Arlene B. Englander

Licensed Psychotherapist, LCSW, MBA, PA

Preventing Party Anxiety

Tomorrow night is New Year’s Eve and for many of us that means parties. If parties are sometimes stressful for you, I hope these words will be helpful…

Preventing Party Anxiety

Do you ever feel anxious when about to attend a party? If so, you’re not alone. While we aren’t referring to clinical anxiety – an overall state of fearfulness of uncertainty, which according to the NIMH affects as many as forty million of us – we’re examining a less serious but almost universal issue that can impair our ability to fully enjoy social events and our lives. So be comforted by the fact that you’re not alone and let’s look together at a few quick pointers to prevent this.

There are numerous ways to recognize the physiological symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid shallow breathing, and overall tension and tightness. Notice these and take some steps to counteract them. Stretching and diaphragmatic breathing can be helpful to alleviate your physical discomfort and help you be more in the moment and relaxed. Some of my clients like to inhale (with their mouths closed) to the word “Love” and then open their mouths and exhale out to the word “Fear.” Try this and see if it’s helpful.

A powerful way to pinpoint one origin of your anxiety comes to us from the science of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. By tuning in to the pain-producing thoughts which produce our feelings and trigger our anxiety, we can learn to answer back to these thoughts or plan proactively for the future. For example, one common building block for anxiety is thoughts of “What if?” Let’s look at some common pre-party “What if’s” and come up with a plan to address each one.

“What if I overeat at the party?” – Parties shouldn’t be the only place you see the foods you love (barring allergies or other medical prohibitions). If you ditch the dieting mentality and learn to savor small quantities of your favorite foods, while handling your stress in healthier, non-food-related ways – you won’t need to fear proximity to tasty treats.

In the meantime, vow to maintain healthy habits before and during the party. Get in your daily exercise. Eat your regular scheduled meals. Thirst can often be confused with hunger so drink a bottle of water prior to the gathering and try to keep caloric and alcoholic beverages you consume during at the party down to a minimum.

“What if no one approaches me?” –  Then take a risk and reach out to someone else. A positive comment about the event, the ambience or the hosts can be an ideal ice-breaker. If you choose to comment on an item someone’s wearing, try to personalize it by saying “That color looks beautiful on you.” rather than just “I like your dress.” That way you’re praising not just the choice of clothing but the person wearing it.

“What if I have trouble keeping up a conversation?” – An effective way to heighten our enjoyment not only of events, but of life, is to achieve a state called “flow”, first identified by positive psychologists in the late 1970′s. If you’re an avid exerciser you may be familiar with the term which refers to “the state of total immersion in a task that is challenging yet closely matched to one’s abilities.” (Haidt, 2006).  And what’s the task of a party? Most of us would agree that we go to these gatherings to have fun and feel good about each other and ourselves.

So ask questions. Show interest. And take a tip I learned  years ago, which I still consider one of the best stress antidotes for any social gathering. Make it your task to sincerely praise as many people as possible (at least 3 per party) on something other than their appearance.

Why does this work? Because in order to do so you you must really get to know your conversational companion. You become totally involved in someone other than yourself – his or her origins, family, hobbies, etc. – erasing your ability to be self-consciously concerned about “What if I’m not liked?”

As for others’ reactions, who doesn’t love to be the object of interest and sincere appreciation? And there’s a word for those who extend that to others – charming. So go with the flow and have a happier time at your next party and elsewhere!

Have and Happy,Healthy New Year!

All my best,

Arlene B. Englander, LCSW,MBA,PA



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