Parties, weddings, social gatherings, dinner parties. Normally something to enjoy, but not for people who suffer from social anxiety and social phobia. Often nothing can create more dread, fear and desire to avoid than a party.
Without doubt social events can be nerve racking, but for most people who struggle with social anxiety, frequently the outcome of these fears is to avoid altogether and end up with a slowly shrinking world.
Often people tell me that they can’t understand what makes parties so terrifying, I mean they’re supposed to be fun right? And a lot of the time these same people can go to work, and function in a work role. Just don’t ask them to go to the work Christmas party …
The key difference is a lack of structure and feeling like there isn’t a clearly defined objective. When we’re at work we can be in a role, do our job, and we’re judged on our ability to completed the tasks of the role. But with social events, people are often left feeling that the only judgements that will be made are about them as a person. And that those judgements will be negative.
“Relax, have fun, don’t worry so much…”
What will I talk about, who’s going to be there, what happens if no one talks to me, what if I don’t know anyone?
Everyone who has struggled with anxiety that has lead them to avoid social events will have heard this advice. I doubt anyone has found it very helpful, not just because it’s obvious. But there is truth in it – it’s just very hard to do.
One of the very consistent results when people have studied this aspect of social anxiety is that people with a diagnosis of social phobia tend to over focus internally, on their own thoughts, feelings and responses. People literally don’t look up enough and tend to miss out on accurate social information about others. They also don’t engage outwards. This can then literally create the physical posture of anxiety and shame, looking down, shoulders hunched over …
All of this leads to anxiety
Part of my programme focuses very specifically on how to overcome these habits, and part of the programme also recognises just how hard this is. It takes a lot of practice, but developing the ability to intentionally move our focus and control what our mind pays attention to goes a long way to helping us interact with others and have an outward focus.
And that will help you to be able to relax, have fun, even if you still worry.