This weekend just gone I had the first bout of social anxiety I’ve had in a long time. Angst around family events is something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember, however much I wanted to see people and have a nice time I would always become absorbed by a nagging feeling of inadequacy. That I’d do or say something wrong. It wasn’t something I could push aside, I would quite literally become consumed by anxiety, totally unable to function, often with a side order of panic attack. While things have become easier in recent years and I’ve learnt strategies to deal with things, some situations still throw me, and unfortunately I room full of Mike’s extended family was one of those situations! I was just totally overwhelmed, all these new people who I was pretty sure were judging hard (it was the first time Mike had brought anyone home to one of these events) and feeling like I just couldn’t cope. In the end I made it downstairs and made it through, and I’m really proud of myself for that. As I shared my story on Instagram I realised how many people struggle with the same thing, it was comforting to know I wasn’t alone, and without those virtual hugs I don’t think I would have managed the situation so well and calmed myself down so efficiently, so thank you to all those people (many of whom were total strangers who reached out). In case you’re like me, and have a room full of family to deal with in the next week or so, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve found help mitigate my social anxiety.
Have an ally – all you need is one person who you really trust and who you know will look after you. Mine is Mike. When I was struggling he never left me alone, and he also made sure the practical stuff was covered, so making sure I’d eaten (I get more anxious when I’ve not got food in my belly) and getting me out of the room when a sing-a-long was suggested.
Rearrange the table – sitting next to people you don’t know is really hard if you have social anxiety. When I know it’s going to happen (like at a wedding) I go in prepared with inoffensive topics to talk about (one of my friends whips out her wedding pictures to give her some purpose) and focus hard on chewing my food, when it’s a surprise I tend to do some sneaky rearranging. Mike’s Mum seemed to have my back on this one and rearranged things for me so that I was between Mike and a small child who wasn’t expecting conversation.
Take breaks – During awkward moments Mike and I discovered a bowl of sweets in another room we became very pre-occupied with. Whatever works, just make sure you have somewhere quite that’s easy to slip off to. Good options include; walking the dog, going to the loo (although only in a house with multiple toilets so no one hassles you to get out, and always go for the one furthest from the party - top tip) and the dining room (once food is done people scarper to avoid cleaning up, and conveniently it gives you a job, see below).
Ask for jobs – a job is a good way to keep busy and avoid the stress of small talk. Particularly good jobs are those in the kitchen, you can’t be criticised for being dull because you’re helping, and it’s generally in another, quieter, room.
Drink through it – let me clarify you don’t need to drink alcohol for this one, but if you’ve got a topped up glass no one can bug you to refill it and you can sip your drink if you don’t fancy joining in a conversation without looking like you’re being antisocial. It keeps you busy. And hydrated (as long as you’re not drinking wine).
Finding social events difficult is much more common than you’d imagine, despite what our culture tells us, you’re definitely not alone and you don’t have anything to feel guilty about (I keep telling myself that one).
**image: Anna Rachel Photography