Think you get anxious at parties? Try it totally sober. For the first time ever.
That’s what I did back in November of 2012 when I had one day sober. I went to a party on the Upper East Side, and I was so internally shook that I stood in a bathroom doorway holding a red solo cup of seltzer pretending to text Ghosty McNobody on my phone, not knowing what to do with myself. As I was about to bolt, a friendly face approached me, and, ultimately, I stayed. Six years later, I’m still sober, and I’m more comfortable in any social setting, and in my own skin, than I’ve ever been.
Whether you’re on the wagon, off the wagon, or nowhere near a wagon at all, the truth is, social anxiety is real, and it can make everyday life really painful! You’re not alone if you struggle sometimes, or if you tend to either bail last minute or rely on social lubricants like liquor, drugs, or anything else to help you along. Unfortunately, those are just not reliable sources of confidence.
Therefore, during high party season—when you’re inundated with invites to weddings, work parties, your significant other’s work party, a girl’s night with girls you don’t know, family get-togethers and other holiday-related festivities—you’ll want to be armed with something that’s free and totally at your fingertips: a perspective shift.
Ready to totally own the room, or at least, own your own place in it? Read on, friend.
1. Think about what you can bring to the party, literally.
Check ahead to see if there is something you can contribute, whether it’s set-up, bringing a dish or menu planning, or finding venues or activities. Going in knowing you’ve got something to contribute will make you feel more like you’re part of the event rather than just a spectator, and that’s a good feeling. Help with the seating plan. Not only will you be doing something to help, but, you’ll have a tiny bit of control at your fingertips, and when we’re anxious, that sort of teeny power bump can make us calm. True story.
2. Come armed with a joke, a funny story about something you read or went through that day, and get out of your own head.
You’re showing up instead of flaking out, and these days, when a last minute text seems to constitute bailout etiquette, that’s saying something. So, how to make that easier on yourself?
Be prepared to bring something to the party that’s not physical — and you’ll stop worrying about what everyone will think of you — what you’re wearing, where you work or live, whether you’re there solo — come prepared with the mindset of knowing that hey, guess what, when you walk into a room, everyone’s not judging you.
They’re either thinking the exact same thing about themselves — what do they think of me?—or they’re into the conversations they’re having. Peaches, this is going to sound rough, but it’s the truth: no matter who you are, you’re not that important. They’re not investing their time in sizing you up.
If some deranged soul does throw shade, let’s just go ahead and assume they’re jealous. If a hottie is giving you a once over, get over there immediately and compliment his….socks. People always wear colorful socks, especially around the holidays.
3. Have a check-in text buddy.
This one is simple. Knowing that you’ll have a friend or two on the other end to reassure you that you’re a flawless queen who is crushing it at life means the world. It really does.
4. If you can, bring a real buddy.
There’s nothing wrong with asking if you can bring a plus one, whether that’s your BFF or someone you’ve gone on a few dates with. Maybe you make a plan to stick close to your work wife or your favorite niece or nephew, or spend some time at the kids' table.
5. Set a limit on your time.
Entering into a situation where you’re not in control of when it starts or ends can feel really intimidating. However, you can control how much of your time you’re willing to give. In most situations where food is served, for example, making an exit after you’ve eaten and before dessert is totally cool.
If it’s a family function with no real start or end time, dedicate yourself to a certain amount of hours and know that’ll be your hard stop time, then find any reason to get out of there. In an ideal world, we’d never have to lie, and most of the time, “I really should get going” is sufficient.
If it’s an informal affair, spend enough time where you are to try and say hello to everyone, get in a few photos, try a few bites, and then get going to “your next engagement.” The one with your couch and your cat.
Where family is concerned, think back to Charlotte and Samantha a la Sex and the City. Bring out your phone, and say, “Oh no, something bad is happening!” Put your phone away. Say, “Sorry fam, my friend needs me. This has been absolutely amazing, so good to see you guys, and I’d love to hear how this debate about why any women voted for Trump turned out. Text me who won.”
6. Did you think I was going to suggest meditating? You’re wrong.
Just kidding. You’re right. But rather than sitting in silence for 30 minutes, try a free app like Insight Timer, which has thousands of guided meditations to help you do a variety of things, like cut through anxiety or stress, negative feelings, practice self-love, breathe your way into calm...you’d be amazed at what five deep breathes can do when you feel your pulse quickening.
7. Ask questions
One thing I’ve learned as a journalist: people love talking about themselves. It’s ok to start with the basics like where you’re from, where the best restaurant they’ve been to lately is, how their commute over was, where they got their dress. But bonus points for asking fun questions, if you can find a way to work them in, and in a fun way. “I’m actually in charge of finding out everyone’s favorite color and their worst fears for a blog post that will be published nowhere. Please help me impress our host.”
8. Go where the food is.
People. Love. Food. There is no shame in positioning yourself near the goods, if there is a spread, and double fisting plates. Feel free to make personal recommendations about Instagram lighting and positioning, too. Offer your flashlight in a dimly lit setting. Now you’re a hero.
9. Play this fun pre-party game: And Then What.
When we’re anxious, we’re pretty busy thinking about what could go wrong, and that means a lot of different things to a lot of us, but behind anxiety is fear and worry, and it’s usually custom-tailored to your own personal nightmares or insecurities.
So, get a trusted friend to walk you through the worst case scenario, answering everything with “And then what” to get you through the worst possible case scenario. By the time you’re at “And I die alone of depression and embarrassment,” the “and then what” that follows usually makes you realize that no matter what happens, you’re gonna be okay.
10. Avoid the post-game rundown
You showed up, you left, you didn’t accidentally insult anyone or pee your pants. That’s great! Stay with that. If we let our minds wander to the “Oh ,but what if this guy thought I meant…” or “Did it look like we weren’t that into each other because…” or “What did that guy actually mean by…” you’re going to drive yourself crazy thinking about things that you likely won’t get answers to.
Also, you’re probably the only one still thinking about it. It’s a new day. You have the reference point of showing up and making it.