You CAN be better in social situations.
New social settings can be overwhelming, especially when there is a fear of being judged by others.
Ever find yourself in this situation? You’re in the middle of a conversation and make a comment that you IMMEDIATELY regret. You’re thinking, “Ah, why did I say that?” and dissect every second of it...and what that means about you. We’ve all been there.
The struggle is real and it feels like there is no way that you can bounce back from the situation. As a licensed clinical psychologist, I have worked with many young adults who fear being judged by others and this fear interferes with their ability to connect with others.
Social anxiety is a REAL thing. And no, it’s not just being “shy.”
Some signs that you might be experiencing social anxiety are
You significantly worry about being judged or negatively evaluated by others, especially around people you don’t know
You spend WAY too much time thinking about what others think about you
You avoid social situations
When the desire to say just the “right” thing gets in the way of you saying anything at all
This fear impairs your ability to be your full self- socially, romantically, professionally, etc.
I’ve got some tips that I think may be helpful in social situations.
Barrier: Fear the Silence
Tip 1: Identify Conversation Topics
Silence. I think this is hands down the worst fear for many people that struggle with social anxiety. You don’t want to experience it and it automatically is perceived as something negative. Prior to a social event, identify some topics that you could discuss in the case that nothing naturally comes up in the convo. Think about whatever you’re actually interested in talking about (i.e., reality TV, academics/profession, upcoming holidays)....and let the game of trial and error begin until the conversation flows.
….It will flow, just give it some time!
Barrier: Anxiety Symptoms
Tip 2: Deep Breathing
When we feel anxious, we often times experience more shallow and faster breathing. Your heart may be racing, body shaking, sweating, flushed face, stuttering, uneasy stomach, and overall just feeling tense. If you notice you’re starting to experience any of these physiological symptoms, just P.A.U.S.E. and B.R.E.A.T.H.E.
Deep Inhale: 1-2-3 [Count]
** 2-5 seconds
Slowly Exhale: 1-2-3 [Count]
Repeat. Continue to repeat until your physiological symptoms of anxiety decrease.
***I encourage people to regularly do this breathing exercise (3 breaths x 3 times a day).
Barrier: Avoidance of Anxiety
Tip 3: Approach Anxiety :)
Avoidance is common with social anxiety, but avoidance strengthens anxiety. If you find that you have been avoiding social situations, see if you could make it a point to just attend the event...even for a bit! Less focus on attending the full event and more focus on the behavior of just attending. Think of what you can do to help you in the moment. For instance, take a friend or family member with you! They can be there to help you when you’re feeling anxious and provide a healthy and warm distraction in an anxiety-provoking setting!
Barrier: Self-critical thoughts & focus on worst case scenarios
Tip 4: Focus on the evidence
You’re at a party/interview/social event and your thoughts start messing with you. Even without actual evidence (sorry, but no- in this case, your thoughts/feelings don’t serve as evidence), we tend to believe our worst fears of how others perceive us and then act based on that. It can be really hard...nearly impossible....not to feel anxious when you’re thinking, “Ah, they think I’m so weird/unlikeable/etc.”
So, rather than respond to your worst fears, focus on the actual situation.
Stay in the moment.
Only respond to evidence that you actually have… like for instance, is the person engaging in the conversation? Have they said anything that supports/rejects your fear?
Barrier: Can’t shake off the worst case scenarios?
Tip 5: Prepare for the worst case scenario
Let’s say this worst fear of yours is true…
What is the worst that could happen in that case?
What is the likelihood that it would happen?
Hm, you think you can handle it? What would you do in that situation?
Most situations are more manageable than we think...so just give yourself the time to reflect on how you’d cope and I think you’ll be surprised by your resilience and coping!
If you need additional coping skills, refer to my article on self-care.
Let others get to know you...that’s a real gift.
Stay relationally well,