Your question: Why do I get anxiety after social events?
Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Through this article I would like to talk about anxiety related to social events, explaining how your mind and body react to social interaction and proposing strategies to help you deal with the feeling of social anxiety.
We are social beings. Inevitably we must interact and exchange experiences with other people in our day-to-day lives. Even people who work entirely online need spaces for face-to-face socialization. Even introverted people build their own specific groups and themes to engage in casual social conversations.
However, social events can be very stressful. In a world that constantly demands activity, production, and participation from us, social events can generate anxiety for people who feel pressured to interact with others, who feel that their energy is radically depleted after socializing, or who worry about what others will say about them.
Anxiety related to social contexts is called social anxiety. It has been shown(1) that people can experience anxiety after a social event and that this is related to their belief system and how they perceive the act of socializing itself.
Therefore, your anxiety after social events is common and understandable. It can be very draining to be in meetings, sharing conversations and being in spaces for hours on end when you have exhausted your energy and just want to go home and rest. So, before I give you some key strategies to decrease your feelings of anxiety after social events, I would like to explain why this happens, and how by learning to prioritize your health, you are taking the first step towards healing.
Why do you feel anxiety after social events?
The reason why you feel anxious after a social event is related to the cognitive processing of the anxiety itself. This means that during anxiety your brain generates anxious thoughts, which although unrelated to reality, cause a physical and emotional reaction in you.
After a social event, you inevitably undergo a process of self-evaluation, in which annoying and hurtful thoughts such as “did I behave appropriately” or “did those people like me” appear.
When the social event is over, all the weight of these exhausting thoughts falls on you, so you start to feel the symptoms of anxiety that you dislike so much. Thus, the source of your anxiety related to social events lies in the thoughts, which act as a cycle of self-criticism that leaves you fatigued and depressed at the end of the meeting.
What does social anxiety feel like?
Social anxiety has symptoms typical of general anxiety, but these appear within social contexts, either before, during or after a specific social event or in general. These symptoms are:
- Tachycardia and sweating.
- Headache or stomach ache.
- Tingling or tingling sensation.
- Preoccupation or fear that others will speak ill of you.
- Fear of rejection and loneliness.
- Hurtful and self-critical thoughts about yourself and your personality.
How do you stop feeling anxious about socializing?
Addressing social anxiety is complex, but possible. My recommendation is to consult a psychologist, this will help you to build specific tools to address your socialization-related problems and work on your self-esteem. In the meantime, some strategies you can apply are:
Track your thoughts
After a social event that caused you anxiety, write down in a journal the automatic thoughts you experience about yourself, about people or about the social event in general. This will allow you to keep track of how your anxious thoughts act and construct a view of reality and yourself that does not always coincide with logic.
Reinforce your self-esteem
Through positive comments, you should begin to reinforce your self-image and self-esteem, appreciating the positive qualities you have which can be minimized through self-criticism generated by social scenarios.
You can do this by asking the valuable people in your life what qualities they appreciate in you. Also remember difficult moments or complex situations that you have overcome before which speak of capacities that in the worst moments of anxiety, you feel unable to notice.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1
This technique(2) consists of using your senses to dissuade emotional discomfort at a specific moment. It is useful when we are experiencing a lot of physical agitation or we feel that we have a lot of unpleasant thoughts, and find it difficult to control our emotions. Wherever you are, you will focus on identifying 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
Whether you are in your room, in a car or a public place, you can sit and practice this exercise in silence, breathing slowly as you do it as many times as you feel necessary to decrease the anxious symptoms. With time of practice this exercise will become easier, and you will realize how helpful it is to focus on our essential senses when we are overthinking things that make us feel bad.
In my experience…
The anxiety experienced after social events is exhausting because it leaves people with the feeling that there is something wrong with them or that they have a problem. This is not the case, and a crucial part of the process of coping with anxiety is to accept it as part of our life and prioritize our emotions.
Therefore, if specific social events or people are generating your anxiety through criticism and mistreatment, you need to count them out of your life. You have no obligation to interact with people who are hurtful to you, even if they are family members or co-workers.
By learning to prioritize yourself and working on your self-esteem and identity, you may notice that the feeling of social anxiety gradually diminishes.
I hope that with these suggestions you can improve. I recognize and applaud you for seeking professional counseling, because it shows that you want to feel better and you are on the right path to change the things that make you feel bad. I believe that you have the capacity to improve, although sometimes your mind makes you believe that you have no solution. It was a pleasure to write to you.
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Sylvia Helbig-Lang, Maxie von Auer, Karolin Neubauer, Eileen Murray, Alexander L. Gerlach, Post-event processing in social anxiety disorder after real-life social situations – An ambulatory assessment study, Behaviour Research and Therapy, Volume 84, 2016, Pages 27-34, ISSN 0005-7967.