I’ve talked about how my first panic attack was at a birthday party, so it should come as no surprise that I am not a huge fan of parties. I’m a 22-year-old college senior, and I’ve only gone to 10 college parties during my entire undergrad career.
And by college parties, I don’t mean hanging around a dorm room with a bottle of wine. That’s actually my idea of fun. The parties I try to avoid are the college parties where too many drunk, sweaty people are dancing in one tiny apartment. You know, the stereotypical house parties that look so fun in movies. Except they’re not always so fun in real life. For someone with social anxiety disorder, there is nothing scarier than being shoved into a room full of people you vaguely know, but that’s exactly what most college parties are like.
Many college students seem to find parties energizing. They absorb each other’s drunkenness and excitement until the entire room is buzzing with spastic energy. But that’s not the case for everyone. I find parties emotionally draining. I’ve spent more time at parties trying not to cry than I have dancing. Crowded rooms give me panic attacks. Throw in music that’s too loud and people who are not in full control of their actions, and you’ve made an environment that feels completely unsafe for a person with social anxiety disorder.
Despite all of this, I enjoy the idea of parties. I like getting dressed up! I like dancing! I like drinking! I should love parties, right? Nope. They cause me more stress than any exam ever has, but they’re so tempting! And I hate being left out. If any of my friends are going, I have to go, too. Thankfully, most of my friends share my fear of parties, so it’s not a huge problem for me. Yet I still get dragged to a party at least once a semester.
Whether you also have social anxiety disorder or you’re just plain shy, here are my tips for handling a college party:
- Trust your instincts. One of the first college parties I went to was in the basement of an old apartment building. It was sketchy, smelly and probably served as a bomb shelter at some point in history. As soon as I entered the party, I was certain that I would be murdered there. Obviously I survived, but it was still a terrible place for a party. About an hour into the night, there was a power outage. The room was completely dark, and I couldn’t even see my friends who were standing right next to me. It was like that for a half hour! We couldn’t leave because we couldn’t see the staircase, so we were trapped down there. Not long after the lights went back on, my friends and I got out of there. It was a sketchy situation, and none of us wanted to stick around.
If, at any point, you think you may be in danger at a party, leave. Even if you’re sure it’s all in your head, it’s not worth the panic.
- Schedule your night. I am more likely to panic at a party if I don’t know when I’m leaving. I need to know how long I will be there so I can mentally prepare for how much fun I have to try to have. That’s the good thing about living in Boston. The last train leaves before 1am, so I know my friends and I will be out of there by midnight.
If you don’t have the luxury of public transportation with a relatively early bedtime, set up a plan with a friend. Let them know parties make you nervous and that you’ll only go if you can leave at a certain time. If they love you, they’ll understand. I’ve never had a friend refuse when I scheduled an end-time. Do they try to trick me into staying longer? Of course, but if I look sad enough, they’ll leave with me.
- Alcohol might not settle your nerves. Whenever I tell someone that parties scare me, they say I won’t notice the nerves if I get drunk enough. That’s not the case, though. I get nervous at parties because I feel out of control, and being drunk makes me feel even more out of control. One drink might work to get the edge off, but the drunker I get, the more panicky I get. Alcohol doesn’t make parties more fun for me, and I’m sure I’m not alone with that. If you find that parties get more nerve-wracking with each drink, then there’s probably a connection.
When it comes to drinking at a party, find a balance between maintaining control and feeling at ease. It will make the night a lot less scary.
- Set up a buddy system. On your way to a party, create a buddy system within your group. There will be a lot of people at the party, and the group might be separated. Avoid being abandoned by your more social friends by making sure someone has to stay by your side. If your buddy goes to talk to someone, you tag along. Will you feel like a clingy, third wheel? Maybe, but that’s better than feeling alone when your friend ditches you to talk to someone you don’t know very well.
Also, the buddy system guarantees you a dance partner for the whole night. Just make sure you have a back up plan. If your buddy connects with someone cute, you don’t want to get in the way.
- Forget that you’re at a party. This is easier said than done, but the most fun I’ve ever had at a party was when I ignored everyone around me and just focused on my friends. So let go, and have fun! And remember: Parties usually only last a few hours. It won’t be long until you’re curled up in bed with Netflix.
Halloween is just around the corner, which means there won’t be a shortage of college parties. It’s also the perfect time to face your fears. If you used to avoid parties because they made you nervous, now is a great time to check one out! Or don’t. It’s perfectly fine to not enjoy parties. I’ve already been to at least 10 college parties. I’m ready to retire, but feel free to use these tips. They always helped me!