How to Deal With Social Anxiety at a Party

Coping with anxiety about parties starts with deciding whether or not it is reasonable for you to attend. Make a point of not overbooking yourself. If you already have something planned for the day of an evening party, it's OK to decline another invite, especially if you think that it is more than you can handle.

What about making the last-minute decision not to go? If you haven't found adequate ways to cope with your anxiety or you feel as though you are in the middle of a crisis, it is probably better to stay home and vow to be better prepared next time. If possible, call the host to let them know that something has come up and that you won't be there.


Get Ready for the Party

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Start thinking early about how you will spend your time relaxing before the party. If possible, make sure that you have at least a few hours of downtime to prepare. Try spending time on yourself. Some ideas might include the following:

Plan well in advance what you will wear to the event. If it is a formal affair, ask about the dress code. Choose clothing that both looks good on you and that is comfortable.


Choose What to Bring

Woman with gift basket at front door
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Although you will not always need to bring a gift to a party, there are occasions when it will be appropriate. Similar to choosing your clothing, purchasing gifts should be done as much in advance as possible.

This will give you time to put thought into your choices and to ask others for advice if you are unsure about what to bring. Typical gifts for the host might include:

  • Bottle of wine (if they drink alcohol)
  • Dessert
  • Flowers or a plant
  • Kitchen accessory or utensil (think unusual, something the host might not buy for themself)

Decide When to Arrive

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If you suffer with social anxiety, it is better to arrive at the party on time or a little early, than to be fashionably late. Arriving early allows you to meet guests as they arrive, rather than walking into a large group and facing a long list of introductions.

Speaking of introductions, don't be too hard on yourself if you can't remember the names of everyone you meet in a group setting. It's fine to ask a second time—and may even help to convey your interest in making a new friend.


Think About How to Approach People

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If you find yourself at a party where you don't know anyone (kudos to you for going), the first hurdle will be to find someone with whom you can talk. Look for a friendly face in the crowd. Perhaps there is someone who also appears to be alone. Make a general comment about your surroundings such as:

  • "The food looks really good"
  • "Perfect weather for an outdoor party"

If the person does not reciprocate, try again with someone else. The best way to enter a group at a party is through the introduction of one of its members. If you see someone break apart from a group, try approaching that person one-on-one.

Be aware of your body language in addition to what you say. Don't cross your arms and make sure to smile. Ideally, that person will introduce you to the rest of the group.


Consider What to Talk About

people talking at a party

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If you have little experience talking to others, it can be hard to know what to talk about at a party. There are some things that you can prepare beforehand, such as funny jokes or interesting stories. It is best to talk about topics that are mainstream. Some examples include:

  • Current events
  • Favorite movies
  • Music
  • Restaurants
  • Sports

Ask questions and try to find common interests with others. Make sure that your questions are open-ended and encourage conversation. For example, it's better to ask, "How do you like being a veterinarian?" than "So, you are a veterinarian?"

Be sure to also listen to the answers rather than waiting to jump in with your own comment. One way to make sure you listen well is to plan to tell someone else what you learned from the conversation. This will encourage you to ask questions and pay attention.

Finally, remember that in general, overly personal topics and political and religious issues are not good conversation starters with strangers.


Choose What to Eat and Drink

Food on a table

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Try to limit alcohol consumption when at a party. Although it can be tempting to use alcohol to feel less anxious, the danger of alcoholism is great for those who suffer with social anxiety.

If you do drink, do so in moderation and eat food to offset the effects of the alcohol. If eating in front of others is an anxiety trigger for you, make sure to eat at least a little something before you go, to be on the safe side.


Find Things to Do

Group playing a party game
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Taking part in games and activities with others may feel like you are being put in the spotlight. However, it is important to at least try to participate. Remember, the objective is not to be the best or to win the game.

The goal is to get to know the people at the party and feel more comfortable with them. You might find after a rousing game of pictionary or some bocce ball that you've developed a bond with your new friends.


Cope With Anxiety

A friend can help if anxiety strikes while at a party.

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Have coping strategies in place in case you find yourself overwhelmed with anxiety. Identify a place that you can go to decompress, and go there if needed.

Practice deep breathing ahead of time and put it into practice when you are feeling out of control. If possible, bring someone along who knows about your anxiety and who will help you cope if needed.


Choose When to Leave

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Set a time limit before you go to a party and stick to your exit plan. Knowing how much time you will spend in advance should help to reduce anxiety. If you find that you are having fun and want to stay longer, great.

If on the other hand, you don't think that you can stay the entire time, know that it is OK to slip away early. Feel good for staying as long as you did.

A Word From Verywell

Parties can be intimidating or thrilling—it's all in how you look at it. Of course, if you're in the midst of severe anxiety and haven't yet worked out a suitable treatment plan, attending parties may not be your best course of action. On the other hand, if you are looking for a way to challenge yourself and develop social skills, parties are a gold mine.

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."