not actually about those other people, it is about our own perception of ourselves. If we think we look fat in an outfit we will assume everyone else will think the same. If we think we are awkward and shy we will imagine everyone thinks this. The truth is that we will never know what other people are thinking, In fact there is a huge chance they are worrying about themselves and how they are coming accross and not what you are doing and saying!
So when you are creating social anxiety remember you are doing this with the way you are thinking about the situation. Challenge the thoughts you are having to help you get persepctive. Are you assuming things on the behalf of other people and putting thoughts in their heads? Is there actual evidence that proves what you are worrying about is true? Do this as much as you can and it will help you feel stronger and more confident.
Arrive with someone else
It sounds obvious but it really does help. It takes some of the fear out of the situation by arranging to get a lift with someone else or to meet them outside first. This way you can alleviate any worries about walking in by yourself. There is safety in numbers! They will probably have a little bit of anxiety themselves so don't feel like you are the only one who feels this way. Watch most people head to the bar and get a drink in as soon as possible, This is because people feel instantly more comfortable once they have a bit of dutch courage!
Plan what to wear
A lot of worry will be around what you look like so make sure you take time to choose in advance what you are wearing. Choose something you feel really confident and comfortable in. If you are socially anxious it might not be the time to start experimenting with your fashion choices as that may add to your nerves. If in doubt get a friend or partner to give your outfit a once over before hand.
Don't focus on negative past experiences
It will make you feel much more anxious if you dwell on what you think went wrong last time you were out at a social event. If you replay it over in your head cringing at everything you said and did you are going to make yourself feel terrible. So instead think about what went well, Did you actually end up enjoying yourself? Did you talk to people you normally wouldn't? Did you feel good in what you were wearing? Really try and think about what was positive and it will encourage you to feel good about the up coming event.
Most of all remember it is just a party and you are free to leave whenever you like so just turn up and take it as it is. You never know you may have a really good time!