Illustration Show, and social anxiety

Friday night Well Done Marketing hosted a show of my illustrations. I framed a bunch of my images and they hung on the walls of Well Done's new space. It was so kind of them to host my work and the night was busy and so much fun! I am really thankful to everyone who came out to say hello.

One of the best parts of the night: I created props for some photo booth fun (I love stuff that invites people to interact, as I think having something "to do" really helps with lightening the mood ... more on this in a bit). Well Done hired a professional photographer and people had so much playing with the idea! Here are a few of my favorite images:

What I really want to talk about though, is social anxiety. I read on that about 15 million American adults have social anxiety. I would consider myself one of them. I don't think I'm a particularly bad case, but I know I've missed out on opportunities because of it. And I definitely feel uncomfortable and out of my element in social situations and would rather stay home. I'm a typical introvert, I guess.

I used to shy away from admitting that, but then I read the book "Quiet" by Susan Cain. Between that and her Quiet Revolution, I now understand that being introverted is not something to be ashamed of; it's a valid and perfectly ok way to be. And it's funny - since I've started admitting it out loud - a lot of people have been supportive and sensitive to my temperament.

In fact, at the show on Friday, a few people came up to me, gave me a hug and asked how I was doing with the social aspect of things. (So thoughtful!) And my answer was "I'm actually doing really well." And it was true. This may have been the first event where my heart wasn't racing and I could hear myself think. I had conversations with people without panicky feelings inside, and I was totally present in my body the entire night.

But that feeling of ease didn't come out of the blue. I prepped for it. I'm by no means an introvert expert (check out the Quiet Revolution link above for that), but I will tell you some things I did that I believed helped me on Friday night.

- First off, I stopped working early. Normally I don't think to give myself much transition time, but I wanted to arrive in a calm state this time. The event started at 6pm, so at 3 I turned off my computer, shut my studio door and closed up shop. I grabbed a leash and headed outside for a slow walk with my dog. I think the fresh air was helpful, and going slow set the pace for the night.

- When I got home from the walk I rolled out my yoga mat and did a few simple and grounding poses. I thought about some ideas from anusara yoga: keeping the inner body bright and the outer body soft. This became my intention for the night - inner body bright, outer body soft. And I laid down in savasana for 15 minutes with that going through my head as kind of a mantra.

- It sounds silly, but I think what I wore helped contribute to my self of calm, too. I really don't like dressing up, preferring to wear jeans and t-shirts most of the time. I don't even own many dress clothes because they just gather dust in my closet. However, the one dress I do own, I love. It's a really simple black, short sleeve straight dress made of 75% silk and 25% cotton. I can put a black long sleeved t-shirt under it if it's cold (and I did), and wear tights or leggings and it looks put together. I'm 5'11 so heels are unnecessary, so I wore my most comfortable flat boots that feel like slippers. In other words - nothing pinched, felt tight or made me feel awkward.

- Arriving early. I heard a tip from Susan Cain on a podcast interview she did that said arriving early was helpful for introverts because you don't enter into a big crowd. You start small and then as the guests continue to arrive you feel more comfortable because you feel a bit of ownership of the space. It really does work.

- Something "to do". (I told you I'd circle around to it.) I am a "project" person, meaning - if we have a task or activity we're doing together, I'm much more likely to feel comfortable and open up. It feels like less pressure than if we just stare at each other and talk. So I really wanted photo booth props to be a part of the show so people (I) had something to do. The props were an intentional conversation starter, something for people to accomplish (have you gotten your photo taken yet?) and a built in laugh (because how you can you not smile with a clown nose and bow tie?). It worked like a charm.

- What I ate and drank helped keep me calm, too, I think. I don't love sweets (yes, I'm the one) so I wasn't tempted by the caramel corn, cookies or popsicles available at the party. I think my blood sugar remained stable from the eggs and potatoes I made at home before I left. And during the party I drank only water - no alcohol. I never felt like I was tipsy or might say something I'd regret. In the past I've had a drink or two because I thought it would help loosen me up. But I don't really need that to have a good conversation. I need to be present.

- Close friends. I'd invited a few good friends who I felt really comfortable with, and that made a huge difference. One friend is really funny and she made me laugh a lot. And my neighbor, who might be the kindest person I know, came also and I feel comfortable talking with her. So having those friends there gave me a built in conversation when I needed it.

- Lastly, leaving on a high note. A few hours into the party, I'd had some great conversations and felt like I'd connected well with people. Lots of people were chatting, laughing and having a good time. And I remembered the advice one of my most extroverted friends had given me - leave on a high note. She'd said it about kids - always leave before they get too tired and start melting down. But I think it applies to introverts, too. Leave while it's still good. That way you can put it down in the books as a success. So I said my goodbyes and thank yous and left about a half hour before the scheduled end time. Success.

I think all those things together helped make me comfortable and feel good about the way it turned out. I'm so grateful for the friends that came out that night. Especially the ones who know about my tendency to be anxious and came to offer their presence and support. I hope I can do the same for them sometime. I'm looking forward to applying these ideas to future events and seeing if they hold up.

I'd also like to hear from you! Do you know if you're introverted or extroverted? If you're introverted, what strategies to you use to feel comfortable in social situations? I'm all ears for more ideas!

Thanks for sticking with this very long post. I hope it was helpful! :)