Party Survival Skills for the Socially Anxious


For many people, parties are a highlight of the holiday season. But for those who are socially anxious, holiday parties can be nothing short of torturous. Resolving social anxiety exceeds the scope of a blog post, but in the meantime, here are some quick tips for surviving all the festivities.

Set yourself up for success by keeping expectations reasonable and realistic.

A little advanced planning can help minimize anxiety. Be strategic about the invitations you accept and those you decline; allow some margin before and after events to recharge; remember that things don’t have to be perfect to be fabulous.

Develop the ability to ask great questions.

This might seem like a bold move for the socially anxious party goer, but I assure you, there is no more graceful way to avoid the social limelight than by helping someone else take center stage.

  • Listen like you care. It seems silly to actually list this as a step, but it’s where we often get off track. Make eye contact. Ignore your phone. Don’t interrupt. Don’t think about what you’re going to say next. Listen well enough that you could rephrase exactly what you were just told.
  • Ask open ended questions. Questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no” are less effective at encouraging conversation. Open ended questions invite greater disclosures. Instead of asking someone if they like sushi, ask them if they have a favorite sushi restaurant in town.
  • Focus on the feelings. This is especially helpful when you know nothing about the topic. I don’t have enough experience to ask any well-informed questions about rock climbing, but I can relate to the enthusiasm expressed by someone else for the topic.
  • Offer some information about yourself with your questions. You don’t you’re your questions to feel like an interrogation and it gives the person you’re speaking with a chance to ask great questions too. Using the example above, I could say, “I’ve never had the chance to go rock climbing. I can tell how much you love it from the way you describe it; I felt much the same way the first time I went skiing. How did you initially become interested in climbing?” It addresses the feeling, offers a little information about me without stealing the focus, and it leads into an open ended question.
  • Don’t let awkward exchanges rattle you. In spite of your great questions, some conversations may still fall flat. When you struggle with social anxiety, it’s especially easy to assume the blame, but it possible that they may be even as socially anxious as you are. Be gracious and move on!

Jill Howgate, LAPC

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