Category Archives: Relationships

Managing Holiday Stress & Moodiness

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With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror and the 34th St. holiday lights display up and running just a block down from my studio, it definitely feels like the holiday season is upon us (despite today’s unseasonably warm temperatures).

It’s always the case that my mood plummets a bit right after Thanksgiving. I feel tired and worn down from traveling, and getting back to my regular routine after being off for a while is more of a slog than a welcome return to normality. This year it seems like I am not the only one feeling a little dragged down by the weight of the holidays. Whether it’s the shorter days, the dreary weather that greeted us this week, or just general end-of-year malaise, it seems that everyone I encounter is feeling especially worn out and a bit down in the dumps this week. It’s as if we are all experiencing a little post-holiday letdown before the rest of the season really kicks into high gear.

Every year I am struck by how stressed out everyone feels at a time that is supposed to be all merry and bright. Whether it’s the melancholy and introspection that inevitably accompany the transition to a new year, or simply the weight of expectation that the holiday season brings, it’s a time of mixed emotions, high demands, and all too often is rimmed with a sense of disappointment and sadness.

If  you tend to struggle during the holidays and can’t muster up the appropriate level of good tidings and cheer, first off don’t beat yourself up for that. You’re not alone. The holiday season is rough for a lot of people, and no matter what time of year it is, you’re not required to feel or act any particular way. It’s okay to be a grinch. I think that poor guy was misunderstood and unfairly maligned. You don’t owe anyone joy or cheeriness just because holiday songs and obnoxious commercials tell you it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But you do owe it to yourself to try to make it out of this season without too much damage to your physical, mental and emotional health. Here are a few suggestions for how to reduce your holiday stress and celebrate in a healthy, manageable way.

Avoid holiday overload.

This weekend hosts the lighted boat parade and Fells Point Christmas festival, the Mayor’s Christmas Parade, a bunch of holiday craft markets, and I’m sure a ton of other stuff that doesn’t hit my radar. It’s only the first weekend in December. Between parties, shopping, and festive gatherings of all kinds, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the holiday spirit before the season even has a chance to get cranking. It’s important to remember that with the holidays, as with all things in life, you cannot see and do everything. It’s okay to skip out on some events, or RSVP no to a few party invitations. Pick a couple of key holiday happenings that you’d like to attend, and let the rest fade into the background of tinsel and lights. If you miss something that you really wish you could have gone to, just remember that you’ll have another chance in the years to come. Christmas comes back again each year, no matter how hard Starbucks tries to kill it off with its solid red Satan cups.

Create some solo traditions.

Maybe it’s just me, but one of the hardest things about the holiday season is the forced merriment with large groups of other people. I need my alone time and feel quickly overwhelmed by too much holiday socializing. That doesn’t mean I prefer bah-humbugging it up from my couch and pretending it’s June; I just need some of my holiday happenings to be solo time that let me get into the festive spirit without the necessity of small talk.

I like to make time each week leading up to Christmas Day watching movies that feature, but don’t necessarily focus on, the holiday season. My choices are always movies (or tv episodes) I’ve seen a dozen times, so that I can do other things while watching, like fold laundry, bake, or desperately try to catch up on my end of year filing and finances for my business. It’s a simple nod to the holiday season that allows me to celebrate quietly and peacefully on my own, leaving me recharged and ready for more daunting social celebrations.

Do not listen to Christmas music until at least one week before Christmas.

Why must the radio and every shop you step into have Christmas music blaring away weeks in advance of Christmas? If you find that you are feeling really agitated and ornery, it may be because you’ve just heard Sleigh Ride for the 9 thousandth time. One thing that seems to be sorely missing during the holiday season is blissful silence. Seek out quiet spaces and try to reduce your exposure to the overstimulation of lights and carols, and bells ringing incessantly.

Intentionally do something that has nothing to do with the holidays.

