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How To Avoid Being Socially Awkward At A Party

Tip number one: arrive sober.

19/08/2016 10:06 AM AEST | Updated 19/08/2016 10:07 AM AEST
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Tara Moore
This is not the solution.

Not everyone was born a social butterfly. In fact, there are those of us who would rather die than go to a party where we don't know anyone or, worse still, a work function where mingling with strangers isn't just an expectation, it's a requirement.

Sadly, there are only so many times you can call in sick or feign having a prior engagement. Sometimes, you just need to front up and face the party music.

To help get you through, The Huffington Post Australia spoke to clinical psychologist Catherine Madigan from Anxiety Treatment Australia on how to get through even the toughest of social engagements without coming across as socially inept.

Rule number one? No preloading.

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Don't get drunk

"A lot of people use alcohol as a crutch," Madigan told HuffPost Australia. "Some people would be knocking back a few drinks before they even leave home, and others may head to the bar the minute they get there.

"There's nothing wrong with having a drink at a party, but people really need to be honest with themselves whether they are self-medicating their anxiety.

"Understandably, people use alcohol for a bit of dutch courage but it can backfire because eventually if you do make friends or meet a love interest -- you're going to have to show up sober eventually. People are going to have to accept you as you are.

"If you want to have a drink at a party, arrive sober, make efforts to talk to people sober, and after you have dealt with your anxiety, you might reward yourself with a drink after an hour or two. But don't use it as an escape. You don't want to be reliant on it."

Watch your body language

"When meeting people, I think everyone wants to project as confident, but we have to look at what we call our safety behaviours," Madigan said.

"If you're anxious about meeting people, you can exhibit negative body language. One example is falling into the habit of folding our arms. Not only does that make you look like a bouncer, but it means you're not projecting the most friendly encouraging persona."

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Is the office party over yet?

Appearing unfriendly or unapproachable is something Madigan says those who are socially anxious often unwittingly project.

"If we're anxious, we might be looking a bit solemn. We might have to think consciously about trying to smile," Madigan said.

"You might also be giving monosyllabic answers if people try to strike up a conversation. Eye contact might be down, you might be mumbling. You also might be fearful of disclosing information about yourself because you don't think you're interesting enough.

"People need to be aware of those safety behaviours. Number one, they could be making you look unfriendly or hard to approach. Sometimes when you are a bit shy or socially anxious, because you don't have good eye contact or give short answers, people can wrongly get the idea that anxious people are stuck up or disinterested. If you want to look friendly and approachable, you have to work on dropping those safety behaviours."

Helena Inkeri
This is not how you make friends at a barbecue.

Remember: you don't look as anxious as you feel

"If you are feeling really anxious, you don't want to fall into the trap of thinking 'if I feel really anxious, I must look really anxious'. The truth is you might look a little bit tense, but it's probably nowhere near as bad as you think," Madigan said.

"When I do group therapy with people, I will often get them doing role plays where we video one another in a social situation.

"Generally, people are quite surprised to see that even though they report high levels of anxiety, they are actually conducting themselves quite well. They're not blushing anywhere near as badly as they think, they're not shaking as much as they think."

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Unlike this monkey, you're probably not blushing anywhere near as badly as you imagine.

Practice makes perfect

It's probably the last thing you want to hear, but you're not going to improve your social anxiety by sitting on the couch at home.

"People aren't going to get better at social situations by avoiding them," Madigan said. "Depending on how anxious you are, you might not get invited to many parties. So it's important to say 'yes' to the ones you are invited to.

"In the meantime, you can always practice striking up conversations with shop assistants. You're not trying to befriend the shop assistant, but they are a captive audience and can be a really good person to practice making small talk with, you know, 'hi how's your day, it's hot outside, did you watch the footy last night?' Anything, really.

"If people have significant issues, if it's really a problem, you might want to go and talk to a psychologist about it."

For more information on anxiety or to seek treatment, head to Anxiety Treatment Australia.

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