How can an introvert psych herself up to do something social?
September 24, 2016 3:02 PM   Subscribe

I generally enjoy social gatherings and parties when I attend them but as an introvert, I often get cold feet at the last minute and end up not going. What kinds of affirmations and strategies can I use to get through this?

I am a quasi-introvert. I generally enjoy spending time alone more than being around others (excepting very close friends) but when I do go to parties or social gatherings, I generally am happy I went and have a good time. I just moved to a new city and there are a lot of social gatherings, clubs, activities and parties, many involving some number of strangers, acquaintances or friends of friends, that I want to attend and make plans to go to. I'm excited about these events in advance but often, I find myself, in the hours before they are to happen, getting cold feet and backing out, choosing the predictability of staying in over a social event where things I don't expect could happen. It's partly an anxiety reaction, I guess. When I do go to social events, even ones where there are strangers, I almost always have a good time, however.

I was wondering if you know of any affirmations or mental strategies that are helpful for introverts on the verge of backing out of attending a social gathering?
posted by armadillo1224 to Human Relations (20 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
It may be helpful to promise yourself that you can leave in 30 minutes or an hour if you aren't having fun.

You might also try planning your outfit while you're in the excited stage, and then by the time you get to the cold feet stage if you can nudge yourself into putting on your event wear, you might as well go to it.

I have the same problem... will be keeping an eye on the thread!
posted by bunderful at 3:09 PM on September 24, 2016 [14 favorites]

Seconding the "promise yourself that you can leave" bit - in particular, making it as easy for yourself as possible to leave will make attending less of a daunting commitment. Going is no big deal, because you can leave at any time if it's not working for you. And once you've made it to an event once, going to the same or a similar recurring event will be a lot easier, because you can anticipate both the good and bad aspects of it, and have fewer unknown possibilities to fret over.
posted by NMcCoy at 3:19 PM on September 24, 2016

I totally understand this. I deal with it by forcing myself to go, but giving myself the option to leave early. You can always tell people when you arrive that you're going somewhere else and can only stay for 30 mins / an hour / whatever's appropriate. If you get there and find that you're having fun then you can 'rearrange' your plans.
posted by Laura_J at 3:22 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Asking others to hold me accountable (for me, my therapist) tends to help me. If I know I'm going to have to explain why I stayed at home, it adds just enough to the Pro-Going side of the equation to get me out the door.
posted by lazuli at 3:24 PM on September 24, 2016

Reminding myself that if I keep flaking out at the last minute, people will invite me to less things and then I'll feel crappy about missed opportunities usually helps.
posted by youcancallmeal at 3:29 PM on September 24, 2016 [8 favorites]

I am the same way.

The outfit planning thing definitely helps; since I almost never go anywhere but I make a point to only have happy clothes as a depression coping mechanism, I have all this fun stuff in my closet I don't get to wear very often, so slightly special social events are an excuse to play dress up for a couple hours ahead of time. Then when I start thinking it would be better to just not go, I look over at my cool dress/funky earrings/sparkly shoes that I've set out and feel motivated to go wear it in front of people. Friends have definitely noticed - I always get compliments, and people say stuff like "I don't see you very often but when I do you always look so nice/cool/fun/comfy!" Later during another time when I don't wanna go out somewhere, I can focus on these memories to tell my anxiety to stfu.

Making sure I've eaten beforehand is something I've only recently got a handle on. Even if I'm just going out to dinner, or the party is supposed to be a potluck with lots of food, I always make sure I'm not starving before I head out. I've learned that for me, hunger can be a huge contributing factor to anxiety, and then when I'm out somewhere if I don't know when I'll get a snack and have to depend on others for it it's a whole big thing that builds up. But if I have a nibble before going out I can be more agreeable about dinner choices and schedules and do stuff like have an alcoholic drink before dinner without it being on an empty stomach.

