Socializing can be nerve-racking.
At one point in my life, I was so terrified by major social events that I would be physically ill for days prior to the occasion. I was too nervous to eat, I had trouble sleeping, and I generally felt miserable. Typically, I would end up canceling because I couldn’t stand to feel that way anymore; I couldn’t think about anything else until it had been erased from my calendar.
It wasn’t something I could rationalize my way out of; I knew that no matter what happened, everything was going to be okay when it was all said and done. I knew that– barring Armageddon– there was no way it was going to be as bad as I imagined. And I knew that plenty of other people all around the world were going to the exact same types of social outings and living to tell the tale. But none of those realizations changed the way my mind and body reacted.
I needed to relax– not just “take a chill pill and don’t worry about it” relax (because Lord knows that if I could stop worrying about it, I already would have– like yesterday). I needed to complete mental and physical exercises that would cause me to become less tense.
In order to be more relaxed in social situations, there are some things you can do both before and during the event to remain calm and enjoy your social outings.
Before the Event
First, find a way to release your nervous energy. All the anticipation that’s causing you to feel anxious about the social situation ahead of you can be eliminated by physically fatiguing your body. Any form of exercise is an excellent way to relax before the event. Going for a walk, hitting the gym, completing a yoga session that you found on YouTube– it doesn’t matter what you do, but do something. This will have the added benefit of breaking you free from the paralysis of fear you may be experiencing, similar to what I was going through when I couldn’t think about anything else besides my terror of the social gathering. You will find that you feel much calmer after you get moving and work out that nervous energy.
Making plans for afterwards is another way to help you relax both before and during your event. Because the social gathering was all I could think of, my body reacted as though the world was ending; the looming party was definitely the end for me. So I began to make plans for after the occasion; either immediately after or the next day, depending on the time and duration of the event. I would often plan to spend the night at a friend’s house after a date because it gave me something to look forward to and helped to take my mind off the upcoming date. If I was in the midst of a party and things were going poorly, I could keep myself calm by focusing on my plans for later. It also provided an “out” if I really needed to get away. Although I never used it, just knowing I had an escape plan helped me to remain calm.
Achieving a state of mental focus before your event will help you to be relaxed throughout its duration. Giving yourself plenty of time to get ready for your outing will help prevent you from slipping into a rushed frenzy, which will cause you to be stressed before even arriving at your destination. Taking some time to do things before the event that help you to clear your mind will also help you to enter the event with a calm state of mind. Whether it’s taking a bubble bath, reading a book, or playing a game of golf, finding something that helps you settle your mind will give you a positive, calm mentality before your social gathering.
During the Event
You’ve done everything you can to get yourself relaxed before the event, but what about during it? Whether social situations in general make you nervous or something specific happened at the event to stress you out, there are things you can do without anyone else noticing to help you keep your calm.
When you begin to feel tense, focusing on your breathing pattern can help relax your muscles as well as ease your mind. Breathe in slowly through your nose until your lungs are completely full, and hold it until you begin to feel uncomfortable. Then release the air slowly through your mouth, making sure to maintain control the entire time (as opposed to letting out all of your breath in one quick burst). According to WebMD (which we all know is just as good as a real doctor), controlled breathing is an effective way to calm yourself down “because [it makes] your body feel like it does when you are already relaxed.”1
Focusing on the things you enjoy about social gatherings, and spending more time doing those things (when possible), is another way to remain relaxed. For me, it’s free food. If I start to feel awkward, you’d best believe I’m going to be making my way to the free cheesecake (and it’s fine because I went to the gym beforehand to burn off my nervous energy!). Plus, if you need a second to take a breather, excusing yourself to the hors d’oeuvres is a getaway that no one would dare interrupt.
Sometimes it can become necessary to take a short break. When your social situation has you feeling overwhelmed, going to the restroom or stepping outside to collect yourself is always an option. This is a good opportunity to do your controlled breathing exercises so that you can quickly relax your body and mind and prepare to calmly reenter the gathering.
And finally, remember what’s important. If you made a mistake, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and view it as a learning opportunity. Furthermore, keep in mind that you are your own worst critic, and your error was likely much more noticeable to you than it was to anyone else. Remember that life will go on, and there are very few social mistakes that can’t be remedied later on (unless you did something criminal, so… don’t). Comforting yourself with these truths will help you to remain relaxed when things don’t go quite how you planned at your social event.
Social situations can really do a number on our nerves– if we let them. A little self-care beforehand and the use of some relaxation strategies throughout can help you stay calm no matter what your social sphere throws at you.
What’s the most nerve-racking social situation you’ve been in? How did you manage to stay calm? Share your stories in the comments!
- Healthwise Staff. (2014). Stress management: Breathing exercises for relaxation.