…except if it’s with your mother-in-law. Ok, we broke the ice, but that’s for another blog, another time. Social anxiety anytime can be debilitating, holding you back from being with friends, family, and even dating. There are always several different conversations going on in your head about going; Should I, what if I go, what if I don’t go, do I have to go….and therein begins the torment of deciding what to do.
Sometimes, the easiest thing to do is to bail, because all the what-ifsare overwhelming to consider. Social anxiety around holiday time is worse, because you know what you’re missing, and you don’t really want to miss out. You also don’t want to be judged. It’s an entangled web of the unknown that can stop you in your tracks, give you an instant headache and nausea, and turn your world upside down. And you haven’t even left the house.
Over half my practice suffers from some form of Social Anxiety or Panic. Millions of Canadians suffer and you wouldn’t even know it. Its the silent face of get-me-outta-here-quick before I pass out, run, or just plain freak out. It happens to millions of people, all day long. In fact, you may be beside someone who has anxiety right now, and you’d never know it. Why? Because anxiety is the face of you and me, him and her. It’s quiet, hidden, and buried deep, but for the one experiencing it, its scary as all heck, and stops them in their tracks.
When it rears it’s ugly head, it’s frightening, like the world is closing in on you. You can feel as though everyone is looking, watching, judging, all the while you’re melting inside, panicked, over what to do, what to say, how to behave, how to act, how to respond, and so on. The heart begins to palpitate, you may sweat, feel sick, become shaky or light-headed, and want to get the heck out of high town fast.
But you don’t want to miss out, and you shouldn’t. Here’s what I tell my clients to do so that they don’t miss out on life and living.
1. Don’t be concerned about who’s looking and judging, because most probably, no one is. And if they are, they’re only looking to see who’s behind that beautiful smile, that well-dressed body, and those shoes. Oh, those shoes. Seriously though, when our irrational minds take over, we create scenarios that don’t really happen. If you feel as though you are actually being judged, know that it’s more about them than you. It usually is. Smile, and carry on. That’s probably all they really needed anyway, and it’ll help you feel good about your self as well.
2. Decide to go. That means commit to going, with parameters. Give your self a time-frame of staying for a certain amount of time, but make sure you give yourself a good chance. My suggestion is a minimum of an hour. Go, have a good time, grab a glass of wine or a cocktail, and try and enjoy, Then, when you’re ready to go, check the clock. But not you. Someone else. My guess is that by the time you check the clock, you’ll have lasted over your agreed-upon time, and you may now even decide to stay longer.
If you leave early, you’re letting it, win. You also won’t have given yourself a fair enough chance to have a good time, and you’re not allowing anyone around you have a chance to enjoy your conversation and benefit from what you have to share and offer. I bet, that when you find out you’ve stayed longer than the time you decided on, you’ll stay even longer.
3. Take a small 2 minute break if you need it, but don’t leave. You’re not allowed to leave before your agreed-upon time to stay, is up. While this might create more anxiety, initially, it’s a part of managing this green monster, facing it, and telling it who’s boss by virtue of your decisions and behaviour. That’s all up to you. You need to experience the experience of staying, to see and learn that you can do it, that you’ll be ok, that you were okay and did great, and that you can do it agin, and be ok. Collect yourself, use positive language, and go back in.
I tell all my clients to face this, because they can. If you leave, you let it win. You have to win, and staying wins. take yourself out of the too for a minute or two catch your breath, and now, you can look at the clock yourself, and see how much time you have left. Do what you need to do to compose yourself and go back in. No green-eyed blob of anxiety is going to get the best of you. This, is the beginning of practicing CBT, the cornerstone of winning the war against anxiety and panic from ruling your life.
4. Identify what and who’s familiar in the room, and go there. Comfort is key, and while you’ve done all you can to look as best you can, for additional confidence, go to who is familiar. Don’t sit in the middle of the room if that’s not comfortable for you, and don’t start up a conversation with a stranger if that’s not comfortable. It’s not a race, or a test. Start off comfortably, and as you see and feel you’re being successful, then branch out. Change your location in the room to one that’s a bit outside your box, and if you’re feeling it, approach someone you don’t know, or a group of people. Or not. Go at your own pace. This is for you.
The goal is to enjoy, have a nice time, a little fun if you can, and make good memories, because you’ll want to do it again, and having this positive experience will carry your through to the next party or get together. And don’t worry about what other people are thinking. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you went, you and a good time, and you’ve shown yourself you can do it again.