I saw Christmas decorations in stores back in early October. It made me want to scream. The holiday season really does seem to get longer and longer every year. Try setting a specific date for when you wish to acknowledge the holidays and begin celebrating, so that you limit the season to a more manageable, digestible timeline. Or take a break from all the chaos by intentionally ignoring it and focus instead on maintaining activities and routines that you do all year long. Be intentional and mindful in your practice of your regular life to keep the holiday spirit from encroaching upon every part of your daily existence. There’s no rule that says you have to celebrate all month long, or that you have to celebrate at all. Be strong and continually bring your attention back to those activities that help you feel grounded and centered.

Remind yourself that this is only temporary.

The holidays can be really genuinely hard for many people. We are often reminded of people we have lost, find ourselves feeling isolated and lonely, or are forced into difficult family situations that try our patience and zap our emotional energy. Oftentimes, these hardships cannot be ignored and just need to be endured. Give yourself permission to feel sad, frustrated, annoyed. Give yourself permission to experience the season in whatever way is needed for you at this time, and know that you don’t have to make excuses for the benefit of others. “The holidays are hard for me,” is a perfectly valid statement that should require no additional explanation. You don’t have to be cheery for fear of dampening other people’s spirits. Your lack of celebration isn’t keeping anyone else from embracing the season in whatever way works best for them. Remind yourself repeatedly that before long it will be January and the holidays will be behind us. Time actually moves quite quickly, even when we’re feeling trapped and stuck in place. Hang in there, and take care yourself.

Creating New Traditions

It’s fall, the season of cool nights, warm colors, and in our household, the celebration of the Jewish High Holidays. My husband is Jewish and I am not, which means that when it comes to Jewish holidays and observances, we tend to default to the traditions that he grew up with. Often for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), we’ll make a dish for dinner that he recalls his mother making many times for that same occasion. If we are unable to attend services for Yom Kippur, or opt not to go one year, we’ll spend the day outside in nature, as his family often did when he was growing up. I embrace these choices and all of his other traditions wholeheartedly and am happy to not only participate, but to help perpetuate his family’s specific customs. Over the last few years, though, we have started to develop a few traditions of our own. It is important to me to not only continue the practices that he grew up with, but to create new ones that are unique to the two of us as a unit and that we can eventually pass down to kids alongside these other longstanding traditions.

For example, a few years back for Yom Kippur, I suggested that we acknowledge this day of reflection and the sense of resetting for a new year by listing a few things from the past year that we hoped to move beyond in the year to come, as well as few things that wanted to focus on in the year ahead. My thought was that this would be a way to really reflect back on the year behind us, and to look forward to what we had coming up in our future. Time seems to move so quickly, it becomes easy to forget what all you have done as the months stream by, and it can be hard to know how best to organize your efforts and attention as you continue to move forward. So now each year for Yom Kippur, we both list a few negative things from the past year that we would either like to finally let go of and just release into the past, or work to improve upon and turn into more positive experiences. We list a few positive things from the last year that we hope to continue into the new year, or perhaps give more attention in the year to come. And we list a few things that we are excited about in the year ahead, or that we want to focus our attention on and make more space for in our lives.

I have said before that I don’t think resolutions are particular useful, and instead I like to focus on creating intentions, or guiding principles for a new year. This tradition is within that vein. It is about acknowledging both the good and bad in our past experiences, and setting our sights on healthy, positive experiences and interests still to come.

It’s a small thing, this new tradition, and it requires very little time to accomplish, but it demands some careful reflection and insight, which I feel is in keeping with the intention of the holiday. I like that it is something that my husband and I do together, but that it can be easily combined with, and doesn’t take anything away from, his existing traditions. I look forward to it each year, and to creating more traditions of our own in the future.

What are some traditions that you have created in your families? I would love to hear!

5 tips for beautiful wedding photos on a tight schedule

Wedding season stress relief continues! While I’ve already addressed how to reduce at least a little bit of wedding planning stress, it’s time to delve in to some simple ways to keep your wedding day as low stress as possible. I figured who better to ask for a little day-of planning advice than someone who knows what it is like to be right in the thick of it from wake up to last dance, and whose job it is to capture all the happy moments in between. Naomi of Urban Row Photography is back with some insider tips on how to plan for gorgeous wedding photos and reduce day-of stress. Take it away, Naomi!