Similarly to the hunger thing I used to have bladder and digestive issues, some of which are still not yet resolved, but I'm working on it. The big thing was that even though I didn't have any other symptoms apart from having to pee aaalllll the time, my doctor diagnosed me with a UTI, probably a fairly long term but mild one, and perscribed giant antibiotic horse pills for a week. Miraculously I didn't have to pee all the time anymore! I thought it was just life, but no! Science! \o/ Anyway, that plus some really good probiotics and controlling caffeine has really helped me. So now I don't have to worry about being at someone's house and using their bathroom every dang time, or being stuck in traffic and doing the peepee wiggle dance, or leaving a movie halfway through.

Basically, make a concerted effort to remember good things that happen and how you felt during those good things when you are being sociable, so you can use them as motivators and calming thoughts beforehand. And if any physical aspect of being sociable causes you stress, take steps to fix that.

Do your shoes fit well? Do you get eye strain and maybe you need glasses? If conversation in a normal party is really hard, consider visiting an audiologist. If you're worried about getting lost, study maps of the area you'll be in ahead of time and preload them on your phone so you can look at them even if you don't have a signal. If someone in your social group makes you feel unsafe, ask a buddy to stick with you when you know the unsafe person will be there (and try to let hosts know what's up in a discrete way.)

Oh, and if there's an animal at a party you can definitely go hang out with it.
posted by Mizu at 3:34 PM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Announce you are going in advance - on Facebook or wherever. Even just telling one close friend who is also going that you plan to join them there. Then keep your promise.

Most events where I was iffy about going at the beginning, were rewarding once I got there. If that has also been your experience, then remind yourself of the good times you've had in the past at social events - cool conversations, new friends, strengthening bonds. It is like you pay a little bit upfront (prep time, travel, anxiety) but will come out ahead from the investment.
posted by ErikH2000 at 3:35 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I remind myself that even though I'm anxious about going, once I get there, I will have fun and I won't regret having gone out. I might regret staying home, though, and disappointing my friends or feeling sorry that I chickened out.

Just go. You won't regret it.
posted by donajo at 3:43 PM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, I know it's motivationally helpful to give yourself an out, e.g. "I can leave after an hour if I want". But when you get to that feeling of wanting to escape the party because it's not clicking yet, it sometimes works to double down. So many times I've felt depleted, and then I pushed through it and found a second wind. Most parties have a moment when either everybody goes home or people loosen up and it gets fun. It's good to be around in the right mood when this second stage hits.

There's an argument for showing up a bit late if you doubt your social stamina will hold out.
posted by ErikH2000 at 3:46 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I realize that not wanting to go is making the event all about me. What will *I* get out of it? What am *I* concerned about? How will this affect *me*? And in reality, my presence actually has the possibility to make the vent ... different (i like to hope better but who knows) for other people and that's how I can sort of cajole myself into t. So like hey maybe there's another librarian there who knows even fewer people than me and we can pal around and I can introduce her to people. Or maybe I'll meet a person who has been trying to figure out a way to get more people to read the book they wrote and I have ideas!

Realistically, at this point in my life as much as I feel like I'm just a bull in a china shop at a lot of social stuff, in reality I am decently good at them and can help social events go better for more people. So I try to get a little outside of my own head and think about what I could bring to a thing, not just what it could offer me.

And then if it sucks I tell myself I can leave after 30 minutes :)
posted by jessamyn at 3:58 PM on September 24, 2016 [13 favorites]

I can relate--I need a lot of down time but I enjoy being around people even though sometimes I don't feel like going to social events. One thing that helps me is when I know I have a social event coming up, I make sure I get lots of alone time beforehand. I find I look forward to going much more when I don't feel depleted from lots of other social obligations in the days leading up.

