5 Ways to Decrease Social Anxiety at a Party

These methods might take some practice, but they can definitely help.

We all have our insecurities. But if you often find yourself worrying about what others think of your appearance or you spend a lot of time sweating about whether your peers actually like you, it's possible you are dealing with signs related to social anxiety disorder.

What Does Social Anxiety Entail?

"Social anxiety, which is one of the most common mental health issues, is the fear of social situations that involve interactions with other people," explained Gail Saltz, MD, a New York City-based psychiatrist, and Health's contributing psychology editor. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), those interactions can range from eating in front of others to meeting new people to doing a public speaking engagement.

"The predominant symptom is anxiety about being negatively judged or evaluated by other people," Dr. Saltz said. Additionally, people who are socially anxious might think things like everyone thinks I'm boring or so-and-so finds me unattractive. Yet this anxiety can present physiologically as well. "Palpitations, sweating, and a dry mouth either ahead of an event or in the moment are a few common symptoms of social anxiety," she explained.

Symptoms of social anxiety disorder can be so profound that they go on for days or weeks before the event is to occur—sometimes making it hard for the person to go to work, go to school, or maintain friendships, per MedlinePlus.

More severe cases can be successfully treated with cognitive behavior therapy alone or in combination with medication, Dr. Saltz said. A person might also benefit from support groups, social skills training, or exposure therapy, according to MedlinePlus. Both of the latter types of treatment put the individual in the very situation that they are dreading, with exposure therapy helping them to build up from thinking about the event to actually experiencing the event.

What Can Help With Party-Related Social Anxiety?

If your social anxiety isn't extreme but tends to ramp up on the day of a party or right as you're about to ring the doorbell, these five tips will help you dial it back.

Resist the Urge to Cancel

It's tempting to tell the host that you just remembered you had a prior commitment on the day of the party, but ditching plans is likely to make your social anxiety even worse. "You'll probably feel relieved when you avoid (social events)," Dr. Saltz said. "But that (relief) will positively reinforce your avoidance, making your world smaller and smaller and your symptoms even worse."

No matter how badly you want to retract your RSVP, go to the party anyway, Dr. Saltz added. It takes time, but the more social situations you put yourself in, the more comfortable you're likely to feel. One way to force yourself to go is to invite a friend along ahead of time. If you're thinking of bailing just before the event, they can counteract your urge and get you through the door.

Come With Conversation Starters

A person with social anxiety tends to panic about not having anyone to talk to at an event or not being able to get past an introduction and into a real conversation. So come prepared with a handful of topics you feel comfortable talking about, Dr. Saltz suggested, from the last great movie you saw to politics. (Though depending on the crowd, you may want to have a backup topic other than politics.)

Another idea is to rehearse a few introductory lines in front of a mirror or with a friend before the party so that you know exactly how you'll initiate chats about your chosen subjects. And when in doubt at the party, ask questions; people like to talk about themselves. "How do you know the host?" is always a solid opener.

Vow to Speak to Multiple New People

"Going to a party and only talking to the one person you know there doesn't help you battle back social anxiety," Dr. Saltz said. But that doesn't mean you have to introduce yourself to every party guest either. Instead, set a doable goal, like introducing yourself to three new people and having a five-minute conversation with each.

It doesn't have to be three new people, of course—depending on how deep your social anxiety is, you could aim for just one. But setting a goal before you arrive at the party gives you something to focus on and feel good about when you meet it.

"Try to pick a goal that brings you to the edge of uncomfortable but doesn't make you frantic," Dr. Saltz said. The more you chat people up and see that talking to new people isn't as difficult as you anticipate, the more it desensitizes you to your social anxiety, she added.

Don't Drink Too Much

Alcohol and parties generally go hand and hand. Because a few glasses of wine can function like an anti-anxiety medication and help loosen up a person with anxiety, it's common for those with social anxiety to want to have a few drinks as soon as they are served.

"Unfortunately, this is how people develop a problem because they need more and more alcohol to have the same effect on their anxiety, as they build up a tolerance," Dr. Saltz explained. Also, the more uninhibited a person becomes, the more likely they are to behave in ways that will only add to their social anxiety later on.

Furthermore, guests tend to avoid partygoers who have had too much alcohol—and if that happens, your social anxiety might become worse because you won't realize it was the alcohol driving people away, not you.

Wait for the Anxiety To Pass

If you try everything and still feel anxious, don't beat yourself up. "Let it sit," Dr. Saltz advised. "Feeling anxious isn't going to kill you, and it usually takes just 15 or 20 minutes for symptoms to dissipate. Knowing this can be helpful to some degree because it shows you that the unpleasant feeling doesn't last for very long."

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