Can you recall your many “first days” of school? For most people, this is an incredible time to learn new things, make new friends, and advance in the journey of life. For those with social anxiety, it’s a gut-wrenching, terrifying, and overwhelming feeling. Especially if you had a teacher, who wanted everyone to stand up individually and talk about themselves. When you have social anxiety, you’d rather stick your head in a toilet bowl than be forced to interact this way!
This may seem a tad dramatic to some, but it’s an unfortunate reality that many folks have to face regularly. So, how do we get it under control?
Replace Fight or Flight with Positive Thoughts
Individuals that are struggling with social anxiety often talk about the “fear” they have of being around large crowds or interacting with complete strangers. It’s like walking into an office party and having a sudden, gut-feeling that something terrible is going to happen. You can’t fight a danger that isn’t there, so what do you do? You’re either going to turn right around and remove yourself from the situation or enter the festivities, where you’ll likely try to find the least populated, “safest” area where you can isolate yourself until it’s over with.
When that fight or flight response hits reverse it! Replace the “what if something bad happens” with “what if I have a really great time.” Instead of running away from a perceived threat, remind yourself that there isn’t one! You’re here to talk to friends, unwind a little, and enjoy yourself for a few hours.
You’re Not Going Into Battle, Leave the Shield at Home
Getting to know others can be tricky for the socially nervous individual because you just aren’t sure how to act. You may even feel the need to put on a different persona, not only to impress the other person but to protect your own emotions. Those with a higher level of emotional intelligence may sense that you’re just a bit nervous. Others might be put off by the “shield” persona.
There’s no need for that, just be yourself when you’re getting to know your peers. You might even run into someone else who has struggled with social anxiety and overcome it!
Everything in Moderation
When you’ve been dealing with social anxiety for your entire life, you’re probably thinking that this is all easier said than done, and that’s true. No one is saying that you should hop on stage for karaoke night right after reading this. However, you should be seeking places and activities that allow you to step outside of your comfort zone gently.
Start off by attending a community event in your area. If that’s easy enough, try joining a local sports team or anything else that is social and of interest to you.
Recognize Nonverbal Cues Correctly
The only thing worse than overdoing it a little is not engaging at all! Social anxiety can be doubly uncomfortable if you’re already a naturally shy or introverted person. As soon as you open your mouth, it feels like all eyes are on you. Just breathe for a second, even though it seems like staring from your perception, the person or people you’re speaking to are only using nonverbal cues to engage with you!
In our society, it’s considered polite to turn toward others and make eye contact with them when speaking. This can be tough if you’re not used to putting yourself on the spot, so if you have a hard time with this at first, don’t worry. Practicing eye contact is something you can do anywhere.
Watch How Confident People Behave
You’ve probably walked around the mall a few times in your life and then avoided it from then on due to the ridiculous amount of other human beings in place. Relax, it’s really not that big of a deal, and this is one of the best places to observe people practicing excellent communication skills. Salespeople are trained on how to read others and ask all the right questions, the most experienced can attune their energy with the customer.
You might be thinking, isn’t this the same as a persona? Well, you’re not trying to sell anything, you’re just learning how to create positive interactions.
You’re likely familiar with the kiosk huts; if you’ve ever had someone come on too strong with their pitch, you know exactly what it was that made you uncomfortable. Perhaps they were invasive of your personal space or pushed too hard for the sale while seeming desperate. Don’t obsess or panic if you feel like you may have made a mistake somewhere, it happens. Just try to keep those things in mind when you’re introducing yourself to new colleagues and friends. Approach people confidently, match their energy and keep your body language in check.