As for affirmations/things to keep in mind for yourself: I try to think of showing up to events as part of being a good friend. My partner and I have good friends who have supported us through some shitty, shitty times and we both feel the need to show up and be a good friend because reciprocity is important. I don't mean to make it sound transactional--it's more like, wow, this person has been for me in so many ways--I want to come to their party (or whatever) and participate in their happiness.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:08 PM on September 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

RSVP. And then remind yourself that it's very rude to not show up after you RSVPed. Imagine how annoyed you would be if you went to all the trouble to throw a party and 40 people said they would come and then only 5 showed up.
posted by chickenmagazine at 4:13 PM on September 24, 2016

I think one of the most important things to me is knowing my limits. I won't show up to a third social thing in one week, so I don't make three plans. That way I feel more like I've committed to the two other things and am more likely to go.
posted by possibilityleft at 4:14 PM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I try to think of showing up to events as part of being a good friend

This has been working for me lately. I just got home from my "women who get together to hang out and talk about books and art and shit" club meeting, which I often get foot-draggy about every month just because ew, leaving the house? But I had to kind of remind myself that you have to show up in order to reap the benefits of showing up, and one of those benefits is a stronger bond with the other people there.

And when it is more of a generic/stranger-based event, I try to be pretty critically choosy of what I say I'll do, but to go if I say I'll go.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:51 PM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am extrovert and even so it is extraordinarily powerful to know I can leave whenever I want without anyone's permission. An old acquaintance or two to catch up with, find some cool conversations or food is awesome -- I'm there to the end. Two circuits of the room, a cocktail, and nothing's clicking? A 2-minute pro-forma with the host and I'm on my way to see if my wife and kids are still up and what's on the DVR.
posted by MattD at 6:03 PM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I too tell myself that RSVPing and showing up is a good friend thing to do, even if I'm only staying for a little bit. I also show up a bit late so that I don't have to be part of the early party-warming crowd. And I think of one or two believable and normal excuses for leaving should I start to feel really anxious and get anxious about how to exit the situation (Oh I was up late yesterday/feeling exhausted/promised my neighbor I would feed her dog while she was out...).

If I'm anxious sometimes I just leave the room/stand outside and drink/get some fresh air. Usually there's one or two people outside having a drink or smoking (the latter which I don't do) and it's sort of a quiet, low-pressure socializing environment that helps me calm down.

Sometimes I come with food or a bottle of wine or something to help me feel more excited about the event, and even if don't stay long, the other guests can enjoy whatever elaborate delicious thing I made, and the host/my friend remembers that I do care -- I just have anxiety.
posted by mmmleaf at 8:16 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

A lot of people are saying to arrive late, so just to counter-balance: I often feel more comfortable when I arrive on time (or about 15min after the invitation states as the start time), because then I can help with whatever prep still needs to happen, and then I feel useful, which soothes my introvert heart. I've talked to people who do better with either option (arrive early, arrive late), so it may be worthwhile to check in with yourself and see where your preferences lie. Either way is totally fine, but knowing what your natural inclination is might help you figure out what arrival time is most comfortable for you.
posted by lazuli at 8:35 PM on September 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I find it helps to already be out and about before the event. It's easy for me to transition from, like, taking a walk or sitting in a cafe or something to showing up at a party, but I tend to get lazy and/or nervous when I have to leave home specifically to attend.
posted by ferret branca at 9:39 PM on September 24, 2016 [10 favorites]

I promise myself a personally-meaningful treat as reward for doing Hard Things.

Going to a movie in the middle of a weekday all by myself, nobody in the theater, big buttered popcorn. Aaaaaahhhh.
posted by mcbeth at 6:53 PM on September 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

The thing that works for me is deciding I will only stay one or two hour max and planning for an enjoyable evening after the event by myself. I will usually tell friends or the host ahead of time that I have something else going on or that I'm tired/have an early morning and need to retire early for the night so I don't have to go through the "But please stay 5 more minutes!" dance at the door.

For example I'll plan a bath and a favorite book or eating mac and cheese while watching a favorite tv show. This sort of helps me stay mentally "strong" and know that the energy I will have to put into socialising, I will be able to recharge once I get home and gives me something to look forward to. I'm more likely to attend social events if I can balance them off with introverted quiet activities that I enjoy.

I also found that sometimes I avoid going to social events because I'm bad at chit chat and dread coming up with interesting conversation subjects. So I usually resolve to prompt people to talk about themselves by asking questions about their lives/work/hobbies and I just sit back and listen and mentally relax that the pressure to carry on the conversation is not on me.
posted by Karotz at 6:48 PM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

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