How to Deal With Anxiety at Parties and Social Gatherings

Creative Commons License photo credit: Amre Ghiba

Parties and social gatherings are a part of life. They are intended to be happy occasions where friends and colleagues get together to catch up and unwind. However, there are a lot of people out there who hate going to parties because they experience high level of anxiety. I used to be one of them. In this post I am going to give you some simple ways to deal with stress and anxiety at parties and social gatherings.

Are you afraid of the marketplace?

First of all it is interesting to look at the condition known as agoraphobia. This word comes from the Greek words agora and phobos and literally translates as “fear of the marketplace”.

Agoraphobia is where people become anxious in situations with which they are unfamiliar or have little control (ie parties). The anxiety is often made worse by the fear of possibly having a panic attack in that unfamiliar situation. The fear and anxiety often spirals out of control and leaves you feeling completely sick and alone.

The condition known as agoraphobia is slightly shrouded in mystery. Experts know what it is but, in truth, they have no idea what causes the problem. There are many different theories and at this time that is all we have to go on. If you find that your fear of parties and social gatherings is becoming more and more serious it is possible that you have this common condition. In that case, it would be a good idea to go and visit your local GP for advice.

How to deal with anxiety at parties and social gatherings

Creative Commons License photo credit: lincolnblues

Even if you do have the condition of agoraphobia the techniques I am about to give you will be of some use. As I mentioned, I used to get extremely anxious before a party. But by using these methods I was soon able to overcome the problem completely.

1. Go with a friend who knows about your problem
Back in high school when I used to suffer from this sort of social gathering related anxiety I had a really good friend who knew my condition. I felt completely comfortable around him and he was very accepting of my reactions. Going to a party with him was a great support because I knew with 100% certainty that he would make excuses for me or support me if I needed to go.

If you have a friend with whom you can be completely open with about your condition it is a great idea to ask them to come along with you. My friend used to be my saving grace – never judgmental or impatient. I remember one party we went to when we were 18 where he sat in the car with me for over an hour just talking to me because he knew I needed to calm down. It was a massive gift for me when everyone else (parents, sisters, etc.) were telling me to just “get over it”.

Try to be open about your problem. I always found that telling people made it better, not worse. If people are aware that you get a little anxious they will always support you.

2. Understand that you’re not that important
The title of this point might seem a little bit harsh but it is something that really helped me out. Give me a few paragraphs to explain because I think it could help you too.

Understanding that you are not that important is a valuable tool to learn. To this day I feel that a lot of my anxiety at parties came because I wanted to uphold a certain “persona” or “character” and I got anxious when I felt that there was going to a be a situation where I might be “exposed”. For example, high school is a time when everyone is trying to be cool and fit in. If you get anxious before a party it might be because you are worrying too much about what other people think about you. You spend so much time worrying what others think about you that it ends up making you really nervous, paranoid and anxious.

Sometimes it is useful to say to yourself, “I am not that important. People are not thinking about me at every moment. My every move is not being scrutinized.” If you be realistic you will come to realize that most people are too wrapped up in their own issues and neurosis to be concerned with you.

3. Cut the pre-party worry chain
Getting anxious at the party itself is only part of the battle. One of the worst things that sufferers of this condition experience is days or even weeks of nervous anticipation. They worry and think about the party so much before hand that when they arrive at the day of the party itself the anxiety is beyond control.

If you want to learn how to deal with anxiety and panic at a party you need to take care of the preparation. Preparing yourself by worrying will only lead to bad experiences. If you can, however, cut the chain of worry you will find that the party itself is not at all that bad.

I wrote a lot about worry in this post on how to deal with worry. The basic technique that you need to learn is simply becoming aware of the fact that you are worrying. Look inside your mind and notice that worry is arising. You don’t need to try to get rid of it or force it out, just become aware of it. When you can do this you will find that it has a lot less power and you are more able to gain control over your mind.