 

1. be reasonable with your timeline of the day – build in some flexibility since no matter how punctual you are, there are lots of variables that can throw your schedule off.

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here are just a few of the considerations involved in the morning of your wedding…hair, makeup, flowergirl and/or ringbearer (who usually have a mind of their own!), weather, nerves, transportation, getting ready location, first look, flower deliveries, empty tummies, family dynamics, etc. the last thing you want is to feel like you’re running from one thing to the other and constantly trying to makeup time rather than enjoy the moment.

I suggest my couples break down their timeline into 2o-30 minute segments for rough planning purposes in the beginning and then get more specific as necessary, as the day progresses from ceremony to reception.

2. hire a photographer whose style you absolutely love and whose personality you enjoy being around.

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do you like drama and expressive lighting in your photos or are you more attracted to a natural light, bright and airy look? are you envisioning posed, editorial-type portraits or a more journalistic and candid, storytelling approach to your day?

your photographer is the one vendor (other than your planner, if you have one) that will most likely be with you from getting ready early in the day through the end of the night… you (and your groom!) should feel comfortable having them around, as if they’re just a friend who happens to carry a really nice camera! 🙂

by the way, if you answered yes to either of the latter parts of both questions, let’s chat… 😉

3. consider hiring a professional coordinator/planner or designating a close friend or family member to be the point person the day of.

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in my experience, planners are INVALUABLE and money well spent. they are masters of (realistic!) timelines and innovative designers who suggest things that are way more unique than what you’ve seen on Pinterest and has been done at the last 3 weddings you’ve been to! they are looking out for you AND your guests, and can make sure your dress is bustled in super-quick fashion and the flats you want to wear during the reception are ready to go on the side of the dance floor so that you can minimize any time spent away from guests! even if your budget doesn’t allow hiring a planner, consider asking one of your close friends who’s not in the bridal party, to be there to help direct group family photos or rally the troops when your photographer is looking for uncle joe and he’s nowhere to be found as the sun is going down and that golden light is quickly disappearing! 😦 I’ve seen the chaos happen more than enough to know that having a point person is immensely helpful for everyone involved. You can’t do it all – and this is the one day to delegate tasks when people want to help!

4. take engagement photos (and plan your hair and makeup trial to coincide with your engagement session)!

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in the last 4 years, I have yet to meet a couple who was 100% comfortable and at ease in front of the camera the first time they were photographed. Establishing a relationship with your photographer long before your wedding will make your wedding photos more enjoyable, more natural and more specific to the two of you since it allows us to learn about you two as a team; your quirks, your personalities and how you interact together. It is almost impossible to become comfortable having your photos taken for the first time as a couple, on your actual wedding day. No matter how long you’ve been together as a couple or how comfortable you are at your wedding venue, practice makes perfect. 🙂

having your hair and makeup done the day of your photoshoot not only gives you more confidence, but it allows you to see how both will look in photos and let your stylist know if there’s anything you’d change!

5. consider a first look!

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some people are worried that doing a first look will take away from seeing each other at the ceremony for the first time. we did a first look when we got married and so do 85% of the couples I photograph; I know from first-hand experience that doing a first look is a whole different emotional experience than seeing each other as you walk down the aisle.

your first look is an intimate, private moment with just the two of you and your photographer shooting out of sight until you’re ready; typically opting for a first look will also result in more bridal portraits and calms your nerves immediately, when you see each other.

If you’ve made it all the way through those tips, you deserve a piece of cake… right now! 🙂 I’d love to answer any questions you may have specifically – feel free to email me at naomiscphoto@gmail.com so we can chat! And last but not least, thanks for having me, Claire! 🙂

As an additional thank you for stopping by, I’m happy to offer a limited-time promotion to take 10% off any 2017 wedding package when fully booked by July 15, 2016.

