Organizing inclusive queer events that prioritize the comfort and well-being of individuals suffering from social anxiety can be tricky. There is not a lot of literature about how to be accommodative of people struggling with the condition. The onus of managing one’s anxiety in a public space is often on the people suffering. As a society we don’t generally think about accommodating people with chronic mental health conditions or disabilities, probably because such people are seen as an aberration and not as members of the general public.
Social anxiety can be a significant barrier for many, and by taking specific steps, event organizers can create spaces that are welcoming and accommodating. In this guide, we’ll explore how we can make events less daunting for those struggling with the condition.
Understanding Social Anxiety:
Begin by educating yourself and your team about social anxiety. Understanding the challenges faced by individuals with social anxiety is crucial for planning inclusive events and for offering the right kind of support. Social anxiety is more than just shyness; it involves an intense fear of social situations and can lead to physical and emotional distress.
Choosing the Right Venue:
Select a venue that is comfortable and not overwhelming. Smaller, more intimate spaces can be less intimidating for those with social anxiety.
Ensure that the venue has quiet areas where attendees can retreat to if they need a break from the crowd. If your event is huge, this is doubly important.
Make sure that the washrooms are clean and that there are enough of them, especially if it is a larger event. Often people with social anxiety or even sensory issues will take a break in the washroom. If the space is dirty it can amplify the shame one may already be feeling about not behaving “like everyone else”.
Consider the timing of your event. Avoid late-night events or long durations that might be too exhausting for some participants. In addition a lot of anxiety is just anticipation so release a clear schedule a week in advance. This allows the participants to have a clear view of what they should expect and can help dispel a lot of anxiety.
Clearly communicate event details and expectations in advance. This includes providing information about the schedule, speakers, performers, and any potential triggers that attendees should be aware of. Transparency can help reduce anxiety.
Diversify your event programming to cater to different comfort levels. Offer a mix of activities, such as panel discussions, workshops, and artistic performances, to accommodate various interests and interaction preferences. Some people might want to be lost in a crowd, some might enjoy a group activity where they can concentrate on a task and not think about where they are.
Designated Safe Spaces:
Set up designated quiet or safe spaces within the event where attendees can take a breather if needed. These areas should be clearly marked and have the essentials like comfortable seating, plenty of water, few towels etc.
For events featuring performances or loud music, consider creating designated quiet zones nearby where attendees can still enjoy the event without being overwhelmed by the noise and crowd.
Recruit volunteers who have some experience in mental health first aid so they can intervene if someone starts feeling under the weather. These volunteers should be approachable and ready to provide assistance or a listening ear to those in need.
Incorporate icebreaker activities that are low-pressure and non-intrusive. These can help attendees connect with each other at their own pace.
Ensure your event is physically accessible for everyone, including those with mobility challenges. Provide ramps, accessible restrooms, and seating options suitable for various needs. Consider getting sign language interpreters or offer sub-titles, as required. Remember that social anxiety isn’t a condition solely experienced by the able-bodied. Repeatedly having to ask for accomodations to access regular functions can be triggering as well.
Offer online components for your event, such as live streaming or virtual Q&A sessions. This allows individuals to participate from the comfort of their own space, if they prefer.
Feedback and Improvement:
After the event, seek feedback from attendees, especially those with mental health issues and disability. Use this feedback to continually improve future events and make them even more inclusive.