Cookouts and parties on the Fourth of July are a long-standing tradition, something like apple pie, but this time you’re eating hamburgers and barbecue. You might be hosting the event yourself, or you may be going to a friend’s, as we are.
If you are going to a friend’s or a family member’s home, it might be an occasion for your Anxieties to act up, so it is prudent to prepare yourself in advance. Thinking through the event will give you a level of comfort you won’t have if you just wing it.
Here are some suggestions that have helped me:
1. Don’t try to go to too many gatherings — Set boundaries
You may be invited to more than one gathering, such as one at Mom’s and one at your best friend’s. You don’t need to attend all the parties you are invited to. Have an excuse to say “no” without stretching the truth too far. If you have to turn down an invitation, be kind but firm. When you put yourself first, you will have more to give everyone else.
2. Try to find out how many people will be there
It is very upsetting to me to find a house full of people when I just expected a friend and his family. Try to find out who will be there, and how many. This may not always be possible, but it’s worth a try to ask tactfully. If the circumstances are not right — too many unfamiliar people, or just too many people in a small space — you can take a rain check on the invitation. Do not sacrifice yourself to do what you think others expect.
3. If you go, set time limits
You don’t have to be the first to arrive and the last to leave. I always try to arrive not too long after a party starts to avoid making “grand entrance” in front of a lot of people. Always decide in advance when you are going to leave, whether it’s a set time or a set of circumstances, such as a decent interval after the meal is finished. Agree on this time with any persons going with you, so no one is disappointed or angry. And remember that if you need to leave before your agreed upon time, it’s ok.
4. Have a safe place you can retreat to
You need to have a safe place to go when you need to if your Anxiety is severe, particularly if you have Panic Disorder and Social Phobia. If your host understands, your safe place might be a bedroom or home office. Failing that, you might retreat to a bathroom or even your car. Do not be embarrassed to get away from the party to pull yourself together! Knowing that you have a safe place might mean that you never have to use it.
5. Bring someone who understands
If at all possible, bring a friend or family member who understands your situation. For people with Agoraphobia, taking another person along may be the only way that you can go. This person should understand that you need to leave when you say so, and should know about your safe place and why you may need to use it. You don’t want to hang onto or hide behind this person, but having a “safe” person along will help you enjoy yourself more.
6. Help yourself remember your coping skills
If you have severe Anxiety Disorders and are recovered enough to go to parties, you will already have a set of coping skills to use, such as deep breathing and relaxation. Go over these skills before you leave home. Under pressure it’s easy to get flustered and forget the skills you have fought so hard to learn. There’s nothing wrong with writing them down on a slip of paper to remind yourself.
7. Remember why you are celebrating
Though it’s great to celebrate the birthday of our country, the main reason you are going is to be with people you care about and to meet new ones. It’s a time of enjoyment, sharing friendship and happiness. Think about how much you will enjoy yourself. If you think you will have to violate yourself to fit in, it may be better to stay at home.
8. If you can’t go, you can’t go. If you can’t stay, you can’t stay.
You can say “no” at any time. It’s ok if you can’t go or you can’t stay. You can make it up to the people at another time, if you think they may be offended. Don’t make yourself sick when you realize you’re too anxious to go or stay, even if you have to cancel at the last minute. But if you can’t go or stay, make real goals to work on in the future.
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