Social anxiety can make even exciting or wonderful social events feel miserable. You can often feel isolated and misunderstood. People who care about you might think they’re helping by saying things like, “That went OK, didn’t it?” but that can sometimes leave you feeling even worse.
Understanding why you get anxious after social events is key to helping you deal with your fear. We’re going to look at what post-event rumination is, why it happens, and how to deal with it.
- What is post-event rumination?
- Why do I get anxious after socializing?
- How can I reduce my anxiety after social events?
Post-event rumination is when you find yourself brooding after a social event. You might focus on any mistakes you might have made. You may also imagine that others have criticized or judged you.
Often, these thoughts will become part of a cycle. You worry that you embarrassed yourself, which causes you to run through every detail of the event. The more time you spend thinking about your performance, the more mistakes you see, which causes you to worry more.
Post-event rumination is incredibly common, not just among people with social anxiety. Following an embarrassing social interaction, 86% of people without social anxiety experience it. For those with social anxiety, it’s 95%.
People with social anxiety can fall into this pattern of thinking even after positive social events. This type of thinking can damage their self-esteem and can add to symptoms of depression. It can become a downward spiral, leading to deterioration in your mental and physical health.
One of the most common reasons we brood on social events after they happen is that we want to do better in the future. We believe that we can do better next time if we identify ways we got things wrong last time and come up with better solutions.
This seems logical, but it rarely works in practice. Try thinking about times you’ve ruminated over a social event for days on end. How often have you come up with a new, brilliant solution on day 3 of worrying? Or day 4?
The chances are, that hasn’t happened very often at all. How about counting the times it’s left you feeling more confident about how you’ll do next time? Again, most people find that it makes them feel worse, especially if they focus on all the things that went wrong without celebrating the things they did well.
Becoming anxious after socializing is your mind’s way of trying to help you feel more capable and confident, but it backfires. Luckily, there are things you can do to help you change how you respond. These strategies can reduce your anxiety after social events.
Here are some of the best ways to reduce your anxiety after socializing.
1. Challenge your belief that brooding is helpful
Just telling yourself not to think about social events once they’re over doesn’t help reduce your post-event anxiety. Trying to push thoughts away often makes them come back stronger. Instead, try to remind yourself why brooding isn’t helpful.
- Thinking about your mistakes doesn’t make you feel more confident or improve your performance in social situations. This is especially true if you focus on thoughts such as “If only…” or “I wish I had…” This is known as upward counterfactual thinking. It can lead to lower mood and lower self-esteem.
- Rumination can disrupt concentration, even on unrelated tasks. This makes life more difficult and can lead to more mistakes in the future.
When you’re tempted to brood on a social event, remind yourself that this might be a form of self-sabotage. Instead of trying to push your ruminations away, try to think of one positive thing about the social event to match every negative thing you notice.
2. Understand recall bias
We are better at remembering things that fit with our expectations than things that don’t. This is called recall bias. For people with anxiety after social events, this means that you probably remember more negative things from your social situations than you do positive ones, simply because you expect to see negative things.
If you find yourself thinking that you always mess up socially or feel like you never do anything right, remind yourself that you’re probably not remembering all the things that go really well. This won’t solve your anxiety, but it may help reduce it.
3. Distract yourself
Anxiety after socializing is driven by the thoughts that keep going around in your head. Try to quiet those post-event processing thoughts by distracting yourself.
You might ruminate at regular times, such as on the way home from an event or in bed just before you go to sleep. Try to find ways to distract yourself that work at times you know you tend to brood.
For example, if you feel yourself start ruminating before bed, try reading a book to help take your mind off it and help you sleep. If it happens in the car, try singing along to your favorite songs or listening to a podcast.
If you struggle to focus on a distraction, remind yourself that post-event processing only makes you more anxious. Give yourself 5 minutes to think about it. Then try to move on.
4. Practice self-compassion
The way we talk to ourselves after a social event matters. When we’re feeling anxious after a social event, we’re not usually very compassionate towards ourselves in our thoughts.
Learning to be compassionate towards ourselves can help to build our self-esteem and reduce our anxiety after spending time with others. Self-compassion isn’t easy to pick up from scratch, but here are some techniques that can help:
Try to pay attention to your own experience, and realize that your feelings are important. We can get so wrapped up in how others see us that we forget to really experience our own feelings about being with friends.
Spending a few minutes paying attention to your body, your thoughts, and your emotions can encourage you to feel more compassionate towards yourself.
