Tips for coping with parties when you have social anxiety
When you pull up to the address where you are attending a party, are you looking forward to an evening amongst friends and family, or are your palms sweating, your heart racing and your insides churning?
If it's the latter you may be suffering from social anxiety, a recognised condition that lies on the scale between shyness and social anxiety disorder, a social phobia which can prevent people from speaking in meetings, doing the shopping or even making a phone call.
Social anxiety facts
Although there are no precise figures, around 7% of people are thought to have the condition and more women than men are affected according to Professor Robert Edelmann, professor of forensic and clinical psychology at Roehampton University in London.
Two classic features of social anxiety identified by Professor Edelmann are "self-conscious concerns and fear of negative evaluation", a crippling dual blow which can paralyse the person with anxiety.
The fear that people are noticing them, coupled with a fear of doing something foolish can often lead the person to act in a way which does draw attention to them, consequently leaving them reluctant to venture out again.
"Someone who is socially anxious is more conscious of how they feel they will appear to other people than someone who is not socially anxious," says Professor Edelmann, "and is more afraid that they will behave in some way which will show them up to others."
And unfortunately, because someone who is socially anxious tends to pre-empt any social situation by fearing that the worst will happen - that they will do something embarrassing - the situation becomes one of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
"The anxiety when entering a social situation actually increases the likelihood of trembling, shaking or stammering," Professor Edelmann says, "which increases the likelihood of dropping things or struggling with what you are saying, hence increasing the likelihood that your 'social performance' will be less than optimal and the person you are interacting with may wonder what is wrong."
So all those occasions which are supposed to be fun - birthdays, family gatherings, even the work Christmas party - can be a torment for socially anxious people and yet avoiding them can only make matters worse.