Why I Hang Out with Dogs at Parties

Why can’t I be a social butterfly?

People with social anxiety get this. You get to the party knowing no one, or maybe you know one or two other friends, but they’re social butterflies. You know your chance of them taking the time to introduce you to their 200 friends is slim. You see your extrovert friends bouncing around to different groups and you wonder how they can comfortably do that. How are they able to keep up with so many conversations at once without any worries of saying something seemingly “stupid?!”

You look around because–of course–you’re standing there alone, and then you distract yourself with food or drink. Maybe you pretend to be super interested in the pictures on the wall of the hosts’ house. Maybe you start mentally planning escape routes or other appointments to cite when you need to get out of the social situation early.

Suddenly, salvation! You look up and see that there is a dog across the room and your eyes light up. You realize you have just found someone you can connect with, but without the awkward challenge of striking up a conversation. In relief, you cozy up to the dog and begin your escape from the social discomfort that is just a party.  You feel normal once again.

Social Anxiety Can be Debilitating

When you’re at a party you may be mentally criticizing yourself and comparing yourself to others. Maybe you think you need to be the most outgoing, sociable, funny, and smartest person in the room. This form of thinking is distorted and can even be toxic—perpetuating the anxiety you feel. I was anxious before I got here about how well I would connect with others, then I said that joke that flopped, now I’m thinking about how dumb that joke was especially compared to the other person’s follow up joke, then I feel more anxious about engaging further in the conversation and I create more anxiety related to future parties and interactions. It’s a vicious cycle!

We live in a culture that glorifies extroversion and being the life of the party, but introverts have their own strengths and do contribute to relationships in meaningful and necessary ways. Even though you may struggle to engage in the conversation in a room of 20 people, you may be a great listener and encourager one on one.

 Why the Dogs become our best friends at Parties

It is not uncommon for people to gravitate towards animals at parties because they are uncomfortable with their surroundings. For people with social anxiety the pressure society gives around being social can feel like too much to bear. Dogs can easily become our “social crutch”, our support, even our friends at parties. After all, who doesn’t love a dog? They don’t judge, they appreciate you just for noticing them. These canine angels provide support to us when we need it the most, and they may not even understand the impact they have one us.

It has been well-documented that dogs actually do provide significant therapeutic benefits. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 75% of pet owners reported a friend or family member’s mental health has improved simply due to pet ownership. Animals can lower anxiety, reduce blood pressure, relax breathing rates, and help people better regulate their emotions. Dogs can also provide an ice breaker and occasional distraction to reduce intensity of social anxiety. In exchange for a scratch behind the ears, a dog will provide unconditional love.

For individuals with social anxiety, dogs can relieve some of the pressure and stress related to activities others find energizing and easy. There is help for anxiety you may face, but there is nothing wrong with being more introverted. All jokes aside–don’t be afraid to find the dog!

June 2018, Sarah Huberty, Intern