- Feel your connection with others
When we feel bad about ourselves, we often feel alone or isolated. Try to remember that your fears, mistakes, and worries are something you share with most other people. Realizing that most people can relate to these feelings can encourage you to be kinder to yourself.
- Talk to yourself as you would a friend
Many of us are harsher with ourselves than we would dream of being with others. We might describe ourselves in ways we wouldn’t dream of describing a friend. For example, we might call ourselves stupid or a failure. When you talk to yourself about being at a social event, try to say things to yourself that you would say to a close friend or loved one. Practice being kind and showing yourself love and support.
See our article on building self-compassion for more advice.
5. Name your thoughts
It might sound silly, but giving your post-event ruminations a name can help you notice when you’re falling into the same old thought patterns. It can also help remind you that these thoughts might not necessarily be true.
For example, you might say, “Oh, I’m thinking about my facial expressions,” or “This is my ‘worrying about whether people noticed I’m anxious’ thought.” Again, you don’t need to try to suppress the thoughts. Just noticing that they’re there and naming them without judgment might make a difference.
6. Start reflecting rather than ruminating
People use the words reflection and rumination interchangeably. But to psychologists, they are two very different things. Rumination often makes you feel worse about yourself. Reflection helps you learn and can increase your confidence.
Rumination is mostly passive and repetitive. You go over the same ground, again and again, seeing all the things you supposedly did wrong. Reflection is about recognizing that we have negative thoughts and trying to explore them, asking questions, and looking to understand more about ourselves and our beliefs.
When you ruminate on an event, you typically only remember the bad bits. When you reflect, you’ll usually have a more balanced impression. You might remember the good and bad bits.
Writing your thoughts down can help you to think more reflectively about events. If you find yourself starting to ruminate, try writing a short description of the event. Say what happened, how you felt, and why you think you felt the way you did. Write down any questions that come to your mind and any answers you come up with.
7. Question the standards you set for yourself
Everyone who suffers from anxiety after social events has their own personal worries. Often, this comes down to what counts as making a social mistake for them. Understanding how you define social mistakes can help you reduce your anxiety.
Some people judge their social performance according to their personal standards, even if everyone around them sees the situation differently. For example, you might have high anxiety after a public speaking event because you forgot a section in the middle of your speech, even though there’s no way anyone else could know.
If this sounds like you, try questioning your expectations and standards for yourself. Ask whether your expectations are reasonable. Consider whether or not everyone else around you is meeting those same requirements. If not, trying to adjust your expectations to fit those of the people around you is one way to be kind to yourself and reduce your anxiety.
8. Remember that other people aren’t focused on you
Some people judge their social interactions by whether they made a good impression on those around them. If this is you, you’ll probably be much more anxious about a mistake that other people have noticed than one you got away with.
It may help to realize that other people rarely notice embarrassing details about ourselves, even though we feel like it must be obvious. This is known as the Spotlight Effect. Reminding yourself that other people rarely notice or remember mistakes you’ve made can help to reduce your anxiety.
9. Remember that everyone makes mistakes
Sometimes, knowing that others probably won’t have noticed your mistake isn’t enough. If this is the case, it might be helpful to remind yourself that everyone makes social mistakes and that, even if others do notice, it probably isn’t going to make them think any less of you.
Try thinking back to times you’ve seen others make a social mistake. Chances are, you saw it as exactly that; a mistake. You probably didn’t see it as something shameful or think that it means they’re a bad person. When you feel self-conscious, try to remember that most other people will give you the same benefit of the doubt.
10. Share your thoughts with (trusted) others
Post-event anxiety and rumination thrive on feelings of shame. Sharing your worries with trusted friends can help you to get an independent fact-check as to how you come across to others.
It’s important to be cautious about who you talk to about your post-event anxiety, though. Choose someone you know will be supportive and understanding about your worries. If your friend dismisses your concerns, you can find yourself brooding about the poor support you got as well.
Be careful not to create a cycle where you and your friend brood together. The aim isn’t to ruminate aloud. Instead, it’s to talk about your ruminations and try to understand them.
11. Seek high-quality therapy
Post-event processing can be draining, even for people with high-functioning anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and especially cognitive restructuring, can help you challenge (and change) the way you think about social situations.
Studies show that focused CBT can lead to rapid reductions in post-event anxiety, which then leads to reduced social anxiety overall.
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