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Social anxiety - How to cope with the office party

Posted on 01 December 2018

Social anxiety: How to cope with the office party

At this time of year, unsurprisingly the demand for hypnotherapy for social anxiety goes up at both my clinics in Harley Street and in Berkshire. Social anxiety is a common problem especially round Christmas time.  If you hate being in noisy, crowded places or feel anxious if you have to talk to people you do not know, you may want some help, especially at this time of year. The festive season can be very difficult.

Most of the time you may be able to avoid situations which make you feel uncomfortable but come the run-up to Christmas it can be much harder. Office parties can be the most challenging but the round of visiting family and friends, the general bonhomie and noise can also all feel a bit too much.

I would recommend that if you find such events a problem you get expert help. Your fears may be related to deep-seated beliefs and emotions and expert help can help you uncover these and deal with the difficulties they are causing. With targeted treatment, you can often get over the problem in a few sessions.

I can also offer you some ‘at home’ tips which can help.

In this blog, I will concentrate on the office party, as this is often the hardest, but my suggestions can be adapted to any social situation.

Preparation: do this in the days before the party

Breathing relaxation

Practise some relaxation techniques. Try this. Breathe slowly and make sure that your out-breaths are longer than your in-breaths. Make sure that you are pushing your diaphragm out as you breathe. Practise this breathing for a few minutes several times a day.

Muscle relaxation

Start at your feet and tense and then relax all the muscles in your feet. Work right up your body, legs middle, arms shoulders neck, jaw, head. This tensing and relaxing will loosen and de-stress your muscles.

How this works

Breathing and muscle relaxation is a shortcut to slowing down your body’s systems, especially your fight and flight responses. When your body is more relaxed it will signal your brain, nothing to worry about here and you will feel more able to cope.

Visualisation and anchoring

Once you are more relaxed, visualise yourself at the event. Make a picture and imagine yourself at the centre of the picture, calm and confident. Put the picture on a screen in your mind and then imagine stepping into that screen, so you are actually in the picture, rather than just looking at it. In your picture, move around, smile and talk. Notice that people are friendly, but most are doing their own thing. You are only the centre of attention to you. Speak to someone you like a lot. Then speak to someone you do not know so well. Move around the room.

Then stop. Notice how calm and confident you feel. Give this a phrase. Something like: “party me!” “confident me!”, whatever seems right for you. Keep your picture clear and say your phrase. Now make a small physical movement which is definite but only you will know (this is called the anchor). Digging your nails into your palm or pinching your forefinger with your other hand, both work quite well.

The routine

Do the relaxation, visualise and get your picture, say your phrase, use your anchor. Practice this often in the run-up to the event. Then practice just making the movement. You will find that you have built a strong enough link to get the calm and confident feelings just by using the anchor. This means that when you are at the event you can use that anchor to get those good confident feelings. And no-one will even know you are doing it.

Get a team

If you have some trusted workmates, share your feelings. You will proably be surprised to find how many people feel like you. You may even be able to arrange to act as each other’s support on the day.

Wear it well

Choose your clothes carefully. You want to feel physically comfortable and socially comfortable, so you fit in. If you are new in your workplace don’t be shy to ask other people what they are wearing.


Work out how you are getting home. If you know you can get home without any hassle you will feel freer and easier.

Decide what time you are going to leave. Choose a time which is the earliest you can get away with. If you want to stay longer you can, and setting an early time gives you maximum flexibility. By setting an early time you are setting a boundary for yourself. You know how long you have to cope. And then you can leave and feel proud of yourself.


On the day

Arrive early

If it is appropriate, arrive early. It will be quieter. The party will be less crowded and you will be able to talk to people in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Help out the shy people

When the party gets going look out for shy people. Strike up a conversation with the quiet person in the corner. Use open questions and then reply to them. It’s much easier than you think. Here is an example:

Ask where someone lives

Use the information they give you. If you are not familiar with their area, ask what it is like.

If you do know their neighbourhood, say how you know it. For example, you may reply: “Oh that’s not far from me, my sister lives around the corner.” Ask another question if you can. In our example, you could say: “Do you ever go to the café in the next street? It’s very good.” Perhaps your new pal will say: “No, is it any good for vegans, I am a vegan.” So already you have another strand of conversation going. Often, this is all you need to get a good conversation going.

Cultivate an attitude of helping and being kind to people who are looking awkward and out of things. You will soon be so busy looking after others you will forget about yourself.

Take time out

Work out a strategy if you need some time out. Many people who suffer from social anxiety are very sensitive to crowds and noise. If you can, find out where you can go to take five minutes out in a bit of quiet and fresher air.

Congratulate yourself

I hope this helps you. Remember that your fears are just your beliefs and they can be changed. And if you are finding that difficult to do call me and let’s get working to sort it out once and for all.

Fiona Nicolson on Google+

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