4. Bring to mind the truth of impermanence
When you are suffering from a panic attack or high levels of anxiety it is useful to remember that nothing is permanent. Your panic, anxiety and stress will all go away soon enough.

For example, if you are going to a party and you really do not want to go because you are feeling anxious it is good to bring to mind the fact that both the party and your anxiety will soon finish. They will not last forever. The great thing about this strategy is that you know it is true – you can look at your own experiences to realize that anxiety doesn’t last. It never has before and it never will – it is always going to be impermanent.

The next time you rock up to a party or social gathering and start to feel the anxiety creeping in just take a moment to sit under the sky and say to yourself, “This won’t last.” Remind yourself that your panic will come, but it will also go. The party has started, but it will soon finish. Why get so worked up about something that is only fleeting? This really helped me with my own anxiety.

5. Don’t drink alcohol, coffee or smoke anything
This should be a given but many people do not realize the negative effects that these three substances have on your anxiety and stress. Coffee, alcohol and smoking (tobacco and marijuana) all lead to increased levels of anxiety.

If you cut out these substances you will not automatically cure your party anxiety. It will still probably come about. However, the flip side of this is that if you DO take these substances your anxiety and panic will get much worse. While I have never been a drinker or a smoker, I did used to consume an awful lot of coffee. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was making me very anxious. As soon as I cut it out I noticed that my mind was much easier to control – much more relaxed.

Next time you have a party to go to try cutting out these three things. See how your mind reacts. See how your body reacts. See if you feel more in control. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

6. Stop the mental chatter
This point is closely related to the strategy about cutting the worry chain. However, this point has more to do with the internal “conversation” that we all seem to have. This mental chatter, in my experience, makes dealing with anxiety a lot worse.

Let’s pretend you are going to a party and all your old high school friends are going to be there. You might start feeling a little anxious and so, as a means to deal with your anxiety, you start talking to yourself about all the different situations that might arise at the party. Your goal is to “cover” all the possible scenarios that might occur and in doing so you believe that you will be better prepared for the party. Wrong.

Mental chatter always makes worry and anxiety worse. The reason for this is simple: worry never sorts anything out. You could spend every minute of everyday for 1000 years thinking about a party but you will never find a solution. The more you internally jabber on about it the worse your anxiety will become.

The next time you notice yourself starting one of these internal dialogues remind yourself that nothing good will come of it. You will not be able to sort out anything by thinking about it. All you are doing is wasting precious time worrying about something that might/might not happen! What a waste of energy.

7. Exercise before hand
Exercise has been scientifically proven to improve the happiness of a person. The reason exercise makes you happy is twofold. Firstly, exercises causes your body to release a chemical called endorphins which make you feel good. Secondly, when you exercise you feel better about yourself mentally. Exercising before a party can be a great way to get a hold on the stress.

The best exercise you can do is something that is considered “high intensity”. My personal favorite are heavy weights or martial arts. These exercises fill you with confidence and to some degree relax your body such that you are less likely to feel the stresses and pains of anxiety overcoming you.

Another form of exercise that might be beneficial is yoga or tai chi. These have been used for centuries to calm the mind and relax the body. It is said that getting the internal energies or “chi” under control will help you to stay calm. Yoga and tai chi certainly do this.

8. Remember, it could be worse!
Sometimes it is tempting to think that a party is the worst place to be on Earth. But it isn’t. Life could be a lot worse.

I always found it really helpful to remember that I am quite fortunate to be able to attend a party with my friends and family. Many people around the world do not have the freedom or the ability to attend parties – their life is spent just surviving. The next time you feel like the anxiety is too much remind yourself that a party is actually a happy event. Don’t let your own issues spoil it for you.

How about you?

I would love to hear whether or not you get nervous before a party. Do you feel stress, anxious and sometimes panicked before it starts? If so, have you found any techniques that help to calm you down? Please leave a comment and let everyone know. As I always say, it might really help someone reading this article.

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