Dos and Don’ts for Social Events as a Highly Sensitive Person

A highly sensitive person at a dinner party

When it comes to attending social events as an HSP, taking breaks — like going for a walk — is a little step that makes a big difference.

Social events, like weddings, can be a joyful — but emotionally taxing — time, and even more so these days: These events may be the first opportunity many of us have to see unmasked friends and family for over a year. Plus, we highly sensitive people (HSPs) will likely be even more emotional than others due to our empathic nature.

When the social invites began to arrive, I got a lump in my throat. If I’m being honest, I think I could stay in quasi-quarantine forever, but the world is opening back up and we should be in it. So how can you bring your best self back out there for your friends’ important social events? Here are some dos and don’ts based on my personal experience. 

Dos for Attending a Social Event as an HSP

1. Do share any feelings of anxiety with your partner or friends before the day of the event.

Giving your plus one a heads up about what’s on your mind will make a more enjoyable experience for you both. After all, some HSPs have social anxiety on top of getting overwhelmed at events.

I try to make time before big events to make a game plan with my partner. It starts something like, “Given what I know about this event, I think I’ll need…” Let your partner know you’ll likely want to leave earlier than they will, and give them the opportunity to make a plan to stay later if they would like. That way, you won’t be forced to stay and they won’t be forced to leave. That’s what we’ve done, but just opening the door will make it enjoyable for both of you. 

2. Do dress for success — in this case, “success” means a fun time in a potentially challenging environment. 

Balance comfort with confidence to put your best foot forward, navigating the big feelings that come with the event you’re going to. Be mindful of the temperature, too — if the get-together is outdoors, consider throwing a pair of shades in your to-go bag. 

It’s incredible how the body-mind connection can affect your feelings of comfort and well-being (I’m looking at you, HSPs), and no one’s feet like super uncomfortable shoes all night! For myself, worrying about a bra strap or blisters can be an evening killer. I have let it all go to embrace a style that feels not only me but all of me.

3. Do think back to previous social events and strategies that have worked for you. 

Think about past social events you’ve attended — I know, I know, it’s going to be tough to go way back — and reflect on what strategies have worked for you. Taking breaks, going for a short walk, or meeting sensory needs, like getting water or a snack, can be little steps that make a big difference (especially since our sensitive selves get easily overstimulated!). I have even looked through my old journal entries to reflect on coping strategies I have used at difficult times in the past and found some gems (and horror stories).

4. Do jump ship on negative conversations. 

If someone is asking questions or making comments that are making you feel bad, it’s okay to (at least semi-) politely, but firmly, excuse yourself. After all, HSPs don’t do well with negativity.

To get away, you don’t need more of an explanation than these two words: “Excuse me.” Maybe they’ll get the hint and get a little more self-reflective.

5. Do make sure you have access to your toolkit (both mental and physical).      

I have a small leather backpack that holds my essentials and always make sure I have a small water bottle, mints, earbuds, and sunglasses. However you work it into your style, make sure you’re not left high and dry without the items and tech you require. 

Mental-health-wise, too, I try to be as prepared as possible and have my “mental health toolbox” with me — I find my breath, repeat a powerful mantra (such as “I can find peace wherever I am”), and/or practice mindfulness.

Don’ts for Attending a Social Event as an HSP

1. Don’t let a significant emotional response ruin your whole night. 

Take a moment, use your tools above, get back to the dance floor, or do whatever you like to do at social events — especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed. At a wedding I attended, for instance, I observed someone at the next table struggling to stay calm while having a panic attack. Their partner was pressing them to “just calm down” because “everyone is staring and it’s embarrassing.” 

As an HSP, I became flooded with negative emotions and wanted to leave. I told my partner I needed to take a walk, excused myself to do so, looked at some flowers, and went back inside when a good song was playing. So make sure to take care of yourself in real ways.

2. Don’t overdo it with libations. 

We’re all rusty in social situations, and while a few drinks can undoubtedly be a helpful social lubricant, a few too many can mean bigger-than-you-intended reactions and an uncomfortable Uber ride home. If you know how you’ll be affected by substances, go in with a plan. If you’re not so sure, start slow and check in with yourself throughout the evening. 

Since we HSPs are already overly in tune with our environments, alcohol may only intensify it — which is not helpful for us sensitive types.

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3. Don’t let your desire to make people happy override your need to take care of yourself. 

Like they say on airplanes, you need to secure your mask before you can assist others. We HSPs are great listeners and easily absorb others’ emotions — sometimes to a fault. If  what they’re saying is really affecting you, it’s okay to remove yourself from the situation.

Saying, “Excuse me, I need to (insert a socially acceptable reason to leave the conversation here)” is not rude; it’s necessary self-care. Find your assertive voice. I sometimes pair that voice with putting up my hand in a “stop” motion. It’s a message to them and me both: I’m hitting pause. I know, I know — boundaries can be tough for highly sensitive people, but they’re necessary. (Again, it’s all about self-care!) 

4. Don’t play mind reader — you really don’t know what someone is thinking unless you ask.

It’s easy to get in the habit of assuming (or trying to Sherlock together) how people feel about you or something you’ve done or said. Yes, HSPs are body language experts, but this doesn’t mean we read every situation correctly. If your partner makes a weird face mid-conversation, for instance, it may have nothing to do with you. It may be the shrimp cocktail or the band. 

So bring your mind back to the moment. I do this by focusing on one thing I see, one thing I smell, and one thing I hear. If that feels hard, rely on your support system — like a close friend — to talk through it.

5. Don’t wait until you’re emotionally exhausted to say your goodbyes. 

I always feel guilty for wanting to leave events much earlier than my partner, but I’ve since learned after many tearful cars ride home that HSPs don’t operate like that. When you know you’re close to “running out of juice,” as I say, give your partner the heads-up: goodbyes in five.

If this causes tension with your partner, consider separate transportation arrangements so they don’t have to cut their night short. That way, you don’t have to compromise your needs. Plus, by going home before you are emotionally depleted, you can avoid the dreaded “HSP hangover.”

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