I talked recently about deciding what events to attend as part of your holiday celebrations this holiday season.
This post is a companion for it, but with a focus on what you can do before an event to help yourself have the most possible fun at the event!
Plan ahead to minimize your stress the day of the event
Making decisions can be fatiguing. If you are dealing with anxiety or processing issues, preparing as much as you can ahead of time can be very rewarding. This also can reduce your stress around the event. You can choose your outfit ahead of time, prepare anything you are going to bring(food, presents, etc), pack your personal bag(more on that next section), and even do much of your personal hygiene and grooming early.
For a lot of us, showers and bathing are exhausting – so you may want to plan to do that the night before or early on the day of so you can rest before you go out.
If you have everything you’re going to wear for the event organized a day or two ahead of time, you can make sure everything you need is clean and that you aren’t missing anything important(or you have time to find or replace it).
In planning what you wear, keep your comfort in mind – you may need flats instead of heels or to wear a softer material to reduce your physical stress – with some searching you can still find attractive outfits that complement or minimize your limitations!
Also, if you are going to wear makeup or style your hair, think ahead about both time and materials required.
Because I have a movement disorder that is stress-responsive, I focus on finding comfortable clothes that won’t wrinkle or be easily disarranged. I now often wear long, simple dresses(and flats or more comfortable shoes)- rather than tight fitting or low cut dresses that would require me to find a different bra or worry about my movements make it ride up, pull down, or otherwise look inappropriate or feel uncomfortable.
I will also often wear leggings or soft pants with comfortable but appropriately formal tops. I avoid makeup most of the time, and usually keep my hair down or have somebody put it in a low-maintenance style.
I also always have a sweater or drape in the summer in case of air conditioning(feeling cold can set off my movement symptoms), and often wear layers in the winter so I can add or remove warmth depending on how my body is responding. I have had chills or sweats at unfortunate times, and discomfort(emotional or physical) increases my risk of movements.
You can often do your personal grooming predominantly the day before(shaving, selecting makeup, washing hair
Packing for the event
Even if all you’re bringing is a tiny little purse, you can think ahead about what might help you manage or prevent a symptom flare when you are at the event!
My sister, for example, is dealing with multiple sensitivities, pain issues, and balance issues. She wears wrap-around sunglasses when outside and her glasses underneath are rose-tinted to help her manage her light sensitivity. She is also noise-sensitive, so usually carries around earplugs of varying degrees of noise control so she can comfortably enjoy an event. She has a cooling vest to help her handle the heat in summer, and a balance vest to work against her body’s tendencies to lean certain ways(counterbalance weights). She carries or wears what she needs, which helps her enjoy events for
In my case, I know that any problem, issue, stress, or excitement I feel will increase the likelihood or intensity of my symptoms. So when I’m going to an important event, I go anticipating that at some point I will be symptomatic.
I bring things with me to mitigate the potential damage – currently, that means that I carry gum with me everywhere I go and usually carry a couple of migraine pills and this little aromatherapy lotion that can minimize headaches. I also bring along a cloth pad or two in case my bladder acts up(in a small waterproof carrying case).
Knowing that I have a little something to help when my symptoms kick in reduces my anxiety about it, which reduces the likelihood of symptoms. I know that if I leak a little, I can change pads. If my headache starts up I can take something for it. If my new(ish) jaw symptom(kind of like teeth chattering, but more forceful) kicks in, I can control it by chewing gum. I am prepared for the most likely symptoms my body will express!
Think about your condition, how it works and how it affects you – what can you carry along to help yourself be able to enjoy a little more time at the event?
Maybe there’s a smell or object that calms you, or you can apply a heat pack to your source of chronic pain to ease it.
If you are worried about germs, maybe you carry hand sanitizer with you – or if you are worried about tremors, bring an adaptive utensil.
Think about how your needs work and what might let you squeeze out that extra hour of fun – or keep your night from being ruined. Whatever you need, bring it with you!
Getting there and back
You also want to have your transportation to and from planned, so you aren’t likely to have that stressing you out. If somebody is providing a ride, make sure you are asking a reliable person.
If you are driving yourself, know your limits so you can drive home safely – or have an alternative way home planned.
