When fear becomes part of your daily routine it might seem strange that a festival based on being frightened can actually help.
Halloween has its roots in pagan and religious festivals – but for all intents and purposes it has become a giant global costume party, during which you’re as likely to find a five-year-old dressed like a mummy as, well, a mummy dressed as a five-year-old!
For those living with social anxiety, parties can be a key trigger for panic attacks and an area of life which leads to extreme avoidance strategies. But Halloween offers an opportunity for those who might otherwise avoid social gatherings because of having to meet new people or go to strange places, to take an alternative approach.
Wearing a costume …
Especially one which covers your face or creates a wholly different character – can be a great way to help tackle your anxiety about going out!
Chatrooms, social media and online forums are full of people who say that cosplay – dressing up as animated cartoon characters to attend groups, conferences and special meetings – helps them feel as if they are part of a like-minded group and allows them to adopt a different persona with which they can mix socially.
There’s no need to dive straight into cosplay – and, indeed, it might not be the sort of thing you’re into – but Halloween offers the one night a year during which you can try out the theory.
A few tips to remember if you do think that a costume party might offer a challenge you’re willing to take on include:
- Remember the point of a Halloween costume is to stand out – something you’re likely to find pushes your comfort levels. But because everyone is trying to stand out, you’re just the same as everyone else.
- Find a friend and go as a themed pair. This means that you’ve always got someone who can field comments about your costume if you feel overwhelmed. If you need more cover, you can even go as a themed group.
- Use a mask to help feel more comfortable. Big costumes which include eye masks or large heads which totally cover your face can be a good way to blend into a party without having to totally commit. Just remember that it has to be practical and doesn’t have to mean you can’t communicate at all…
- …unless that’s what you want. If you feel that a costume party is a good way to try to push your comfort zone but still feel anxious about talking to people, find a costume which means you don’t have to talk – a mime, for example. You’ll certainly want to have a close friend with you who understands how important this is for you.
- Stay sober. Any social gathering is likely to have alcohol around and Halloween is no different. Alcohol and the idea of dutch courage simply doesn’t work, though, if you’re naturally anxious.
In the same way that social media and online forums and hangouts offer a good way for people with social anxiety to meet others without having to confront the “real” world, costume parties offer a buffer-zone between staying in and full-on social interaction. And, what’s more, coming up with a costume with a friend can be fun.
Dressing up like a zombie or Lord of the Rings troll might not be the total answer to your anxiety – but it offers the chance to challenge your fear while frightening a few people on the way.
I’d love to hear from any of you who use cosplay or find dressing up for costume parties eases your social anxiety. And let me know how this year’s Halloween parties go on October 31!