How to help our introverted friends & folks with anxiety survive Fringe World

It’s the largest annual event in WA and the third largest Fringe in the world! 31 days of comedy, circus, arts, and cabaret. Where the city center swells with performers and punters. Frivolity, Pop-Up bars, laughter… and… people… absolutely… everywhere.

While most of us are either performing, out supporting friends gigs or meticulously planning our Fringe Binge, spare a thought for our friends and loved ones who are introverts or for whom the anxiety of a social situation can make it seemingly impossible to participate in the much loved summer ritual of Fringemas.

There are plenty of folks who crave human interaction yet find it a terrifying experience full of social pitfalls. If you’ve ever experienced social anxiety, then you know that sometimes the smallest thing can set you off. By the same token the smallest things can make a huge difference to being able to enjoy or even participate in an event.

So, how can we help support our fabulous LGBTIQ+ peers who are introverts or have anxiety to have ‘the best Fringe ever’?

Many plans make light work

While spontaneity may be the elixir of life to some, to others it can be a poisonous cocktail of doom. Being a great ally to folks with social anxiety here means taking time to sit with someone and really listen to what they need to be able to go to an event like Fringe.
Consider things like:

· booking a show at a time that isn’t so busy;

· doing some recon of the venue and contacting the show for as much information as possible to avoid any unwelcome surprises;

· be informed about the themes of the show. Lots of Fringe shows do an amazing job to open up discussions about mental health and wellbeing (which is such a wonderful thing). Sometimes it can be helpful for folks with these lived experiences to attend shows with content that reflects some of their own lives- and sometimes it can be harmful. If the show does talk about mental health, make sure you know about this beforehand.

· if it is a seated venue, choose seats on the outer edge near an exit or a spot that they feel most comfortable;

· be flexible with time. Build in extra time to meet beforehand at an intermediary place where they feel safe and calm so they can build up their confidence and strength before getting to the final destination;

· use a Fringe Friends Skip The Line pass to be able to avoid having to stand in the queue and having to rush in with the masses to secure your seat (and for anyone that has these consider offering these to your friends who are introverts and/or have anxiety);

· consider your group size and make up. This might not be the best time to meet up with 100 of your closest friends. Maybe 1:1 is better, or maybe a small group of trusted folks;

· plan for awkward silences and talk though having realistic expectations;

· let your friend know that you realise that there might be times where they need 5 mins away to decompress- but that it is more than fine and you’ll be there every step of the way to help them do that.

I’m here beside you

The number one thing you need to do to support someone is to ask them what they need and never assume you know what this is! You may have supported someone else (or even them) before in the past, but that doesn’t mean you know what they need in this very moment. So ask, listen and be guided what they say they need from you.

One of the most valuable ways you can be supportive is to be an accountability buddy. Someone that can help support that person if they bail out at last minute. This must be done with love, understanding and ongoing negotiation. At a time when your friend is feeling up to it, talk through how they want you to hold them accountable to plans and what will be the signal for you to stop. Talk about the best ways for them to communicate that they no longer feel like they can attend (text, phone call, face to face), what style works best (tough love or gentle reassurance) and ask what are the things they find helpful in these moments that will make them feel like they can attend this event.

NEVER be impatient, frustrated, upset or make someone feel guilty if they pull out of plans. You can best believe that they do not need your judgement right now as they are already beating themselves up pretty hard- what they do need is your understanding. Know that while they appreciate your support they are trying their hardest and there may be situations where this means they feel that the emotional cost of going out is simply too much this time.

And if someone continually bails on plans, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to continue to be asked. Patience and Persistence are key.

What did you say?

Helping someone challenge that internal voice can be an invaluable way to support folks who experience anxiety in social situations. Help your friend remember that:

· experiencing anxiety is absolutely normal. There is nothing wrong with you if you are nervous about going to a loud, crowded place full of strangers;

· you are amazing and interesting and wonderful (and that’s why you are my friend), but one of the many lies social anxiety tells you is that you have to be interesting. Focus on being interested in other people instead and this might help take the pressure off you to “perform”;

· the door is open, you can leave whenever you need to and this doesn’t mean you have failed. Showing up is often half the battle. So, recognize how much of an achievement it is to show up. If at any point you have to leave, that is more than okay;

· and when things get awkward, it doesn’t mean you have “failed at socializing” it is sign that you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone and done something courageous. And just in case you ever forget, this means you are a freaking awesome human for doing something that scares you so much. Most people spend their lives avoiding what scares them- not you. You are a badass warrior that looks fear dead in the eye every single day!

And for everyone out there who is introverted, who has anxiety or is just not feeling the most confident about social situations right now, never forget:

You are not anxiety
You have anxiety
You also have fingernails and you aren’t fingernail!*

*Quote stolen and appropriated from a service station billboard in Busselton

Bella Broadway

Do you need some support?

If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, support and counselling are available from:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636 and

QLife: 1800 184 527 and
QLife are a counselling and referral service for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people.


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