This post is all about how to cope with social anxiety.
We all have those moments that we just don’t know how to cope with social anxiety. It’s normal to get nervous, awkward, and not always say the right thing, but, when it interferes with your life, it’s gone too far.
When we suffer from social anxiety, we have to remember that our brain is basically overreacting to tiny signals around us. Most of the time, it’s not telling us the truth because it thinks everything is a big deal.
So, that’s why we need small tools to keep us enjoying our lives rather than being fearful of them.
This post is all about how to cope with social anxiety.
HOW TO COPE WITH SOCIAL ANXIETY:
1. Bring a support human to intimidating events
Otherwise known by the more popular term “plus one,” bring someone you know to events that scare you. For those events that stress you out before you even go (i.e. parties), bring someone to talk to you when you’re too nervous to talk to someone else.
At the very least, the both of you might get some free food and drinks. But, sometimes, you get the added benefit of a security blanket and thus you get more bold when talking to others.
Plus, you can always use this person to help you learn the names of people you probably should know but completely forgot. Have your plus one introduce themselves and wait for the other person to say their name. It’s a no-lose situation.
2. Use the drink excuse to get out of conversation
You will inevitably get to a point where some stranger is trying to involve you in a completely boring conversation and you want out. Or you’re ready to leave because you’ve stayed for the hour you promised yourself before the event.
Situations like these, when we’re stuck in a conversation that makes us want to disappear into the floor, are the worst for social anxiety. We don’t want to get into a boring conversation because it takes a lot of energy and we don’t know how to get out in a way that won’t cause more social anxiety.
This is when you break out the handy “drink excuse.” In the middle of your conversation, offer up a response to whatever they’re droning out about and then say something like “I’m going to get something to drink.”
The person likely won’t think you’re abandoning them because you responded to them before you left and they’ll probably strike a conversation with something else, leaving you off the hook.
3. When all else fails, ask the person to tell you about themselves
This is the single most important way to get out of an awkward situation: ask the other person about what they do, their family, where they’re from. Anything to get them talking.
If they’re not the kind of person who likes talking about themselves, they’re probably as awkward as you and you don’t have to worry about being the only one to make things weird.
Otherwise, they’re going to talk your ear off and the trick here is to find something about them that interests you and dive into that. They’re going to love someone taking an interest in them and you’ll be able to take a backseat to the conversation.
4. Arrive early to events
Arriving early to events is useful on multiple fronts: you choose where you sit, you won’t come in late because you got lost, and you can meet people as they walk in. On the flip side, if you prefer to wait until someone you know walks in, you can wait outside of the event.
Either way, you’re going to start off the event on your terms. You won’t have any added stress from trying to find the place or being left with the crappy spot between people you don’t know.
5. Do a mental check when you want a drink
Lots of people can drink without being alcoholics. Having said that, even people who are not alcoholics can still misuse alcohol as a way to feel better when it doesn’t always happen that way.
There’s nothing wrong with nursing a drink while you’re at an event, especially for the times when you want to do something other than stare at the person. But, be careful about going for that next drink.
Do a mental check when you’re going for another drink: why do you want another drink? How are you feeling right now—AKA how is the alcohol already affecting you?
Let loose and enjoy the event, but be mindful of how much alcohol you’re drinking and whether it’ll make your social anxiety worse—don’t forget that vulnerability hangover the next day.
6. Read through current events and news articles for small talk
The second best conversation tip is to have some current events you can bring up. If you’re anything like me, I love talking about myself and simultaneously terrified I’m over-sharing or talking too much.
So, bringing up a news event (try to avoid controversial topics for the sake of your social anxiety) is the best way to contribute to a conversation without steering it towards yourself.
Keep in mind: there’s nothing wrong with talking about yourself, but it can be stressful for people with social anxiety. The goal is to use these tools when you want to be social while keeping that anxiety part at bay as much as you can.
7. Challenge yourself by doing a low-stakes event solo
When you’re ready to challenge yourself, go do something by yourself. This could be a local volunteer organization, recreational sports team, running group, bar, anything.
You want to do this thing by yourself and go without the safety net of another person to serve as your backup. What you’ll probably notice is you go on your phone a lot, drink lots of water or punch, and eat lots of snacks.
Instead of getting upset with yourself when you leave an event having no conversations with strangers, be proud that you went out and challenged yourself.
The next time you do this, make a goal of talking to one person. Have a conversation with them; the benefit of doing this alone and trying a new location is that, if it doesn’t go well, you probably never have to see them again.
8. Go out to a party or bar and talk to strangers
The reason I specifically suggest party or bar: these places can be anonymous. Clearly, when you have social anxiety, the thought of talking to a stranger and not caring how badly it goes is pretty much unheard of.
But, it’s also a great way to practice the skill of making conversation while having some fun. Plus, you might actually meet someone interesting. If you don’t, you’re also doing just fine because the point of talking to strangers you likely will never see again is that you can lie.
I’m not endorsing lying, but I am endorsing having fun and working to overcome social anxiety. So, if you talk to someone new and never see them again, you can try different conversation techniques on them to get more comfortable talking with no little repercussion.
9. Use your posture and body language as tools
Lots of us think we control what people see. We can hide how we’re feeling, if we’re stressed or if we’re anxious. But, honestly, it’s pretty rare that people don’t subconsciously read our body language even if they don’t realize they’re using it to understand us.
So, when you’re trying to act interested in a conversation while you’re anxious, think about your posture. Consider whether your back is straight, if you’re facing the person, what your hands are doing—get a drink or snack to avoid fidgeting.
To be clear, you never have to hide how you’re feeling if you don’t want to. If you’re trying to figure out how to cope with social anxiety, make sure your body is working with you.
10. Acknowledge negative thoughts and talk back to them
Noticing when you’re having negative thoughts will take time; it’s going to take practice to recognize them when you’ve grown up with them. So, give yourself time to notice them.
Then, once you notice a negative thought, start talking back. Take a thought like “he’s yawning, so I’m boring him” and say “it’s six o’clock on a workday, so he could be tired from a long day.”
Or “they’re not looking at me, so they want to stop talking” and say “they can walk away if they’re uninterested in the conversation.” In other words, take a thought about you screwing up and consider other reasons for that behavior because you won’t know the real reason unless you ask.
11. Remember no one thinks about you
Harsh to say no one thinks about you, but you need to remember it when you’re thinking that everyone notices you fidgeting with your hair or forgetting words when you speak.
No one thinks about you as much as you think about you. When you’re looking in the mirror before you go out, no one will care that your foundation is already creasing on your forehead or that you mascara is coming off on your eyelid.
What people will remember is how you made them feel. So, tell stories, ask them about themselves, and focus on safely challenging yourself.