It's a dismal Friday, and I'm in no mood to hold back. So I'm throwing it out there: I've suffered from social anxiety my whole life. Depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, too, but that's for another day. Another day, another mental disorder. Exhausting. Trust me, I know. But today we're going to focus on the total BLAST that is social anxiety.
To this day, I can't go to a dinner party, a date, a one-on-one coffee session, a salacious downtown party, a dirty nightclub, a high-end bar, an interview or any form of social gathering without feeling my lifelong nemesis, anxiety, rear her ugly little head.
I've gone to some pretty drastic measures to get out of social interactions. I will wait an extra 10 MINUTES just so I can ride the elevator in solitude. Elevator rides with co-workers just might be my personal version of hell. I've feigned illness, deadlines and pre-existing plans with the family just to avoid hanging out with people.
In the dark days of my 20s (I'm SO SMUG now that I'm 30, right?), I've resorted to tossing back drinks all alone before parties, just to take the edge off the overwhelming social insecurities.
While I'm all about having ONE (maybe two depending on your tolerance level) "personality drink," using drinking/drugs as a way to cope with your social insecurities is not effective long term. So last year, I started working on how to overcome social anxiety in earnest.
Since I've cut myself off from my best friend Xanax and all those other pretty blue pills that weren't serving me anymore, I've developed some pretty good tools to help me overcome my fear of socializing naturally.
Because the weird thing is that I'm a pretty social person. Once I get into my groove, I love socializing. I love to connect to people, and you can't connect with people without throwing yourself out there on the scene from time to time. It's a necessary evil.
So here are some pretty common situations that trigger social insecurities, and ways you can overcome them.
1. When you don't know what the hell to say.
One of the biggest insecurities I've ever had is what the hell to say to people I don't even KNOW. How the hell do I start conversation when I'm so nervous I've chewed down my nails and touched up my lipstick 5,000 times?
I decided to ask the most social creature I know for advice: my mom. “Direct your energy on the other person when you're nervous, darling,” she purred in her posh English accent.
Simple, but it's truly the most precious pearl of wisdom I've ever received. When you're fixated on what the OTHER person has to say rather than what YOU have to say, you will be totally fine! People LOVE to talk about themselves, so just ask them questions!
“Where are you from, originally?” “Do you like living here?” “What do you do for work?” “How do you know so and so?”
Eventually, the conversation will take on a life of its own, and you will be as right as RAIN, baby. Just stay away from asking about politics or religion, UNLESS you're in a destructive mood.
2. When you see someone you just kind of/sort of know, and you have no idea whether or not you're supposed to say hello.
Girl, say hi.
“But what if I don't know them! What if they just look familiar?” I can hear my younger self moan.
Dear 25-year-old Zara, chances are if you think you've met this mystery person, you probably have. Strut right up to him or her, stick out your hand and say, “Hi, my name is Zara, I think we met once at so-and-so's party. It's great to see you again."
No one is going to look at you like you're a weirdo for doing that. In fact, it just makes you seem super-cool and confident. The shy, insecure person is the one who avoids this kind of interaction or makes it awkward. And if the person you're approaching does act like an assh*le and roll his or her eyes at you, just gaze at him or her with a flat expression and say, “I must have mistaken you for someone else. You have a really common-looking face.”
3. When you see the guy you hooked up with one time four years ago, and you say hi, but he looks at you like you just told him you've been harboring a deep, undying love for him since you last made love.
Loudly ignore him (I say “him” because women don't usually do this. However, my dear lesbians, just replace "he" with "she" if you have to) all night.
What do I mean by LOUDLY ignore him? Make a big show of flirting with someone hotter, engage with everyone BUT him enthusiastically and show him that you're not rattled because you've already f*cking forgotten about his sorry ass.
Remember, he's just a f*ckboy you hooked up with in your past. And the past is irrelevant to our bright futures, babe. Keep looking ahead. He's irrelevant.
4. When you don't know how to dress for the party.
As Oscar Wilde once famously said: “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” Since I don't even have a formal college degree, I like to be extra overdressed to overcompensate.
You will automatically feel more confident if you're overdressed, rather than underdressed. Rule #1 in the book of Z: If you're going to do it, overdo it.
“But what if I'm the only ONE in HEELS. What if everyone stares at me?” you're thinking. Well, think of being overdressed as it's very own icebreaker. You now have a built-in conversation starter.
Let me give you an example of a typical night in my overdressed life.
“Why are you so dressed up, Zara?” a bro in mandals and a chain wallet will condescendingly ask me.
“Because I'm fab,” I'll respond, blowing the spineless loser off.
Later, a cool girl will come up to me and say, “I really love your dress. Where did you get it?”
And BAM, a friendship is born.
Fashion risks will get you connected with the right people and scare off the people you want to scare off anyway.
5. When you think everyone is looking at you and judging you.
Just remember, all people under 40 are so self-conscious and deeply insecure that they don't even have space in their brain to judge you. They're doing what you're doing: judging themselves.
And if they do happen to be looking at you, it's probably because they love how overdressed you are and are regretting their basic denim ensemble.
I say this with love: You're not special (you are to me, but that's because we already have a relationship!). No one is. But the great freedom in that is that is that no one is looking at you. If they are looking at you, it's not because they're having mean thoughts. And if they are having mean thoughts, remember: Mean thoughts are surface thoughts, and surface thoughts don't stick.
6. When you're the first to arrive to an event.
MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE BARTENDER.
Arriving early is actually a great, wonderful thing for the socially anxious person. It gives you some time to decompress, come up with some pre-planned questions to ask the guests and get comfortable in your surroundings.
Plus, now is the time to cultivate a relationship with the bartender. This way, people who arrive late will think you're really cool because the bartender will pay special attention to you for the rest of the night. You won't ever have to wait on line for a drink again if you play your cards right.
7. When you run into an ex.
Just say hi and be totally cool. Don't hide, don't be dramatic and whatever happens, goddamnit, please don't cry. Which is another reason to lay off the heavy booze when you have social anxiety. The amount of times I've CRIED because I've been intoxicated around an ex -- ugh, I don't even want to THINK about it.
8. When you accidentally get too drunk.
GIRL, GO HOME. Go home before the night takes a turn for the worst. Go home before life gets dark, drugs are done and you do something foolish, like sleep with your ex without a condom. I've said it before and I'll say it again: THERE IS NO MORNING AFTER PILL FOR HERPES.
Get in that damn Uber and make a swift exit. No one will remember your unsteady walk if you leave before midnight. Trust me. Nothing good happens after midnight.