A guest post by Barbara Sparrow
I have always loved Halloween. There were several years (during my 20’s of all decades), when I didn’t dress up for Halloween, and I would have recurring dreams about shopping for a costume, heartbreaking dreams like the ones I had about bread when I tried to do Atkins. But I don’t drink and I really, really do not like making small talk. I loathe being in a crowd. So, even though I was in graduate school at the University of Texas and Austin’s 6th Street is famed for its Halloween fun, I sat at home year after year, waiting for the trick-or-treaters who often skipped my neighborhood.
Then I had a child. Now I had an outlet for my love of dress-up. I could celebrate Halloween without being around wasted college kids. I was so excited to find the perfect costume for my little girl and attend the family-oriented carnival at a local garden center.
But, in the quest to have fun with my serious, introverted daughter, I realized I had an obligation to model human social interaction. Also, I wanted to get to know the parents of her school friends a little better, just to make sure no one was a serial killer. And the best way to do that, the way that was most within my control, was to have a yearly Halloween party at my own home.
How do you host a gathering when you hate parties and you get weirdly nervous when outsiders breach the protective barrier of your private space? Well, here’s what I have done for the past eight years.
1. Wear a costume that is the opposite of your anxious self.
Pretend you are glamorous, dangerous, powerful. If just for one evening. I have been Imperator Furiosa, the Wicked Queen, The Other Mother, Empress Josephine of France, and Catelyn Stark’s (**SPOILER ALERT**) alter ego Lady Stoneheart. If you can host a party while pretending to be someone with unnatural confidence, it helps.
2. Obscure your face.
No one can see you’re blushing if they can’t see your face, or if your makeup is distracting. And if you get all sweaty like you usually get at parties, blame it on your wig.
3. Have lots of homemade goodies you can build an entire conversation around.
Have recipe links ready to share. Talk about your awesome frosting technique. Talk about how “bad” you’re being for splurging, even if that’s just awful and cliché. Talk about anything other than yourself, because talking about yourself is the worst.
4. Don’t try to make yourself feel a different/less intense emotion.
This is a serious one. I am a licensed psychologist, so I actually have some helpful tips. First, don’t try to tell yourself you are calm and relaxed if you’re not. That will set you up for failure. Instead say, “I’m excited,” over and over in your mind as your guests arrive. It’s easier to move from one high-energy emotion to another one, rather than trying to suppress it or decrease its intensity. (This is called reappraisal versus suppression. Harvard professor Allison Wood Brooks is a good resource.)
Also, remember that almost everyone is nervous when meeting new people. Focus on your guests instead of yourself: is there someone who doesn’t seem to fit in? (It's me.) Go over and extend some warmth and appropriate attention to that person. (I can’t, or I’d be talking to myself.) Thinking that there is someone in the room who is more anxious than you are can help you get out of your head in order to help that person be more comfortable. Plus, you look like a really nice person.
5.Wait until your child gets older.
Parents start dropping off kids at parties without even bothering to come to the door sometime around 5th grade. Although this might leave you and your partner as the only costumed adults on the block, just roll with it. Your face is covered – what do you care? Plus, tweens and teens don’t want to talk to lame parents, so you’re pretty much off the hook for small talk until they leave for college. Just stand in the kitchen and chat with your spouse.
Barbara Sparrow is a psychologist, writer, and lecturer at Texas State University. You can follow her on Twitter at @BarbaraJSparrow.
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