Everyone has insecurities. But if you often find yourself worrying about what others think of your appearance, or you spend a lot of time sweating whether your peers actually like you, it’s possible you suffer from social anxiety.
“Social anxiety, which is one of the most common mental health issues, is the fear of social situations that involve interactions with other people,” explains Dr. Gail Saltz, a New York City–based psychiatrist and Health’s contributing psychology editor. “The predominant symptom is anxiety about being negatively judged or evaluated by other people.”
Socially anxious individuals 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 dry mouth either ahead of an event or in the moment are a few common symptoms of social anxiety,” says Saltz.
More severe cases can be successfully treated with cognitive behavior therapy alone or in combination with medication, says Saltz. If your social anxiety isn’t extreme, however, and it tends to ramp up on the day of a party or right as you’re about to ring the doorbell, these five easy 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],” says Saltz. “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, says Saltz. 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
Socially anxious people tend 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 know you feel comfortable talking about, suggests Saltz, from the last great movie you saw to politics. (Though depending on the crowd, politics could be a major landmine.)
Another idea is to rehearse a few introductory lines in front of a mirror or with a friend before the party, so 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 three new people
“Going to a party and only talking to the one person you know there doesn’t help you battle back social anxiety,” says Saltz. 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,” says Saltz. 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 says.
Don’t drink too much
Alcohol and parties generally go hand and hand. But since a few glasses of wine can function like an anti-anxiety medication and help loosen an anxious person up, it’s common for those with social anxiety to want to knock a few back as soon as the drinks are served.
“Unfortunately this is how people develop a problem, because they need more and more alcohol to have the same affect on their anxiety, as they build up a tolerance,” says Saltz. Also bad: 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.
Also, guests tend to avoid party goers 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 happy hour rolls around and you still feel anxious, don’t beat yourself up. “Let it sit,” advises Saltz. “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.”