*fully booked requires retainer payment and signed contract. mention code: WELLNESS*

 

Managing Wedding Planning Stress

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Last Wednesday, I celebrated my 8 year wedding anniversary. Since Memorial Day Weekend seems to mark the start of wedding season, I thought I would take the occasion to offer a little advice to newly engaged couples who find themselves in the thick of wedding planning. Now that I’m 8 years removed from the experience of planning a wedding, I can look back on it with some fondness, but boy did it feel stressful at the time. I have both planned a wedding (with some significant budget concerns), been a maid of honor, a bridesmaid, and a guest at many a wedding at this point, so please trust that these insights have been well researched.

1. Try not to get too caught up in details.

Weddings are memorable at the macro level. There’s an overall feeling of love and joy that is captured in a good wedding, and while the little details may help contribute to that feeling, they aren’t as important as they seem when you are in the process of choosing between all the little ways to make your wedding feel extra special. Don’t get too stressed out about choosing your color scheme, or flowers, or having the most delicious cake anyone has ever tasted. I have been to LOTS of weddings, and I promise you that I don’t remember what the flowers were at any of them. Not a single one. I can’t tell you who had large centerpieces and who had small ones. I don’t remember anyone’s bouquet, or if they had flowers decorating the ceremony. I went to two weddings last fall, which is not that long ago, and if you put a gun to my head I still wouldn’t be able to tell you what the flowers were at either of those events. Do you want to know what people will think about your wedding cake? That it tasted like cake. Have I ever eaten a chocolate wedding cake? I don’t know. Maybe? I don’t remember. All cake tastes like cake in a person’s memory. The only wedding cake I remember at all sticks in my mind because it had green frosting. But I still couldn’t tell you what the flavor was. If you need to cut cost, and save yourself some stress, do so by winnowing down these smaller items. If you are trying to choose between two different place settings, go with the cheaper one. Decision made.  No one will know the difference. No one will remember them at all. These little things all mesh together in people’s minds overtime and just become “wedding things” rather than specific elements of any one particular wedding. I have had people compliment me on how delicious the cake was at my wedding. That’s pretty weird, because I didn’t have a cake. Don’t sweat the details, they really don’t matter.

2. Focus on what makes your relationship special.

Your wedding is a celebration of your relationship, your union. Make it about you. By that I do not mean become completely obsessed with yourselves and make outrageous demands on your friends and family, but rather use your wedding as an opportunity for everyone to get to know you better as a couple. There may be a specific formula your ceremony has to follow, especially if you’re going with a more traditional, religious service, but try to find ways to incorporate private stories and little known anecdotes into the official proceedings. When I got married, our rabbi did not know either of us ahead of time. She asked each of us to write her a letter about the other person that she would then use when putting together the ceremony. We both wrote very personal letters that included stories about each other and our relationship that were not really widely public knowledge. She ended up reading each letter in its entirety during the ceremony. At first I was horrified, but I have to admit that it gave our ceremony a wonderfully personal quality, and made our wedding feeling deeply meaningful and poignant. Find small ways to open your relationship up to your guests and give everyone a peek at what you two mean to each other, without any reservations or sense of guarding. Be vulnerable and your wedding will feel more meaningful, and memorable. Those are the details that are worth spending your energy on, and coming up with them together will be a nice reminder of why you decided to get married in the first place.

3. Make time to talk about anything but the wedding.

Wedding planning can be very all consuming. Pick a week each month where you don’t do any planning. Take a break and just enjoy each other’s company as you did before you had to plan a major event with far too many moving parts. It’s important to step back from the wedding part of things and nurture the parts of your relationship that got you to this point. There are two things that are true of every wedding I’ve ever been a part of: no matter how well you plan, you’ll be rushing around to get things done on the weekend of the wedding, and it all will come together in the end. So don’t worry about taking some time away from your planning each month.

4. You can’t please everyone.

Some people are sure to gripe that the date you picked is inconvenient for them. Some people might not like where they are seated at your wedding, or complain that they couldn’t hear the ceremony. Others might be unimpressed by your food choices. Some people will piss and moan that the bartender won’t let them order shots. Some people just love to be sour about everything, and you’re never going to please them no matter how hard you try. Let it go. Most people will have a good time at your wedding because it’s a party and most people enjoy parties. If you have fun and feel happy, most of your guests will join you in that feeling. If you find out either in person or through the grapevine that one of your guests wasn’t especially pleased with the festivities, oh well. Thank them for coming and for the lovely new blender they got you, and then move on with your life.

