As someone with anxiety, I’m often mistaken for an extrovert. I bundle up my energy in big ol’ bursts so that I can be enthusiastic when I’m out with my mates, but if I’m honest, when anxiety strikes there is literally nothing in the world that I’d choose above swathing my entire body up in an all-consuming cocoon of soft blankety goodness.
You know that episode of Community where the entire dorm floor is overtaken by a colossal blanket fort kingdom with paths and territories? THAT IS THE BLOODY DREAM.
But I know that hiding in my room under approximately seven hundred and thirty-four blankets (give or take) isn’t the most healthy of ways to live, and you don’t want to wind up shutting yourself out from the rest of the world. Social time is important, folks.
I’m not saying to force yourself into uncomfortable situations if you’re not up for it, but if you want to push through then we’ve got a few tips on how you can still be social even when your anxiety rallies against the very thought.
They may not work for everyone, but they defs worked for me – might be worth a try.
1. Be the life of the group chat
Some days you’re just gonna have to accept that you’re not going out. And you know what? That’s totally fine. For some, anxiety can be debilitating and if you feel unsafe or overwhelmed about the prospect then you shouldn’t worsen it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still have meaningful connections with your buds.
We are literally always connected to our mates via our phones nowadays and the group chat is prime real estate for dazzling your pals with your sheer brilliance in the art of snark and meme-ery. Type it out from bed if you’ve got to, or bundled up on the couch, and spend your time exhaling abruptly from your nose every time someone makes a funny quip.
2. Try wearing a big ol’ toasty warm coat
Sometimes it’s the feeling of being snug and secure that helps you more than literally anything else. You know when teddy coats were a thing? Yeah, I found them ugly as heck but you can be damn sure that I went out and got myself a big cosy one so that I could withdraw into it like a turtle in a thunderstorm.
It’s kinda the same vibe as when you had a favourite blanket when you were a kid, but this time the blanket has sleeves and can double up as a big ol’ fashion statement. And look, it’s not foolproof for summer, but it’s an option.
3. Have a friend with you who you can trust
The buddy system isn’t just for dodgy school trips to the Maritime Museum in Year 5, okay. Going out in groups can be an intimidating prospect, especially if you’re out with people who don’t know that you have anxiety. It can be really helpful to have at least one person there in the know who can help you and diffuse the situation if required.
Brief them beforehand and come up with a signal of sorts (a code word, smoke signals, elaborate interpretive dance – what have you), so that when things get a little too much they can take you aside for a breather, talk you through it or organise to get you home if it gets overwhelming.
4. Make a hype-up playlist
I don’t know about you lot, but for me music has a funny way of functioning as both a distraction and a motivation. I’ve got three different playlists for three different anxious moods. Feeling too tense and need to relax? Chuck on the acoustic mix. Need to hype up? Some upbeat poppy stuff. Gotta focus? Yeah that’s when the Witcher 3 soundtrack gets a guernsey (I’m not ashamed).
Before you go out, whack on some songs that make you feel good, calm and ready to face anything. Even if it’s just in the background you’d be surprised at how much of an impact it can have on your mood, and you can always pop in some headphones when you’re on your way to keep the feeling going.
5. Go somewhere familiar
Doing unfamiliar things or going to new places has a biiiiig impact on how my anxiety manifests. If i’m in my comfort zone then I’m nowhere near as edgy as if I was sprung into the middle of a situation I hadn’t prepped for – and it stands to reason, there aren’t a huge amount of folk out there who love the idea of being plonked at a party where they don’t know anyone.
If you’re keen to socialise with your pals and they’re up for it, find a regular joint you can all loiter around while drinking milkshakes in hoop skirts (apparently my vision of this is essentially Grease minus dropping out of beauty school and dyeing your hair bubblegum pink, what of it). You’ll feel far more comfortable and it could diffuse some of that tension.
6. Try social gatherings with small numbers
Large crowds, no thank you very much sir. Begone, BANISHED to the fiery pits of – okay, too far. But seriously, large crowds of people can be pretty damn triggering for some people with anxiety, so you might wanna have something a lil’ more low key on days where you feel it getting ahead of you.
And for the record, there is absolutely no shame in opting out of an event or social gathering because you know there will be too many people there for you to handle in a healthy way. There will be other concerts, other parties. Get a few of your close pals together and watch the concert DVD if you’ve got to. It’s honestly fine.
7. Have a stay-in gathering
Who said you can’t be a blanket burrito and be social AT THE SAME TIME? Remember that blissful blanket fort dream? Make it happen. Have a stay-in gathering and invite people over to yours for a chill night of tunes, blankets and enough food that you may never need to order in again.
Just ‘coz you’re an adult doesn’t mean it has to be a fancy dinner party (ahem, cooking for lots of people is stressful), so order in pizza and have a grown-up sleepover complete with makeovers, butterfly clips and a mountain of pillows. Cue the throwback playlist.
So look, if the throes of anxiety have you and you don’t feel up to something big, don’t feel like you’ve gotta push it. Your friends and family should be supportive, so don’t feel like you’re letting anyone down when you’re doing your damn best.
Being social doesn’t have to be one extreme or the other (real life relationships are just as important as online ones, and yes, I am speaking directly to myself here). Do what you can.
And ya know, there’s nothing wrong with a lil’ blanket burrito time every now and then, you snug bug.Image: Bridget Jones' Diary