Mental Health: Coping with social situations; with anxiety of all levels

Ok, so I have severe anxiety disorder and agoraphobia so social events of any nature are incredibly problematic for me. Leaving the house is a challenge in itself, let alone […]

Ok, so I have severe anxiety disorder and agoraphobia so social events of any nature are incredibly problematic for me. Leaving the house is a challenge in itself, let alone meeting new people and them being unaware of my existing fears (being hugged, touched etc).

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A few weekends ago, two of my oldest and dearest friends got married in a festival style wedding in a three day event. I was convinced into glamping based on the fact I’d have my own private space should I need to remove myself for a chill out. The Friday night (which was an excellent idea by the way!) was a pre-wedding pizza and games night for people to meet each other.

I ended up offering my calligraphy skills and did some of the signage like order of service and the table plan to make myself busy so I wasn’t just stood around looking awkward. I’d prepared myself for meeting people and knowing quite a lot of there from yesteryear helped in opening up dialogue, reminiscing and sharing stories and then gradually people began to mingle.

I ended up being complimented on my signage skills and the “how do you know the bride/groom” conversations began. Playing the games also helped people to get to know each other so come the ceremony the next day it’d feel more close.

I decided against drinking as it can often cause my anxiety to spike but being in the middle of a beautiful field with kata tents with twinkling fairy lights and being able to see the night sky while eating pizza around a fire was pretty hard to be anxious.

The day of the ceremony I got up early and offered to help with anything that needed finishing last-minute. We had a communal breakfast and began to get all dressed up. Of course as we all gathered in the woodland folly where there ceremony was held compliments were flying as everyone looked amazing. The great thing about wedding ceremonies is you get to be quiet and the focus is on the bride and groom (who looked amazing, as did the whole wedding party!) after the beautiful and emotional humanist service we all walked back for drinks reception and photographs.

I went to my tent after the wedding breakfast which was held early in the afternoon and had a chill out for 20 minutes before returning for the evening festivities. The first dance, cutting of the cake etc. The wedding band were amazing and everyone was dancing of all ages, I was in a lot of pain so sat and watched and people that didn’t know me came to check on me and ask if I wanted to dance or sat and chatted with me which I really appreciated. I also spent a lot of the night catching up with a very close old friend who I lost contact with. Both having anxiety we both re-bonded again.

Around midnight, I was at my limit knowing I had to get up early the next day to leave I said my good evenings to everyone as the bride and groom were also glamping I knew I’d see them the next day. The old friend offered to walk me back to my tent and we had a smoke and sat under the Milky Way and stars even though it was freezing it was a perfect ending to a perfect day. We chatted and swapped numbers to keep in touch.

The next day there was a lot of Facebook adds and commenting on how beautiful the previous day was over breakfast and everyone helped pack down, I asked if I could have one of the rose centre pieces and was generously given two a yellow and a white one, two umbrellas and some glittery flip flops. Score.

So, my tips for coping with social events with anxiety are;

  • Inform the host/people you are going with you have anxiety and develop a code word if things get to much so they can help you.
  • Make sure you have somewhere you can retreat to to chill out if you start to get overloaded.
  • Get some herbal smelling salts, sounds silly out calming scents can help ground you and also the process of inhaling slows your breathing and calms you down.
  • Just bite the bullet and talk to people, sitting looking nervous draws attention to you so go say hi, you’re all there for the same reason and who knows you might make a new friend.
  • The best way to open a conversation easily is to offer a compliment. Make it genuine but this is guaranteed to start a conversation and break the ice, plus you might find some cool new places to shop. Again score.
  • Don’t be too harsh on yourself if you have to go chill or leave. You went and that’s all that counts.
  • Finally, reward yourself for doing well. I have a system for this in which I wrote down on paper things I want from small things like an eyeshadow to a video game, I chose to put them in a jar folded and pick at random but you can just keep a list and judge how big your reward for going out should be. Even write a list of things to do and the corresponding reward (like going to the cashier and taking to them rather than going to self service would earn me a big chocolate bar or some posh biscuits. Going to the wedding earned me a new video game). Positive reinforcement will help retain yourself to learn going out and socialising isn’t as bad as you think.
  • Be proud and tell your friends! If they know you have anxiety they’ll be proud of you and hearing that can help boost your confidence.

So if I, the girl who hadn’t left the house in over a month (not counting therapy and doctors appointments, as I taxi to them) can manage to travel to, and manage three days with strangers. You can overcome your demons too. You ARE stronger than you think!

Leave comments, and questions for Joey below!

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