That moment when you step into a house party, networking event, or dinner and your confidence dims because you start to question… everything. Sound familiar? You may have been excited about your plans, planned your outfit to the nines, and then out of nowhere, bam! Anxiety plagues you as you step into the venue and shyness takes over.
This has happened to me time and time over for as long as I can remember – and it still happens! It took me a while to realize that it was actually called, ‘social anxiety’, and that many others around the world suffer through it, too.
Do I have social anxiety?
Social anxiety or phobia is the fear of social situations that involve interacting with others – you could say it’s the fear and anxiety of being negatively judged (1). It’s a pervasive disorder and is the third largest mental health care problem today (2).
People with social anxiety are many times seen by others as having characteristics of shyness, nervousness and are withdrawn and disinterested. What’s ironic is that people who are dealing with social anxiety want to make friends, want be included in groups, and want be involved and engaged in social interactions, but having this issue prevents them from being able to do the things they want to do, so they're usually the ones sitting on the side. Anxiety and fear are actually what holds them back from being open and sociable.
Social anxiety phobia symptoms
If you find yourself feeling anxious in any of these typical scenarios, you may experience social phobia:
• Being introduced to other people
• Being teased or criticized
• Being the center of attention
• Having to say something in a formal, public situation
• Meeting people in authority
How to overcome social anxiety on your own
Though it takes constant work, there are definitely some helpful tools that can help you cultivate self-compassion and manage social anxiety better and more easily and boost your confidence at the same time. So no matter if you’re in a new city and traveling for work, or are going to the same old pub with your friends, there are 3 key things to keep in mind to keep yourself feeling prepared so as not to feel overwhelmed by anxiety and enjoy yourself.
1. Plan ahead and do your research
Once you know an event is coming up, look into it. This doesn’t have to be 007 style research nor digging around for every detail, just answers to questions that will make you feel more comfortable in your skin when you arrive – such as, “Do I know anyone else who is going?”, “What are people going to be wearing?”, “Are we going to be sitting down or standing the entire evening?”. Believe it or not, this kind of preparation can help you feel much more relaxed going into it.
2. Stop performing and be yourself
Many people put pressure on themselves to be ‘on' all of the time – and ironically, that forced ‘I’m happy and jolly’ vibe can totally drain you and be a real trigger for social awkwardness, shyness and anxiety. No one has a desire to be ‘on’ every minute of every day – it’s exhausting to constantly worry that if you don’t show up in your usual ‘on’ fashion, your reputation would suffer or others wouldn’t like you anymore. But at the end of the day, what people do appreciate is authenticity, because it’s realistic and more importantly, relatable. Being real tends to make everyone (including you) more relaxed.
3. Prepare go-to talking points
This tip might seem a little ridiculous, but I promise it helps when you’re up against an incredibly awkward moment. After realizing I would freeze when trying to make small talk, I started coming up with a few talking points before I got to my event. I would think of two or three topics that I would enjoy talking to someone about. Sometimes it would be about something I read on the news, other times it would be about a cool project I was working on. I would also think of quick questions I could ask someone to put the focus on them instead of me. That switch always helps you feel more connected to someone.
So whether you’re struggling to make it through an evening without putting your foot in your mouth or you’re having a hard time even making it to an event because of your nerves, maybe these tips will help you find more ease and confidence in future social situations! Just know that we have all been there.
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