Why pre-party anxiety shouldn’t stop you from going out
It’s one hour until the party. You’ve been part looking forward to it and part dreading it for weeks.
Now your stomach is feeling upset. And you’ve got your phone out ready to send a text to say you won’t make it.
Sound familiar? This is what I go through before most social events (more recently, even taking my son on a playdate to meet a new friend evoked the same response from me). Being an introvert and slightly socially anxious I would much prefer to hang out at home with a good book. But I always feel so full of life after coming back from a social event.
So, what to do? I basically tell myself that pre-party anxiety is normal (which it is). That the anxiety symptoms will soon pass (they always do). That having a social network is good for me (it really is). And my life is richer because I go out (it’s true).
What is pre-party anxiety?
Pre-party anxiety explains those jitters you get when you’re getting ready to go out. It can be made worse if you have social anxiety, but it’s very normal for anyone to feel a mixture of excitement and nervousness before a social event.
Have you ever been around children when it’s the end of school term? It’s party time and the noise seems to get louder and louder. They’re literally bouncing off the walls. The excitement in the air is palpable.
As an adult, you take it down a notch. But that same excitement is charging through your body. Anodea Judith, a therapist and author calls this charge.
It’s due to anticipatory anxiety and it is not just limited to parties and social events. Anticipatory anxiety rears its ugly head when you are nervously anticipating anything. It occurs when you think about any highly charged situation, be it a negative event (e.g, an important exam, or medical operation) or positive event (a party, or vacation).
Pre-party anxiety is accompanied by the usual sensations of anxiety such as a nervous stomach, sweating, elevated heart rate, dizziness and muscle tension. For some, these anxiety symptoms are mild but for others they can be very intense.
These overwhelming, physical sensations of anxiety may prevent you from going to the party or social event. You might be tempted to stay at home. But these symptoms of anticipatory anxiety will go away whether you go to the party or not. Stick with it! They will pass.
Even celebrities suffer these social anxiety symptoms. But they don’t let it stop them from performing.
What you can do
The jitters are what Anodea Judith calls charge. It can be interpreted as either anxiety (negative) or excitement (positive). But the feeling in your body is the same.
You can change the way you think about the upcoming event, moving from dread to eagerly awaiting. This switch is subtle but can have huge effects on your body and mind. Saying ‘I am dreading this party’ has much different consequences than ‘I’m so excited about this party’. The easiest way to practice this is through a gratitude journal.
Before the event:
I’ve created a short meditation to listen to before going out. It will help to calm your nerves and will create a positive mindset.
Include this meditation as part of your getting ready routine. Part pep-talk, part meditation, it will keep you grounded before your social event and keep these pesky anxiety symptoms in check.
You’re not aiming to be completely relaxed before the event, just take the edge of your nervousness.
Physical exercise, such as yoga, could also release the extra charge.
At the event:
If you feel anxious at the event, mindfulness is your friend. If you feel a negative thought popping up, focus on something within the room. Use your senses to focus on the music, the smells of food or perfume, focus on the lights or decorations. The moment of anxiety will pass.
Please stay at the event. The anticipatory anxiety will still be elevated as you enter the social situation, but will gradually lower as you get used to your new environment.
Do not use alcohol as your crutch. It does not decrease anxiety as much as you think it does.
After the event:
Have a time set aside for a calm-down space afterward. Be gentle with yourself. You just did something amazing.
If you are someone who tends to worry over what you said or did, an activity such as reading a book or watching a favorite show will help prevent you from re-hashing the events in your mind.
- You don’t need to feel completely calm before a social event, because everyone gets pre-party anxiety.
- Know that the anxiety sensations will go away even if you go to the party.
- Try to reframe your nervousness into excitement about the event.
- Your life will be richer for putting yourself out there.
- You are probably going to enjoy this party much more than you realize.
- Think of the possible opportunities that may be available to you because you attend this event.