Social events and gatherings can be challenging, and sometimes, downright awkward AF. Everyone experiences discomfort in social situations now and again , but it is especially difficult if you experience anxiety or stress being around a bunch of people, crowded places, or strangers. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (
ADAA), an estimated 40 million American adults live with an anxiety disorder, making it the most common mental health disorder in the U.S. Moreover, the ADAA estimates around 15 million American adults — around 6.8 percent of the entire population — specifically deal with social anxiety disorder (SAD). Worldwide, about one in thirteen people have an anxiety disorder, meaning you almost certainly know someone who lives with one.
Navigating social anxiety is tricky, because much of time, you can't straight up leave the situation. Of course, setting boundaries for yourself and being aware of when you need to leave is super important. But, that's not always an option (and sometimes, you'd probably rather stay). So, how do you cope with anxiety if you are are stuck in a social situation? We asked 21 people how they cope with social anxiety, and they shared their tips on how to deal in the moment.
"When I'm in social situations, I lightly snap a rubber band on my wrist to help with anxiety," Colin, a Youth Coordinator and mental health advocate, tells Bustle. Dawn, an at-home caregiver, says she will preoccupy her hands and quell her anxiety by knitting.
"I use my phone a lot," Analiese, a college student, tells Bustle. "If I feel anxious in social situations, I pull out my phone and start mindlessly scrolling through social media. I do this a lot in lines, walking to and from places, at parties, or other large events with groups of people. It probably comes across as really rude, but it helps me mentally step away from the stressful situation."
"Sometimes I don't go to gatherings if I think they'll require too much mental energy, but, I guess the one thing that pushes me forward with people is smiling — big, when greeting people. It energizes me, and it puts other people at ease," explains Heidi, a consultant in Utah.
Brit, a college student, tells Bustle, "I tend to go to the bathroom and splash water on my face, or do breathing exercises. It involves temporarily leaving the situation, but it helps me collect myself rather than having a public breakdown."
Bella, a bartender, says that if she is at a party or event, she will "find and hang out with an animal if there is one" to manage social anxiety. Alternatively, you can bring your service animal along, if you have one. "My service animal has an 'act up' command. When the going gets rough, I signal him, and have an excuse to leave," says Ben, a business owner in Utah.
"Bring a friend who knows you hate social sh*t," says Kat, an office manager. "Honestly, most social events I will avoid if I don't have an 'anchor-person' there. Someone who knows me pretty intimately, and knows when my social bar runs out, it is time to bail."
Chris, a college student, tells Bustle, "I think about my long term goals and visualize myself achieving them. It sounds super corny, but it works for me because most of my anxiety is education or career related, and I tend to panic over the small things. So 'zooming out,' and looking at what I'm working towards helps."
Practice Breathing Techniques
"In my mental health first aid training, I learned a specific breathing technique that has always worked for me and has helped others I know," explains Ryan, a sales consultant. "Find a quiet place in your mind, imagine you're blowing bubbles, take a deep breath in and exhale very slowly keep in mind that you're trying to blow the biggest bubble you can. Repeat once or twice."
"I have this little plastic 3D printed shark that’s kind of sharp, that’ll I’ll squeeze in my hand to bring me back into a moment," says Rachel, a college student. Deborah, a welfare social worker and former substance abuse counselor, swears by a kneaded art eraser. "It’s a safe way to physically manifest anxiety," she says.
Focus On The Person You're With
"I focus on the person I am talking to and not the entire group of people around me," says Kat, college student. "I find that the more people I focus on, the worse my panic attack will be."
Katie, a Communications Manager, tells Bustle, "If people are coming over, I always want to play music that calms me."
"I’m very sensory sensitive, so I will use touch to keep me grounded," says Sydney, a coffee roaster. "I know it sounds weird, [but] running my fingernails along my fingers or my lips — almost like a scratching sensation, but without hurting myself. Some weird sensory coping mechanism I must have developed somewhere along the line."
Set Boundaries For Yourself In Advance
"If I know that I have to attend a social event, I'll make sure it's never more than one per week," says Nina, a licensed massage therapist, student, and activist. "I also will schedule a full day of 'me time' after a social event."
Use soothing beauty products
Jennifer, an activist, says she will use hand lotion to help calm her social anxiety. Similarly, Alexandra, who is also an activist, says, "Applying copious amounts of Chapstick helps, because otherwise I’ll chew my lips up like I did when I was kid."
Remind yourself why you attended in the first place
"I promise myself to wait out the 'OK, I don’t belong and am out of here' initial brainstorm, remembering how I am almost always glad that I stayed," says Teri, an activist.
Try to get into the conversation and let go of some of the anxiety
"I don't know if you'd call it coping, but I talk more when I’m socially anxious, which tends to lead to me feeling more comfortable if the convo picks up," Lisa, an advisor at a treatment center, tells Bustle.
Beth, a college student, says "stepping outside the social event and getting some fresh air and peace for five to minutes" helps with social anxiety.
Blue, a student, tells Bustle, "I usually saying the Serenity Prayer in my head." However, you can say whatever mantra or phrase is most calming to you.
Even if you struggle with social anxiety, there are ways to make social interactions and events a little less stressful. Next time you feel triggered, give one of these tips a go. Who knows — it make work for you!