When you suffer from social anxiety and receive an invitation to attend an event, your first reaction is usually “ugh, how am I going to get out of this one?” — followed by the feeling of intense guilt when you start to think about how your refusal may sadden the host.

What happens next usually involves a rollercoaster of emotions: intense fear, dread, panic, and sometimes tears. The emotions eventually settle — until the date approaches and you realize you have to make a decision.

So what do you do next? Well, if you decide to go, then you need to make a plan.

  1. Ask if you can bring a friend. Bring someone who may be a little more social than you are and can help maintain a conversation with others better than you can.
  2. Bring a comfort item. Remember when you were a kid and you used to bring a toy or a blanket with you everywhere? Find a small object that brings you comfort and bring it with you. You may even want to consider bringing tissues if you tend to sweat excessively.
  3. Upon arrival, find a safe place. A safe place may be a corner seat or one close to an exit in case you feel the need to excuse yourself.
  4. Preplan your departure. Prior to arriving, preplan when you are going to leave. Let the host know you may not be able to stay for the entire event because (insert valid excuse here).
  5. Find the snacks/food/beverages. If you are dealing with an upset stomach, grab a light snack or a beverage. Eating and drinking is a great way to distract your mind.
  6. Allow yourself warmup time. Just as your body eventually adjusts to the temperature when you get into a pool, your emotions also will adjust when you’re at an event. The feeling of dread and panic may not completely subside, but the intensity will eventually lessen if you willfully encourage your mind to relax.
  7. Prepare general discussion topics. Topics such as the weather, how much someone’s child has grown, work or school, food, animals, or something you saw on the news tend to be topics that most people can relate to. When you begin to experience a moment of awkward silence, use one of these topics to keep the conversation going.
  8. Remain calm and think positive. Take a break and use the restroom if you feel yourself becoming too overwhelmed. When you enter the restroom, practice doing some breathing and relaxation. Remind yourself to calm down, everything is going to be OK.
  9. There is an end in sight. At the conclusion of the event, or if you have decided to leave early, make sure you congratulate yourself. You survived another event and you need to view your achievement as a major accomplishment.