5. Keep the comparisons to a minimum.

I was the first of my friends to get married, which was sort of a blessing and a curse. I didn’t really know what I was doing and didn’t have other weddings to look to for guidance, but I also didn’t have a bunch of other weddings to compare my planning to. There will be things you love from other people’s weddings. Incorporate those elements into yours if you want, or if you can, but don’t feel pressured to make your wedding live up to anyone else’s. It’s your event, your budget, your priorities. Do what makes the most sense for you, and remember, in the long run, no one will really remember all of the little differences between your wedding and all of the other ones they’ve been to anyway!

 

Advice for New Graduates

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Me, at college graduation, tired of taking pictures.

As May winds down and we find ourselves nearing the end of college graduation season, I thought I’d offer a few insights and a little advice for anyone out there who finds themselves at the close of a major life chapter, looking out into a vast, uncertain future.

1. First off, congratulations. Go you! Celebrate, big time. Get all of your friends together and really live it up. College graduation is likely the last time in your life where you and your closest friends will all be celebrating the same milestone at the same time. As you move on into adult life, you’ll quickly discover that everyone you know is on a different trajectory. Some people will find immediate career success and satisfaction. Others will hop around for years, trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. Some people will get married right away, and start families early. Others will stay single well into their thirties (and beyond). Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re ahead of the game, and other times you’ll feel like you’re lagging far behind. The reality is that there is just a lot of variety in how people live, and what they find most meaningful and important in their lives. Take some time to appreciate the fact that you’re all experiencing this big life moment together, at the same time. That’s not going to happen very often from here on out.

2. If you’ve got the time and the funds to do so, travel now. Take one of those big, I’ll-never-forget-this trips. Or take a series of smaller trips to places you’ve never been before, but would love to see. It becomes tough to travel once you’ve settled into the regular routine of work and adult life. I know people who do it, but I don’t know that many. It can be hard to carve out a big enough chunk of time from work to make a major trip worth the cost and effort. If you can, take a month before you start working, or before you head off to graduate school, or whatever it is you’re planning to do, and just travel around.

3. Embrace happy hour. College students have a tendency to do a lot of late night drinking. This is foolish nonsense, and if I could go back and give my college self one great piece of advice it would be to abandon all illusions of grand success. But my second piece of advice would be to stop wasting money on full priced beverages, and make greater use of happy hour deals. Why start getting ready at 9:30 to spend the night drinking until 2, and then wake up around noon the next day feeling miserable when you can drink for half the cost at 5:30, be in bed by 10 and wake up feeling like a normal human?

4. Don’t worry about having it all figured out. Some people know exactly want they want for their lives and set out to make it happen. But other people don’t, and that’s okay. College feels like a time when you’re supposed to be figuring out who you are and what you want your life to be, but really it’s just a time to learn things and discover your interests. You don’t need to come out of college as this fully formed working being who knows exactly how you want your life to unfold from that point forward. I know lots of people who started out in one field, but now in their thirties are shifting gears, going back to school and starting new careers in entirely different lines of work. I know more still who never really settled on any one particular interest and skip around from job to job, or settle into one career that doesn’t define who they are, but provides enough structure and stability to allow them to pursue their other interests outside of their working lives. Ignore all of those lists that tell you what you should have majored in to ensure a successful career–I know a lot of pretty miserable engineers. Maybe you’ll know exactly what you want and all of your success will be built upon that single interest. Or maybe you’ll have a lot of different interests, and over the course of your life you’ll build up lots of small successes that ultimately feel like a major accomplishment.

5. Make an effort to keep in touch with your college friends. I have found that things like Facebook and texting make you feel like you are in touch with people and caught up on their lives, when in fact you most definitely are not. Whenever I meet up with friends from college, and we have a chance to catch up face-to-face, I’m always amazed by how much is going on in their lives that I didn’t know about. Reach out to each other regularly, in meaningful ways. Plan reunions, get together, stay in touch.

