Do social events make you anxious? You might have FOBI

FOBI is more than just the opposite of FOMO (fear of missing out). Here’s what it really means to have FOBI (fear of being invited) and how to manage the unseen social anxiety.

A ping in your group chat tells you there’s a social dinner on the horizon.

If your immediate reaction is a feeling of dread or distress, you could be experiencing FOBI (fear of being included).

The opposite of the more widespread acronym FOMO (fear of missing out), FOBI is a form of anxiety that revolves around social situations.

Those who experience it may find that not having to take part in a social gathering is actually preferable to joining in.

What is social anxiety or FOBI?

According to clinical psychologist Dr Heidi Heron, someone with social anxiety may get overly nervous, anxious and self-conscious in a social setting.

“The cause differs from person to person but from my experience, most people who have social anxiety also seek external validation, worry about what others will think and have a lower sense of self-confidence in social situations,” Dr Heron says.

Psychotherapist Elizabeth Anile says social anxiety is as much of a phobia as a fear of spiders or a trip to the dentist.

“Let’s jump in the body of someone with social anxiety as an invite to a work event lands in their inbox,” Elizabeth, founder of Lemonade Psychotherapy, says.

“The thoughts begin to race: What if people think my outfit looks silly? What if I make a fool of myself in front of my boss? Does anyone even want me there or is this a pity invite?

“The thoughts have snowballed in such intensity, the (body’s) flight response has kicked in. The body is now interpreting the event as a threat to its sense of safety.

“In this hyperaroused state, the heart races, palms sweat, it’s hard to breathe, nausea brews as hands begin trembling and a hot flush breaks out.

“Avoiding the event altogether suddenly seems like the best option.”

How to manage social anxiety

According to Beyond Blue, about 11 per cent of Australians experience social anxiety in their lifetime, and about 7 per cent experience it in any 12-month period.

If this sounds familiar, here are some of the best ways to approach social occasions.

Minimise triggers

It’s important to be “match fit” in the lead-up to an event.

Elizabeth recommends minimising stimulants such as caffeine, which can exacerbate anxiety.

Also, try to get plenty of sleep and engage in regular exercise to release feelings of anxiousness.

Don’t go alone

If you’re feeling nervous about heading into an event solo, enlist the help of a friend or colleague for moral support and go together.

Avoid alcohol

It’s tempting to rely on a little liquid courage before or at an event, but try to avoid this.

“While it seems alcohol can ‘take the edge off’, it also exacerbates feelings, and the levels of anxiety and nervousness can increase,” Dr Heron says.

Adopt a mantra

Dr Heron says a strategy her clients often use is adopting a mantra such as “I am safe” when faced with a situation they’re feeling anxious about.

Flip the script

“It’s helpful to reframe your anxious experience to avoid identifying with the condition, as that’s when we can feel trapped and therefore powerless to the sensation. You are not anxious — you are a person having an anxious experience,” Elizabeth says.

Plan your exit

Set a departure time to create more certainty around an event.

“Book the Uber home ahead of time or ask your partner or friend to pick you up at an agreed time. Creating a sense of predictability will help relieve anxious symptoms,” Elizabeth says.

Consider therapy

FOBI doesn’t have to be your plus one to every social event.

Consider seeking therapy to help address your anxiety for the long term.

Dr Heron says treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy, neuro-linguistic programming and rational emotive behavioural therapy have been shown to work very well with social anxiety.

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Written by Tania Gomez.