To all of the extroverts out there, this may not be a thought for you. But after the pandemic and lockdowns, some of us are re-entering the social space with a little trepidation, considering that we’ve had quite some time to be in control of our surroundings. For people who get overwhelmed by sensory overload and the dread of having to be social, I’ve learned that there are ways to cope.
I’ll be honest, I went to a wedding last week and even though I have a large family and attend many family functions, I had a mild panic attack during one of the night’s festivities. All of a sudden, I was light-headed, shaking, nauseous, overwhelmed, had trouble breathing, sweating, and the thought of having to leave because of this added on to my anxiety. I ended up making a quick and quiet exit but I was left wondering what I could have done differently to prevent this. Maybe I should have done the following:
Identify a Safe Space
If I’m confined to a small space with lots of noise and people bumping into me, I start spinning. In cases like this, it’s good to find a cozy spot away from all of the action, a place where you can sit and take a breather. Think of it as a station to recharge and reflect on making the most out of your time at the outing. Visit it whenever you’re starting to feel over-stimulated.
Choose Healthy Food Options
What you eat at the occasion can also impact how you’re feeling and in some cases, it can make it worse. Eating refined carbs can cause your blood sugar to fluctuate and when your blood sugar is too low, it can cause a panic attack. Fried foods, processed foods, and food additives can also cause the brain to mimic anxiety symptoms. The same symptoms can be found when not eating after a long period of time. You’ll also want to be mindful about staying hydrated because dehydration can send the heart racing, leading to light-headedness. So no matter how yummy things look, choose what you know will be good for you in that moment.
Take Active Breaks
Physical activity releases feel-good endorphins that can lessen the reactivity of your brain’s fight or flight response. If you find yourself sitting too much at an event, get up and walk around to relieve your body of any pent up tension. You may even want to hit the dance floor if you haven’t moved enough throughout the day, granted you feel comfortable doing that.
Get Involved With an Activity
I do this all the time. If I feel socially awkward or “lost” at a large gathering, I distract myself by picking up small tasks to help out. By fixating on the task at hand, I pay less attention to all of the activity going on around me. You can distract yourself by getting involved in any available activity, whether that be playing a game or taking a turn at watching the little ones.
Find Someone Like You to Chat With
If you’re starting to feel displaced, it’s okay to focus your attention on chatting with only the people you sense are easy-going and undemanding. Don’t push yourself to talk with people who drain you and make you feel uncomfortable; Find ways to avoid them. Make it a point to focus on asking the other person about themselves and listen with intention. Sometimes just being a listening ear is good enough to pass the time.
Identify a Ride Ahead of Time
Finally, create your exit strategy before you attend the event. Decide how you’re going to get home, around what time you’d like to leave, and what your boundaries are for remaining at the occasion. Like if things get rowdy, I’m out. Knowing ahead of time that you have a reliable way to leave will help you remain calm with a plan.
Well, I know that I’ll fare better at the next gathering. Remember that giving yourself enough time to recharge and relax after the event is just as important as maintaining calmness while there. I know that this may seem “soft” or “extra” but panic attacks are a real deal and I definitely didn’t expect to have one. Just do your best and don’t allow past experiences with anxiety to hold you back from making memories.