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.

18 thoughts on “How to Deal With Anxiety at Parties and Social Gatherings

  1. personally the first technique has worked quite well for me.

    Sure it may take more time and courage before i need to actually stop depending on others but I believe it is something that needs to be as well.

  2. Another effective strategy for overcoming social anxiety that is often overlooked is PRACTICE and the DESENSITIZATION that comes with pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.

    Often it is a chicken or the egg scenario with people who have social phobias as they do not have much experience interacting with others because they are not comfortable in these types of situations and therefore they are avoided.

    As with most things in life, if is necessary to be willing to PUSH YOURSELF OUTSIDE OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE if you are to grow physically, emotionally, or mentally. One of the most effective strategies for getting more comfortable in social situations is forcing yourself to get out and interact with other people as often as possible.

    Don’t look at each interaction as a success or a failure. Instead look at it as an opportunity to improve your social skills and a necessary stepping stone on the path to self-actualization.

  3. It is interesting that you say that Anthony. Some scientific studies I was reading today said that many scientists actually believe that agoraphobia is a condition that is related to a physical position. By this I mean that sufferers get anxious when they have to leave their home and it has nothing to do with the people or the emotions involved.

    This makes me think that your idea could really help – get out and just do it. The more the better.

  4. Hi

    I think the foremost thing in making any change is the desire and seeing a benefit in it. So, it’s no use trying to push interacting if you don’t see any long-term purpose. Then, best is to avoid the social occassions where possible.

    I’m interested to hear more of your story… What drove you to change, how bad was it, do you actually enjoy social interactions now… etc.

    At the moment I’m writing a series on my blog about introversion / extroversion which touches on this.

    Juliet

  5. Thanks Daily Minder (Admin)…glad I could add to the conversation. If you have a sec, please pop over and check out our blog at SociaTropin.com and comment on any of our related articles.

  6. I have social anxiety. Even sometimes thinking about catching up with people I know and never have a bad time with, I feel anxious and reluctant. I don’t know how to improve my insecurities, low self esteem and low self confidence. I just want to be comfortable and happy with being me. My partner of 10 years left 9 months ago and its been even worse, I guess because I can no longer hide behind him. I’m doing good things for me, but still have this anxiety.

  7. I do indeed feel this. I get social anxiety over the silliest things! and not worrying IS a really good strategy. it isnt a cure all. what also helps is SPONTANEITY….okay, here is a little story.

    i was at camp….we (high school girls) had to perform something as a group for the camp. i was dead-nervous. i could not stop worrying, and when it came time, i freaked out and told my very kind and understanding councellor i could not do it. she excused me. then when everyone got up there, i just felt like i needed to. i just walked up there, and stood by my friend…. I started laughing!!!! it wasnt nerve wracking at all! i was so happy. i find that the anxiety leading up to the event is worst. so is when the event is very prolonged.
    and sometimes volunteering to go first can help you more!
    oh and sometimes when you get really jittery (or even as bad as to get neck convulsions like me), then let something twitch as hard as it can….i know that sounds wierd, but it really helps. one time i had to give a presentation to my english teacher, and my hand started spazzing like id never seen…….but i let it do that without stopping it, and it felt so much better.
    unfortunately i still get the same anxiety i always did. not so bad with meeting people though.

  8. Fear to me is not the problem because it is part of human nature and everyone has it some way or another sentence and sound very ridiculous. Also my mind can become so empty and frivolous that I go blank even though my mind is full of meaningful thoughts as a result of the panic or fear of panic. So I must ascertain that the physical symptoms of fear rather than fear itself is my problem. I must agree that deep breathing and exercise is helpful right before the occasion, but it is not always possible when you are in the middle of a crowd anticipating the event for long hours. Also that alone does not help the problem of hyperventilation and anxiety sickness. I must point out that part of the problem is our culture and how it categorizes individuals based on their outgoing personalities. Most lucrative careers and leadership positions require an outgoing personality with easy nature in the crowds. For people who are introvert and shy, rewards both financially and socially are less and hence the fear of loss—anxiety is more compounded. I believe that every school in the nation should be able to spot those weaknesses in us at early age and develop special classes catered with love, acceptance, and compassion to walk us through our anxiety of public speech and parties. Repetition makes perfection and if a child can learn how to stand up every day or other day and give a mini presentation in front of a crowd that gets bigger gradually, the anxious child will learn how to cope with her fears eventually. Humans are intuitively smart and it suffices that they experience things to learn it without deep analysis of their all aspects. Unfortunately I am too old to do that at school, but I have been seriously considering joining a toastmaster club in my area. By the way I did some impressive presentations back in college, but I never got over the mental burden of anxiety each and every time I must stand up and say something in public. It is sort of funny when I think about it because once you have a successful event, it should go away forever, right? Wrong! Anxiety is like a BIOS or CMOS memory in computer. Every time you boot up the computer, it takes over the computer start up process. It is quite challenging to deal with it. I also must agree that understanding, empathy, sympathy, and compassion of others—the crowd has everything to do with it simply because it is our fear of being judged by the crowd is what causes it in the first place.