 

 

Tips for Dealing With Social Anxiety

For many years now, I have struggled with social anxiety. Although it has become more manageable as I’ve gotten older, throughout my early to mid twenties in particular, I often found myself nearly debilitated by anxiety in the lead up to social gatherings. I recall many occasions where I would burst into tears while getting ready for parties, celebratory or business events, even casual dinners with a small group of friends, and beg my husband to call and cancel on our behalf. “Just tell them I’m sick,” I would plead with him as I began to curl myself into a protective little ball. But he would never go along with it, and over and over again I would have to drag myself, heavy with dread, into social situations and plaster a fake smile on my face.

People who know me well may find this somewhat surprising. I am not the least bit socially awkward. I make friends easily. I have no trouble interacting with strangers–I do so daily in my business, with ease and considerable skill. I am gregarious and outgoing. Talkative, humorous, open and honest, and perfectly willing to act goofy, or poke fun at myself and my personal failings. I am actually quite adept at managing any and all social interactions. Do not confuse social anxiety with shyness, or introversion. I am not shy. Far from it. But still, I get terribly nervous any time I have to take part in large group gatherings, especially if I know that for at least part of the time, the focus will be on me.

The year that I got married, we lived in Baltimore, but we planned to have our wedding in Michigan where both of our families lived. We traveled back one weekend when I had two bridal showers scheduled on back-to-back days. Both events were incredibly lovely, filled with warmth and kindness, and I was so thankful to all of the women who came out to celebrate me. It was both wonderful, and arguably the worst weekend of my life. I spent 48 hours in a state of near panic, worried that I would say or do the wrong thing at any moment and completely ruin the events. For days afterward, I replayed the entire weekend in my mind, trying to pinpoint any social missteps, or flubs. Was I gracious enough? Did I thank everyone enough times? Did I thank everyone too often? Did I seem tired? Not enthusiastic enough? Too enthusiastic? Could people tell I was nervous? Did I say something stupid? Make a joke I shouldn’t have? Missed a joke I should have made? Were people irritated that they had to be there celebrating me? Should I have apologized for making everyone come out? Did I tell too many personal stories? Too few? Did I make a fool of myself?

These are the concerns that run through my mind with any and all social events. Again, objectively I know that I actually have strong social skills, and that these fears are unreasonable. But that doesn’t matter when it comes to social anxiety. The fear is still there, building and growing in the weeks, days, hours leading up to a social gathering, and then haunting me in the days that follow. While I have reached a point where I can manage this anxiety to the extent that I no longer break down in tears, or feel the need to cancel plans at the last minute, I still find that I am often overwhelmed and nervous when first entering large gatherings. And in general, social events leave me feeling very depleted, worn down from trying to stave off my anxiety and balance multiple interactions at once. Over the years I have developed a few tricks to dealing with my anxiety that have allowed me to enjoy social events more, and on occasion, actually look forward to them with only minor trepidation.

1. Arrive on the early side for social engagements.

It may be fashionable to be late, but someone has to be the first person to arrive at any party, and you should try to be sure that someone is you. When you arrive late and the party is already buzzing, it can feel overwhelming to have to greet so many people all at once, and to try to slip into already running conversations. If you’re the first person there, you’ll find that other people will arrive and filter in slowly, which allows you to ease into the social setting a few people at a time, and gives you more control over the entire experience.

2. If you aren’t the first person there, ease in by keeping busy and making yourself useful.

If you must arrive after most people will already be there, give yourself a chance to adjust by distracting yourself with small tasks. Make your presence quickly known, but then run off to the bathroom and take a moment to catch your breath. If you’ve brought gifts, food or drinks with you to contribute to the festivities, take your time getting those things prepared and set out. Offer to help the host with any small tasks that still need to be handled. Let other people come to you, and approach you one-on-one, as you make yourself busy. Find something that will give you a few minutes to calm your nerves and adjust to the din of the setting before you try diving into the deep waters of group dynamics.

