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Health Fusion: Afraid to attend a reunion because you gained weight? Go anyway

A high school reunion is one of those things that can simultaneously fill you with excitement and dread. In this "Health Fusion" column, Viv Williams shares her recent reunion experience and explains why you should attend yours, even if you feel less than perfect.

Photobooth reunion picture
High school reunion photo booth antics

ROCHESTER, Minn. โ€” Recently, I attended my high school reunion. Despite some pre-game anxiety about the wrinkles I've acquired, what to wear and whether or not some people would even remember my name, the event was an absolute blast. By the end of the Saturday night dance, my cheeks hurt from laughing, my phone was filled with pictures I can't stop viewing and I exited the building arm-in-arm with a woman I thought hated me, but was now a confirmed friend.

I also left the party knowing that many other attendees โ€” even the super-successful ones โ€” experienced similar insecurities about how they'd be perceived by their former classmates.

"One reunion year, I was asked to speak about my career," said Mandana MacPherson, an artist, designer and one of my high school besties. "I was tentative and unsure about going because most of my friends weren't going to be there. But when I walked into the main building, a classmate I didn't know well greeted me with a huge hug and welcomed me into the crowd. It was just great."

Why, I wonder, do people become full of insecurities and self-doubt before they go to a reunion? In my search for an explanation, I ran across some interesting articles, one of which describes a psychological phenomenon called the "spotlight effect." The research , published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, supports the idea that people overestimate how much their appearance and actions are noticed by others. In other words, if you're an anxious mess because you're worried about what people might think of the 10 extra pounds you put on over the last 5 years, you're wasting your time. They're not as focused on you nearly as much as you're focused on yourself.

Another aspect of reunions that might prompt avoidance is that of energy. You have to gear up for small talk and that takes enthusiasm. One of my classmates who says he didn't feel particularly popular in high school attended the reunion for the first time ever. He said he almost talked himself out of going because he didn't want to show up and engage in conversations that meant nothing. He thought it would be draining and exhausting. But after deciding to join the party, he found the experience was, in fact, the opposite. Connecting with old friends filled him with joy.

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One of my other high school besties agrees with his assessment.

"So many times we get together with friends because of a funeral or an obligation," said Barbara Nagle Muench (aka "Bagle"). "Those events are difficult and they can sap your energy. At reunions, we get together โ€” just because. It doesn't drain you. These events fill you with energy and happiness."

Reunions allow us to see friends and to remember the fun we had in high school. But also, attending reunions allow us to feel as if we belong to something through shared experiences and that everyone โ€” no matter who they were then or what they're doing now โ€” shares similar vulnerabilities.

So the next time you get that save the date card in your email or snail mail, mark it down on your calendar. Don't worry that you're in between jobs, can't fit into that special dress or that your hairline has receded. Sign up, attend and be grateful for the opportunity to reconnect.

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Follow the  Health Fusion podcast on  Apple,   Spotify and  Google podcasts. For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at  vwilliams@newsmd.com. Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

Opinion by Viv Williams
Viv Williams hosts the NewsMD podcast and column, "Health Fusion." She is an Emmy (and other) award-winning health and medical reporter whose stories have run on TV, digital and newspaper outlets nationwide. Viv is passionate about boosting people's health and happiness by helping them access credible, reliable and research-based health information from top experts. She regularly interviews experts and patients from leading medical institutions, such as Mayo Clinic.
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