Social steps. . .

There’s a party this weekend, you should come – A phrase guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of all those who suffer with social anxiety. Others include – are you coming for drinks after work? Or – shall we go for a coffee to discuss the project? I’ve had social anxiety ever since I can remember. The signs were there at an early age. I hated big family BBQ’s or birthday celebrations. The worst part was the drive over. I would dread the initial five minutes, filled awkward embraces and greeting family friends who I hadn’t seen in years. Like all children I was expected to ‘perform.’ Chatting animatedly with the adults about school or playing with the other children outside. I tried my best, as I didn’t want to be labelled as strange. But somehow the words ‘quiet’ and ‘shy’ were used in reference to me. At one party I hid in the upstairs loo for over half an hour to avoid the crippling walk around the house looking for ways to occupy myself. My grandma was my saviour, she could always be relied on to have a few wines and start talking about politics or the evils of cigarettes, (she was normally chain smoking at the time.) Tbh, I would’ve been much happier to spend all of the parties this way.. sat outside reading a book and listening to her rants! Alcohol certainly helped during my university years. What better way to silence the fear than with liquid courage? Sadly, this isn’t a strategy that should be used frequently as an adult, particularly at work related events!

By definition, social anxiety is; “the fear of being judged negatively by others.” In my opinion, it’s a lot more complex than that… but we’ll save that rant for another time!
Mind has some really useful information on it though. Click here to view.

In the past when I’ve attended work events, or parties filled with people that I didn’t know my mind would explode with negative thoughts:

  • Nobody here wants to talk to you
  • They’ll all think that you’re strange and a loser
  • You have nothing smart or interesting to say
  • If you try to talk you’ll start blushing or shaking
  • You should go home now before you embarrass yourself.

Ironically, if a colleague would’ve said any of the above then two sharp words ending with ‘off’ would follow.. but we tend to accept things more when they come from ourselves.

Whenever you enter a party, particularly a work one, at least 50% of the people in that room will have similar worries to you. They might hide it behind loud voices and big smiles, but at the end of the day everybody likes to feel accepted… we’re human after all! So what can we do about the negative thoughts? Well lets think about it for a moment… are you 100% sure that nobody in the room wants to talk to you? That’s quite a big generalisation to make, perhaps the thought is unrealistic. Also, do you really have nothing interesting to say at all? I doubt that anybody is asking for a dictation of Einstein’s theory of relativity (unless you’re some kind of super academic!) Remember: When translated, all of these thoughts mean the exact same thing “I’m nervous” and we’ve already determined that feeling nervous is normal, so there’s nothing strange about you whatsoever! Ok, so here are my survival tips.

  1. Decide what you’re going to wear well in advance, so that you’re not rushing around on the night. Pick something classic, that you feel comfortable in. Now is NOT the time to try a new hair or makeup look. (Been there, had the meltdown).
  2. Try not to be late. Rushing will only increase your heart rate and leave you feeling flustered. Instead arrive with enough time to freshen up in the toilets and climatise to the surroundings. However, if you are late, take a few minutes to breathe before you burst in.
  3. Body language. Make a conscious effort to keep your posture straight and a pleasant smile on your face. (To be clear, I don’t mean like the Cheshire Cat)! Think about it, would you want to talk to the moody looking sod, slumped in the corner? I doubt it. Power poses are a great way to inject some positive adrenaline into the body. Amy Cuddy talks about them, click here to read more. Basically, it involves standing with your hands on your hips like Beyonce. Sounds crazy, but it works. A positive posture tricks the brain into feeling more confident.
  4.  Conversation starters. If you find small talk a challenge then jot down a few things in advance, there’s no shame in it. Good ones are: “Have you travelled far?” “Where do you work?” “How do you know so & so?” Are you doing anything nice this weekend? They might sound lame, but they’re easy and are guaranteed to start a conversation.
  5. Don’t dwell. If something bad happens such as a rebuff or mild embarrassment, simply take yourself away to the loos for a five minutes (remember, they’re a haven!) Feel whatever you’re feeling, don’t try to suppress it. Remind yourself that you’re human and are doing just fine. Then feel please that you made the effort and leave the toilets with your head held high. In a hour it won’t even matter any more.

