Adopt Fake Personas
I once held a job that required a lot of human interactions: in person and on the phone. The job was within college admissions, so I had to interview students, speak to large groups, coordinate and schmooze during recruitment events, etc. In college, I was a tour guide (and I was magnificent.)
I became a different person. I accessed a version of myself that isn’t socially anxious:
- She’s goofy
- She tells self-deprecating jokes
- She asks a lot of questions
To varying degrees, I put forward this fake persona nearly every day. It’s how I function in daily society.
The Downside: It is exhausting!
Wear a Subtle Costume
For anxiety-producing events, wearing a subtle costume makes transitioning to the fake persona easier. Wear a tie. Put on a little makeup. Do something slightly out of your comfort zone.
For example, I would dress like the people I was recruiting during an admissions open house. Once, I wore a wildly patterned shirt, puffed out my hair, wore heels, wore a bunch of makeup, and put on nail polish (for the second time in my life). Think Jersey Shore. Since this costume wasn’t necessarily subtle, I told my coworkers about the game I was playing – I was being a Staten Island mom. The acting and showmanship made the anxiety less intense.
The Downside: Again, exhausting. But it also sets a precedent that you’ll be hilarious for future events.
Generate a Caffeine Buzz
This bit is easy for me since I avoid caffeine in my daily life – it makes me crazytown.
To combat the anxiety, I’ve downed a 5 Hour Energy before the event and let the craziness sizzle. Caffeine trumps anxiety; I feel so wired and jittery that it’s almost a dissociative experience.
The Downside: The caffeine crash almost instantly causes high anxiety and/or a depression lull.
Don’t Wear a Coat
This tip is the most important.
If you don’t wear a coat, you can dominate the Irish Goodbye (where you leave a party without saying goodbye to anyone.) For cold weather events, layer appropriately and bring a bag that will accommodate a hat, scarf and gloves (which you can put on once you hit the sidewalk).
The Downside: You might have to face questions like, “What happened you last night?” the next day.
Ask the Host Questions & Develop a Strategy
Before a gathering, I usually ask the following questions:
- Who will be there? What’s their deal?
- Who will I be expected to interact with?
- What is the environment like (e.g. loud, crowded, interactive, etc.)?
- What should I expect (dancing, games, small talk)?
There are other questions, but those are the first that come to mind. Think about what makes you most anxious and develop questions around those anxieties.
Once you get the answers, create a plan. “Bob will be there. Bob is a Mechanical Engineer for NASA. He and I can talk about whether Iran really sent a monkey to space.” “Sally collects taxidermied cats. We can talk about how she got into that hobby and whether she kills the cats herself.”
The Downside: Anything that happens outside of the plan causes tremendous anxiety.
Ask for a Job
This works best when the gathering is task-oriented (bridal showers, company parties, etc.) Ask the hosts whether you can help. Chances are they’ll say no, but that shouldn’t stop you! Look around: does food need to be replenished? Should you clean up empty cups or plates?
My favorite job is doing the dishes because you are deemed very helpful, it keeps you in one spot, and usually other people ignore you (other than saying, “Oh, you’re so good!”
The Downside: People catch on to this after a while.
Set a Time Limit
Say to yourself, “I’ll leave after an hour.” This way, regardless of your discomfort, you can count down the minutes until you leave.
An hour is usually what I set myself, but give yourself a time limit that’s ambitious but reasonable, otherwise you’re going to either
- feel guilty for cutting out too early
- flee early because you were too ambitious
If someone at the event knows about your anxiety, it helps to tell them this plan. “I’m going but I can only stay for an hour” is a reasonable thing to say.
Arriving a bit late helps because then you might not to be the first person to leave.
The Downside: Being the last to arrive and the first to leave is awkward.