A few years ago my anxiety was so bad that the thought of leaving the house had me in tears, and whenever I did go out it was always a countdown until I could go back home. I had to change, especially when I started a new relationship – which meant a whole new bunch of friends and family to meet. It’s not been easy, but through trial and error I’ve found a few techniques that have been working for me:
Avoid caffeine and alcohol
If you have anxiety you’ve probably already been told to cut out caffeine, but for a good reason, because it really makes a difference. Caffeine makes me more alert so unfortunately is more likely to trigger a panic attack. The day before and the day of the event, switch to decaf and see if you notice a difference.
Alcohol is a depressant, it can also make some people nauseous, which is the last thing you want when you’re already feeling anxious. Only drink alcohol at the event if you are completely comfortable in doing so, there is absolutely no shame in staying sober.
Get there early
If you’re meeting at a neutral location (i.e. a cafe), get there early. I talked about this with my counsellor and she explained that this is the idea of ‘owning’ the area, so if you’re there first it’s them walking in on you – not the other way around. You’ve had time to get there and make yourself comfortable so it helps you feel more in control of the situation.
It sounds completely counter productive but bear with me, because this turned out to be the most powerful technique in tackling my social anxiety. If I was meeting friends at 5pm, around 12pm I would start to feel the familiar dread and worry. My anxiety would ask me all the worst case scenario questions and I would give the answers. Then, at 4:30pm when I was on my way to the event, the panic would start settling in again but I was able to say “Nope – we’ve already done this!” Amazingly, I felt more in control because I had allowed myself to panic well before the event and get it out of the way – I knew it was coming, so I started letting it happen instead of draining all my energy trying to fight it.
Reward yourself afterwards
Sometimes an incentive is all we need. As I’d stayed away from caffeine for almost two days, I told myself that if I went to meet friends without any anxiety, I could get a coffee from McDonald’s on the way home.
I got a cheeseburger too, I’d earned it.
Know your limits
There’s no greater feeling than being above your anxiety, but be careful not to overdo it. Self care is extremely important and it’s more difficult to be in control if you’re not your best self. Don’t feel guilty if you have to cancel plans, there’s always next time. Real friends will understand.
Social anxiety is by no means ‘one size fits all’, but the above tips have helped me personally and improved my social life massively. I went from the girl who felt the world spin at the thought of leaving the house to the superhero who attended a wedding for 12 hours with 100 strangers like it was nothing. It may feel like it now, but social anxiety is not a life sentence; you’ll get there when you’re ready.