If all else fails then just have a few glasses of wine and put it down to experience! You should feel proud that you stepped outside of your comfort zone. Oh and if you see my grandma then you’re sorted for the evening!

 

13 Comments

  1. April 19, 2015 / 9:57 pm

    This is amazing, I experience pretty much all of these thoughts so reading this makes me feel so much more normal. I basically can’t have a conversation with anyone, apart from my partner and a few family members, without constantly worrying about the impression I’m giving, whether I’m saying the ‘right’ thing, am I blushing, are they bored etc etc. If I could stop thinking about whether I seem normal then ironically I would probably seem a lot more normal, but unfortunately my brain doesn’t seem to be that logical..

    • April 19, 2015 / 10:07 pm

      I’m so glad that you found the post useful. Social anxiety is something that can be maintained with practise. You WILL get there 🙂

  2. April 21, 2015 / 11:09 am

    This is a really great post, I have suffered with social anxiety all my life, so can definitely relate.
    I recently started my own self help blog that focuses a lot on mental illness, so please check it out if you have time. best wishes lauren x

    http://www.lozzieknows.com/

    • April 21, 2015 / 11:13 am

      Hi Lauren, thank you for the comment. I will definitely give your blog a read 🙂

  3. Ayesha
    April 22, 2015 / 8:00 pm

    Thank you for this! My social anxiety is worst when I get frequent panic attacks and I start anticipating them! 😓! I fight this though, and luckily I think I am succeeding slowly!

  4. Lexi
    April 25, 2015 / 1:35 pm

    So much I wanna say to you but the most important thing is: Thank you. Thank you for sharing these things with us in the most genius way possible. I can find myself in every single post and it gives me courage. I remember that finding this blog felt like an enormous relief to me because due to the way you write and structure it I can mentally access and process the information even when I am under extreme pressure or panic.

    Had to get that off my chest. Hope you don’t mind.

    Lexi

    • April 26, 2015 / 12:50 pm

      Thanks so much for your comments Lexi. They made me feel quite emotional. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that my blog gives you courage.
      I wish you luck with everything. Do keep in touch and let me know how you’re getting on.

  5. Jessica
    May 24, 2017 / 10:17 am

    This really is a helpful post! I had terrible issues in my late teens about going out for meals, especially on a one-2-one basis, fearing all the things that you have listed. What is strange is that ever since my first son was born nearly three years ago, these fears have resurfaced along with a whole bunch of new ones. I had a date night last Friday with my husband, the first time we went out for a meal together since our second son was born last June. I was very nervous! So much so that I hardly ate anything and couldn’t wait to get home! How ridiculous! This is my husband I was with, the person in the world who knows me best! Woss up with my brain?!

    Having these tips will help me a great deal over the next few weeks when I return to work (which I am dreading) xx

    • allmadhere
      May 24, 2017 / 11:53 am

      Thanks for sharing Jessica. So glad you found this post useful. Xx

  6. Debbie
    May 24, 2017 / 11:14 am

    Thank you so much for putting into words exactly how I feel. I have suffered anxiety and panic attack for years.Everything you say in your posts I can identify with. I now know it’s social anxiety. The feelings of isolation are hard to explain to anyone who doesn’t understand. Please keep posting

    • allmadhere
      May 24, 2017 / 11:54 am

      Thanks so much Debbie xx

  7. Jellycat
    May 24, 2017 / 12:38 pm

    Oh man, this was/is me in every way. A party invite would frighten the hell out of me and any kind of social gathering…especially with relatives – I’m still the black sheep of the family :). I would come out in a cold sweat at the very thought – how dare you be nice to me and ask me out. Imagine my terror when I was best-man to a friend all those years ago (over 30 years). I believe the occasion is on tape somewhere and dread the day it appears on YouTube or You’ve Been Framed. I still desist from going out now, I’ve got more baggage than Heathrow!

    • allmadhere
      May 24, 2017 / 8:11 pm

      I can totally relate. That’s incredible that you were able to be best man. I hope you gave yourself credit for that 🙂

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