I suffered from crippling anxiety for years when I was younger. Panic attacks and general anxiety started to take over my life and I found myself avoiding any situation I thought could induce my anxiety.
The thing with anxiety is the more you run from it the worse it gets and the more difficult it becomes to face those situations.
If socializing is bringing up anxiety for you I think it’s important that you seek out opportunities to socialize instead of running and hiding. I know that might seem like ridiculous advice if you’re suffering from anxiety right now but trust me avoiding situations will only make you more anxious about them in the future.
If you want to live a life where anxiety doesn’t rule your decisions you need to be willing to be uncomfortable. After working with a great therapist and facing all of the situations that used to trigger panic attacks I now live mostly free of anxiety. However, I still remember what it feels like to be uncomfortable and anxious. I created this guide to help you socialize when you have anxiety. I hope it encourages you to take steps outside of your comfort zone.
Question Your Fear
Before you go to an event spend some time figuring out what about socializing makes you anxious. Do you think you don’t fit in? Are you worried you will say something stupid and people will judge you? Bring your fear to light and then question each one. Ask yourself:
- Is this belief an indisputable fact?
- What would I tell a close friend or loved one that had this belief?
- What would I like to believe instead?
When you have anxiety it’s easy to let your thoughts run wild and spiral out of control. Asking these questions can help slow down your anxious thoughts and give you a chance to redirect your inner dialogue. There are so many things in life that are out of our control. However, you CAN control how you see things and your self-talk. It takes a lot of practice but it is possible to change your perspective and the stories you tell yourself about life and social situations. For more info about intrusive thoughts check out this article.
If you notice yourself starting to be negative about yourself or the event redirect your thoughts to something positive. Before I would go to an event I would think about every negative thing under the sun and generally work myself up into a terrible mood.
If you start to think negative thoughts redirect them to something positive instead. Make a list if you need to of all the reasons you want to attend the event so you can remind yourself why you’re attending if you start to think negatively.
When I get really negative I also like to switch into gratitude. Thinking about all the things in your life that you are thankful for will make you feel way better overall than dwelling on things that you don’t like or are unhappy about.
If you want to hear more about how I use gratitude to improve my mental health check out the podcast episode below.
Bring a Friend
Social situations can seem a lot less intimidating when you have someone with you.
If it’s possible bring a friend with you and let them know you need a little emotional support. Make an effort to socialize with people you don’t know but if you start to feel anxious retreat back and talk to your friend for a little bit.
Bonus points if you can find a really outgoing or social friend to bring with you. Knowing you don’t have to carry the conversation can take a lot of the pressure off of socializing and having someone with you that you know can make you feel more comfortable.
Bring a Comfort Item
I really love crystals so I usually keep one in my pocket or in my purse whenever I’m doing something that I think will trigger my anxiety.
You can hold the object in your hand and focus on it to bring you back to the present moment. The purpose is to try and take your focus off the anxiety in your mind by directing all of your focus onto the object.
You can do this with any object that you have available like a glass or a fork. Just hold it in your hand and focus on how it feels, the shape of it, the texture etc. This can help interrupt your anxious thoughts and keep them from escalating.
Talk to a Therapist
If your anxiety is negatively impacting your life you should talk to a therapist.
I am so glad I decided to talk to a therapist and get help for my anxiety. It was a lot of really hard work but ultimately I got my life back. I haven’t had a panic attack in years but before I went to therapy they were a weekly occurrence in my life.
I was constantly scared of having a panic attack and was constantly avoiding any situation that could trigger my anxiety. It was a really crappy time in my life but I’m so glad I was able to get help and learn how to manage my anxiety.
I had to go to a few different therapists before I found someone that specialized in helping people with panic attacks.
It might take some effort to find the right person but I think it is completely worth it. I currently talk to a therapist via Skype instead of in person and if that sounds like something you might be interested in you can find out more about it here.
Have an Excuse
Thinking of an excuse ahead of time always comforts me because I know I can leave whenever I want. Remember, you’re not trapped anywhere and you’re free to leave whenever you want.
All too often we put too much responsibility on ourselves to go to events or gatherings for other people. It’s nice to go and show support but you’re not under any obligation to stay for the entire event.
Just giving myself to leave at any time without feeling guilty takes the pressure off of me and makes me feel better. I usually end up staying for the entire event once I get there but knowing I can leave and that I don’t need to feel bad about it helps me manage my anxiety.
You can even set this up ahead of time and tell the host of the event that you will come by for a little bit but you have to leave at a certain time.
This is a great way to manage expectations so they know to just expect you to be there for a little while.
Usually, when my anxiety gets really bad I’m focusing really intensely on my own thoughts and feelings. Redirecting my focus outward can help keep my anxiety from escalating. Focus on the temperature of the room, the body language of the people around you or the decor.
When you notice your thoughts are turning inward redirect them and focus on something external. Remember, no one else is focusing on you as much as you are. I used to feel like everyone was judging everything I said and it made my anxiety really difficult to deal with in social situations.
I started intensely focusing on what other people were saying to direct my attention externally and stop obsessing and worrying about what I was going to say.
Prepare some questions to ask people if there is a lull in conversation or if you need to make small talk with someone you don’t know.
Having questions ahead of time can help you feel prepared and help ease any awkward silences. Try and think of three questions you can ask before you go to the event. Try to think of something related to the event you’re going to if you can.
I’ve found it’s actually really easy to carry a conversation if you just ask people questions. I used to pretend like I was interviewing people and just try to keep asking them questions. This way the conversation was flowing but I didn’t really have to talk that much or carry the entire conversation which felt like a lot less pressure to me.
There are lots of different grounding exercises you can do if you start to feel anxious. You can find more ideas for grounding techniques in this article but here is one of my favorites.
5,4,3,2,1 Method: Look around the room and focus on five things you see. Focus on them very intensely and allow yourself to take them in. Then find Four things you can feel and notice the different sensations in your body. Next notice three things you can hear. Take notice of any static noise you weren’t aware of before (air conditioners, wind, etc). Then notice two things you can smell. Finally, name one good quality you like about yourself or say an affirmation.
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