  9. The tough part for me is that parties are conversation based. My conversations invariably feel strained when anxious. I look around and see a lot of conversations where people seem so happy to be with eachother… and I’m not a part of any of them. It doesn’t take long to decide I’m not a part of the party; it’s time to leave.

    The more people I know and the smaller the party is the better.

    A large party where I know only a few people who are already chatting; forget it, I’m gone.

  10. I am Ok with friends and family, but not with strangers, my husband has a job that involves lots of parties with strangers a lot, and I have to go with our 3 kids (they are always informal gatherings such as backyard bbq’s)but he wants me not to experience anxiety and the fact is I do, he is otherwise a kind husband and good father, but he picks on me being scared at parties and he does it in front of the kids to, he wants me to walk around and mingle with people, but I just don’t know how to do this, not to mention I always have the kids to be watching and entertaing (2 are under 2). It is a lot of work for me and not fun, but he gives me no credit at all for doing it anyway. We are both Christians and I feel no anxiety at all with other Christians, who will accept me as I am and love me anyway, but I have to keep my issues a secret when with his work people, I do not understand why he is so mean to me concerning this disorder, God knows I am trying and I think I am brave to go anyway knowing I will be silently suffering through the pain of the anxiety the whole time, and he always stays so long we are usually the last to leave any party, with two overtired and crying toddlers that I am juggling WHILE suffering the anxiety!

  11. Thank you for writing this-I am actually on my way to a nye party that I’ve been really worrying about. My husband is a social butterfly and just “doesn’t get it.” I wish he did! His impatience with me really seems to make things worse. I just can’t explain why I get so anxious, but this article gave me a few good techniques I will use tonight:). If worse comes to worse, I can just reread this while hiding in the bathroom tonight! Ha, kidding. Kind of.

  12. You know, I’ve read a lot of “how to” (or should I say, “how not to”) guides for anxiety problems over the years and mostly they are just a bunch fluff, tea and sympathy. But this advice is really good and brings up things that most “advice” sites miss. I especially like the “you’re not that important” and “substances” advice. When I smoked cigarettes, drank alchohol, too much coffee (to cure hangovers) and the odd “toot” (MJ) I would experience panic attacks regularly. Although I still get very anxious at bigger parties, weddings, etc. and I avoid travelling far distances by car or place, my day-to-day panic attacks are almost gone (2 or 3 per year?) Trust me – if you smoke, drink booze, drink lots of coffee, or do stimulant drunks take the advice of the author here. Also, I have found that long term use of benzodiazepines (valium, ativan, etc.) can actually make anxiety WORSE. The more you use these, sometimes the more your cycle of anxiety, avoidance, agoraphobia and panic persists! Good luck to all you anxiety/panic/social phobics out there. I feel your pain – but what we have is treatable and curable. You do need a bit of faith – and remember – you’re still HERE so anxiety and panic can’t kill you (in the short term anyways). Also, I have found that learning to RELAX and meditate is very important. Many anxious people just can’t sit still – I am still very agitated and can’t relax. This is a fast paced high pressure world we live in – fight back: relearn the art of relaxation. And rest. Get to bed on time! Fatigue amplifies your anxiety. Be good to yourselves. Peace.