3. Offer the same acceptance to yourself that you give to others.

We all have awkward moments and social flubs. Do you hold every small social slip up against other people, never letting them go and allowing those mistakes to completely color your opinion of those people for the rest of time? Likely not, unless you’re a jerk, in which case, stop doing that. If you accept that other people can make social mistakes and move on from them without it changing your opinion of them, try to apply that same acceptance to yourself. Allow that other people can be understanding and compassionate and are not out to embarrass you or hold your mistakes against you.

4. Create some “save me” signals and ready excuses with your partner or a trusted friend.

Give yourself the confidence of an easy escape by having some set signals to communicate when you are feeling overwhelmed, or are beyond ready to call it a night and head home. And remember, it’s okay to leave early. You’re not required to spend your whole evening at a social engagement. If you made an appearance, caught up with friends and spent some time celebrating, and feel like you’re ready to go, go. That’s fine. If you’re not comfortable just saying “all right, I’m gonna head out now,” then go in with some pre-planned excuses to offer up when you’re ready to leave. This is where having a dog is beneficial. “I need to get home and let the dog out,” is a solid excuse that no one ever questions.

5. Find some opportunities to step away from the crowd.

Like easing into a social situation by making yourself busy when you arrive, find opportunities to take a breather and step away from the crowd throughout the night by offering to replenish people’s drinks, helping to clean up, giving yourself a little tour of the host’s house, or whatever your setting is. Take your time, and give yourself a few minutes to reset.

A Useful Insight

A few weeks back, I read Sarah Hepola’s memoir, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget. It is a heartfelt and honest exploration of alcoholism and recovery that is infused with bits of humor and wonderful moments of pure comedy. It also offers a lot of reflection and insight into the difficulties of moving through your twenties and thirties, all of the changes that time brings to your own life and the lives of your friends, and how your social world and your sense of self can become fractured and disjointed.

One of my favorite sections that has stuck with me since reading it, comes just after Sarah has quit her job. She texts her best friend, Anna, who is a new mom with a busy job of her own, to tell her about it, hoping that Anna will help her celebrate this exciting, but terrifying moment in the middle of her path to recovery. It takes three days for Anna to finally get back to Sarah, at which point she explains that she had a crisis at work and had forgotten to reply initially, and that, as more timed passed, she felt a greater obligation to carve out time for a fuller, better reply. At this point, Hepola writes:

I understood. But I also understood our friendship had become another obligation to her, instead of a reprieve. And because I was holed up on my sad little island, it did not occur to me that she might be on a sad little island, too. Or that the entire world was full of people on sad little islands: people struggling with their children, people struggling just to have children, people desperate to get married, people desperate to get divorced. Like me, Anna was forging a new identity. “You don’t want to hear about boring mother stuff,” she told me. And actually, I did, but maybe she meant she didn’t want to talk about it.

As people’s lives move in many different directions, it becomes much harder to be available for each other, to come together in times of celebration, and provide support in times of difficulty. And too often it can seem like this fracturing of relationships is a sign of how people in your life feel about you, when the truth is more likely that everyone is off on their own sad little island, doing their best to manage the ups and downs of their own lives.

I remember a few years back when a long distance friend of mine was going through a rough period, she confided in me that it seemed like none of her friends were willing to step up and help her out. “I feel like I’m in the middle of the ocean,” she said, “screaming ‘Shark! Shark!’ and no one loves me enough to come and save me.” I told her that I didn’t think her feeling of abandonment meant she was unloved, but that maybe everyone else was in the middle of the ocean too, with their heads already underwater, so they were unable to hear her cries for help.

There’s that quote you hear all the time: Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. It’s overused and is constantly appearing on Instagram as text over a photograph of a field of wheat or some nonsense like that, with the caption #truth. It’s insipid, but there actually is some truth to it. You never know for sure what is going on in other people’s lives at any given moment. You don’t know the difficulties with which they are struggling, the choices they are being forced to make, the disappointments they may be confronting. Perhaps that “be kind” doesn’t just mean to be kind to others, because you don’t know what battles they are currently fighting. Maybe it also means be kind to yourself when evaluating other people’s responses and reactions to you, because you don’t know what struggles they are facing, and their behavior may have nothing to do with you at all.