Social anxiety is really, really common. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2008, approximately 14% 0f Australians were feeling the effects of anxiety. But many more of us, I’m sure, can relate to the social awkwardness and feelings of unease that can result from being in a social situation where there is lots of pressure.
The good news is, that there are loads of tips and tricks that you can easily implement, to not only manage your social anxiety, but to survive and thrive when you are in social situations. Hell, you may even have a good time! Here are my best tips to get started:
1. Focus on what the speaker is saying, not your thoughts.
When you have social anxiety, mind chatter is ramped up massively in social situations.
- “What the hell am I going to say next?”
- “Oh my God. These people are amazing; how can I compete?”
- “Get me out of here!!!”
- “I’m such a loser”
- “I think I smell… is that my body odour?”
These are just some of the thoughts you might be thinking when you are socialising. But when we listen to all this inner action, we miss what’s going on externally and the hole for ourselves gets bigger.
As we miss the main thread of the conversation, we are likely to blurt something out that feeds into our belief that we are socially incompetent and so the cycle continues. The trick here is to breathe, and mindfully listen. Listen to listen, not to respond, and be open to seeing where it leads you. Practicing mindfulness regularly will massively help with your ability to focus on the external, rather than your internal chatter.
2. Smile and breathe.
Be calm. You may have a pre-prepared soothing mantra you can employ for times when you are alone, or recovering from a less than successful interaction. “We are all only humans doing our best”, is one of my favourites. You could also try:
- “This too shall pass”;
- “I’m not the only one feeling like this”; or
- “You’ve got this!’.
Give it a go! Some people like to carry a soothing symbol of some sorts that they can hold or rub in times of extreme social anxiety. This could be a small smooth rock, a little teddy bear, or even a scarf. Sometimes stroking your own hand in a soothing fashion can be a way to access your inner strength and can help the part of yourself that is struggling, to carry on with more confidence.
3. Practice open ended questions.
Some people love to talk about themselves. It has been said that after going to a party, the person whose legendary status party-goers will muse about afterwards, is the one who went around listening avidly to everyone else.
Avoid feeling the pressure of being wildly entertaining and instead employ one of the cornerstones of great conversation skills and ask open ended questions. Open ended questions, if you aren’t familiar, are questions that will elicit a conversational response. These questions usually start with “how”, “what”, “why”, “where”, or “when”.
Unlike closed questions (which usually only require a “yes” or “no” response, open questions encourage the other person to keep talking and make the conversation flow more naturally. If you ask too many closed questions, you might find that there is less flow to the conversation, you will feel more pressure to talk (because it is your turn sooner) and it could end up feeling more like an interrogation; imagine a scenario with rapid fire questions that only result in a “yes” or “no” answer.
Getting used to asking open questions can take some practice, but after a while, you will become more and more comfortable. You can use open questions in any conversation – not just when you are in social situations – so there is plenty of opportunity to practice!
4. Employ social support if possible.
Social situations and events are always easier when you partner up with someone. If there is an option to bring a partner or friend, take it! You are more likely to feel relaxed and comfortable if you have a social wing-man (or woman!) in your corner.
If bringing a mate with you isn’t possible, here are a couple of other tips that can make you feel a bit more relaxed in unfamiliar or high-pressure social situations:
- Is there someone at the event that you have already connected with, who knows some of your quirks? This is helpful because you can safely share your angst with them and perhaps even ease some nervous feelings of theirs because they’ll know they aren’t alone.
- Is there someone you can call, to tell them how clammy your hands are and how much of a fool you just made of yourself in your last conversation? Take the opportunity to have a time-out from the event and call your bestie. Choose someone who can have a supportive giggle with you and give you the encouragement to keep on keeping on.
- Is there someone else at the event that is looking a little awkward or is hanging out on the edges of the party, hoping not to be noticed? It will take some guts, but if you are feeling up to it, introduce yourself and make light of the situation. They might welcome the company, even if it means you just end up standing together. Who knows, though, you might end up making a new friend who appreciates your vibe.
5. Give yourself permission to leave.
If you are really trying and are still just not feeling it, or your anxiety is ramping and showing no signs of giving up, then give yourself permission to leave. But only on the condition; you need to mindfully refuse to play over and over the discomfort of the evening. Replaying the discomfort is not going to serve you, so choose to change the direction of your day. Perhaps you could something soothing; something that will ease your internal discomfort. Hint; playing over and over your conversational disasters will not do this!
We are, but mere humans and as a result, even the most socially competent of us have many experiences of self-doubt and humiliation in social situations. Please try to keep it in perspective and curb your anxiety’s natural desire to snowball. You’ve got this!
6. Consider working on your social anxiety with a therapist.
To work through any type of anxiety, enlisting the help of a therapist could be a good approach. Because, when working with a therapist, you can uncover the real reasons behind your social anxiety, understand the triggers for your anxiety in social situations and learn techniques to manage your anxious feelings as soon as they start creeping in.
If you are interested in working together, you can book your first session with me, here. Still not sure if we are a good fit? No hard feelings. It is important for you to find a therapist you gel with. Feel free to get in touch with any questions here.