  13. Tomorrow I may be going to hang out with people for the first time in months. I’m so nervous, a lot of it is because I’m afraid of people asking me where I’ve been, which has been home and nowhere else! I don’t know who’s with who anymore, and I’m afraid of saying the wrong things, or rather, not saying anything at all. I can’t start convorsations at all without it coming out sounding completely wrong. My cousins will be there, and they’re always total dicks. My hands get sweaty, and I get that feeling in the chest of horrible anticipation, and it almost never goes away. Plus, I can’t just excuse myself from the gathering and go home, because I live 4 miles from town and don’t have a car, I HAVE to stay with my cousins :( AND I’m sick, so when I toke I hack my guts out! I’m not a drinker, but it might be hard being COMPLETELY sober at a party. And when I go to bed I cough alot, and I don’t want to be up for hours keeping everyone else awake, as we would all sleep in the livingroom. It’s possible I might be able to find a ride back home, but it would have to be pretty early, like 6-8. So nervous, and I just hope that I don’t breakdown right beforehand, as this has happened before, and makes for a pretty shitty evening. I’m not a user, but we do indulge every so often, and if I decide to take some shit I become a mute, but if everyone else does and I don’t it’s not going to be very fun at all. Shroom season is over, and those are the only thing a can take and fit in. Don’t go thinking I’m that kind of person, I have a B average and am definately NOT an addict to anything, let that be clear! I don’t even know for sure if I would be staying the night, but I want to be prepared, but what if I bring an overnight bag and don’t stay the night? I don’t want to look like that! I hate being the redhead with freckles, even though one of my cousins is too. We get made fun of all the time. I hate getting made fun of because I can never think of any good comebacks. What if Sophie and Alex are there? Sophie actually stands up for me sometimes, but it’s really embarassing, because she says stuff like, “Why does everyone always pick on Phoebe?” Doesn’t help. Should I bring coughdrops? It would suck if I did and then wanted a calming cig, it would taste like menthol, yuck! What if my cousins ask to stay at my house? My step-sis fucking reeks! I feel like I can’t deal with this! I wish I could just tell some people about my problem, but I’m not close to anyone! The ONE TIME I hinted about it, they just looked at me weird and called me paranoid. I don’t have a very good reputation, as I’ve embarassed myself literally hundreds times in front of everybody. I’m not kidding, really HUNDREDS of times. I almost want to make an excuse not to go, but… Well, this girl Carolina, the coolest strongest funniest girl that everyone loves is the one who invited me to come hang out. I love her (as a friend), so I don’t want to cancel, but… I’m afraid that if I cancel… I feel like this is my last chance at starting to become social again. Should I tell her about how I worry so much about this? Or should I wait until I get some meds and decide? My family has been right in the middle, where we make too much for medi-cal but not quite enough for Healthy Families. But recently my step-dad got on disability, so we can qualify for medi-cal for a few weeks, so hopefully I will be able to see a psychiatrist long enough for them to prescribe me something and start counciling, and then after we don’t qualify I have an aunt who would pay for the meds and stuff. I just don’t know. I’ve been doing online school this year, and would like to be able to go back to the regular high school next year, but unless some drastic changes happen That won’t. I’ve been in pretty much complete isolation for about 9 months now, and have just about lost my sanity. I just want to feel normal. I’ve dealt with emotional and image problems almost my whole life, and this needs to end. Everytime that I remember an embarassment I cringe and hyperventilate, although it’s not as bad PHYSICALLY if I’m around people, because I just focus more on blocking it out so no one will notice.
    Okay she just sent me her number and a “hopefully see you then.” I almost feel better already, it’s amazing how others can affect me! Anywho, this is how I’ve been feeling, and I think I will try some of these tips tomorrow. Best advice site ever!

  14. This describes my situation with large or semi-large parties. Whenever I feel like I am being forced to engage in conversation with people I get very uptight because I feel like I have nothing interesting to say and that the other person is judging me harshly as a result.

    I also feel like many of the conversations you have to have at parties are just a lot of meaningless babble, made by people who are just trying to be polite. I guess I just don’t understand the whole point of it all. I would rather be home watching a good movie or reading a good book than engaging in unecessary chit chat with people I will probably never encounter again.

    I am OK in small gatherings with people I know fairly well and already feel comfortable with. When I have to go to a party with a lot of people I don’t know or barely know, even when my wife is with me, I feel very uncomfortable. It has gotten worse as I get older (I am 60 years old)

    If I me et had to go to a large party again for the rest of my live tha would be fine by me.

  15. I’ve had problems with agoraphobia for 11 years, & although im improving, im organising a party for someone special, and im struggling because I want it over & done with, everything is ready to go, but cant be done till the day & I just cant stop worrying, I want it done & off my mind, I cant sleep, poor appetite, feel sick, the partys going to be great for everyone else, but I said to my partner never again will I be the host, he’s really helpful, he said I’ve nothing to worry about, I just want to hide away, and give up, im also trying hard with CBT its hard trying to improve myself, whilst having other plans & people I have to be there for,

  16. I have a work Xmas party in the 30th and I wasn’t going to go but I’m tired of letting my issue stopping me from joining in at these kind of events….. So I’m going to read your tips everyday and try to remember that everyone there is my friend and aren’t the to look, judge or talk about me and that it’ll be fun. I just hope I don’t chicken out before hand.

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