If you are using public transportation, make sure you have your trip planned out, and that you know about what times and how often your transportation comes.
You want to know what to do if you miss a connection, and to have confirmation that the ride meets your accessibility needs.
Be strategic in your energy use!
If you know that you only really have the emotional energy to have a good conversation with a few people, be sure that you talk to the people you really want to while you are most able to.
If you know that once you stand or sit for a certain amount of time, you are done, do what you can to minimize those pressures.
When I go to religious or formal events, for example, I’m likely to sit towards the back because my symptoms can be uncomfortable for me and distracting or disruptive for others. By sitting in the back or the corner, I am making sure that my symptoms don’t disrupt the event, but I am still present.
Al knows that his pain is going to increase if he sits or stands for long, so whenever possible he takes an aisle seat(to the outside if possible), so when he needs to he can stand up or lean against the wall to give his hip a break from the sitting. He also can get back in his seat without disrupting anybody else.
During a more interactive event(like a reception or party) you can also make decisions that make life easier or more comfortable for you.
If moving around much is problematic, find yourself a comfortable place to perch and let the party come to you!
If staying still is problematic, let yourself be the social butterfly, and wander from person to person, or group to group, talking with them and hearing their stories.
If you have balance or coordination issues, plan ahead of time to have a friend or family member help you when needed, or get things for you.
When we have a big family celebration, my sister’s wife often grabs her food and drinks for her so she doesn’t need to get up as much. When Al was having balance issues, I did the same for him.
I find that sometimes my movement symptoms flare up when I feel too hemmed in, so at events, I often find myself gravitating towards the less crowded spaces and the quieter moments of the event.
There is nothing wrong with this – if you are concerned about anxiety or overwhelm, this may be how you enjoy your evening.
There is a beauty in the periphery that others can miss- so instead of worrying about what you may be missing, focus on what you are experiencing.
You might be the friendly face that gets somebody’s child to laugh.
You might find a fellow
You might find all kinds of interesting things by just being yourself with an open mind, and focusing on what you have and see, rather than what you might be missing.
Have an escape plan
If you know that you are at a party that will go all night, and you can’t do that, or if you know that the two things that you most want to participate in have a lot of time between them, have an ‘out’ for yourself.
Maybe you need to go out to your car for a few minutes. Maybe they have provided a quiet space to lie down or rest in for a bit(sometimes 20 minutes of quiet can recharge you for a few more hours). It may also be giving yourself some time quietly eating in the corner instead of having a conversation with strangers. Whatever ‘out’ you might need, you can likely create it!
Anticipate your likely needs, and have a plan for how to achieve them.
Because my condition is stress-responsive and I am dealing with anxiety, I find that just having a plan makes it much less likely that I will need to use it!
Knowing that my hotel room is just upstairs (and I can go there for a bit if I need to), makes it much less likely that I will feel the need to go there- and less of an issue if I do.
Knowing that it’s okay for me to sit down for a while or find that quieter spot lets me feel freer to bounce around and talk to everybody!
Al and I tend to keep an eye on one another at an event – if he tells me he’s flagging, or if I am getting consistently symptomatic(as a social butterfly I often push myself a little too much), the partner who is doing better starts preparing to go and handles the necessary social
Even if you don’t come to an event with a date, you may have a friend or close family member who can check in with you and help you gracefully exit when you need to. If you had somebody transport you, they should be prepared to leave early if you need to.
You might want to have a term or signal to let your companion know that you need to leave soon.
Remind yourself that you have chosen to come to this
Conclusion: Enjoying your holiday event
You deserve to have fun when you go out – and there are things that you can do to ensure that you have the best possible time!
Get plenty of rest before going, and make the day easier by doing as much
Make sure you have your transportation
Pack a few little comforts or supports if you need to – medication, an extra round of painkillers, a small heat pack, or aromatherapy. Whatever will help you revive, calm down, or regain control, pack a little something that will help you if you need it!
Be strategic at the event – make sure you are able to enjoy your priorities, whether it’s catching up with certain people, tasting a favorite dish, having that dance, or whatever else you most want to do.
Give yourself permission to take time by yourself if you need to!
Once you are there, relax and enjoy the fun!