The first time I went to a business mixer, I was so nervous about meeting other people, that after getting a drink, I went and stood in a corner next to another guy who also seemed to have the same problem. That’s where I stayed the whole night.
Have you ever walked into a social situation with fear or dread about what you will say or do in front of other people? If so you have experienced social anxiety.
Social anxiety is a feeling of discomfort or fear in social situations where a person is concerned about being judged or evaluated. There’s usually an intense fear of what others are thinking about them.
Social anxiety is typically a part of childhood development, and most kids grow out of it. If they don’t, however, it can turn into chronic social anxiety in the teenage years or even into adulthood.
Of course, we want to be sensitive to social norms, and we expect to be judged to some extent on how we are dressed, how are act, what we say and how we interact with others. This is a normal part of the social process. If this fear of the expectation of others becomes too severe it can affect a person’s quality of life.
Social anxiety that is chronic and disabling is called social anxiety disorder. This is social anxiety that interferes with a person’s daily activities. According to Harold Leitenberg in the (1990) “Handbook of Social and Evaluation Anxiety”, roughly 40 million American adults 18 years or over have an anxiety disorder.
People that suffer from social anxiety usually feel all the symptoms of anxiety including:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Sweaty palms
- Dry mouth
There is the tendency to have negative and unrealistic thinking:
- I’m such a loser.
- Everybody is looking at me.
- Everybody knows that I’m nervous
- I don’t belong here.
This leads to unproductive behaviors such as:
- Arriving then leaving quickly
- Using alcohol or drugs to cope with social situations
- Excessive grooming so that they look “perfect”
- Spending too much time on phones or devices or hiding in a corner to avoid contact.
Almost everyone can benefit from the healthy social interaction. Avoidance because of social anxiety not only leaves one alone and isolated, but can affect self esteem and result in lost opportunities for meaningful personal and business relationships.
You can learn to be comfortable in social situations and release social anxiety. It takes practice.
Here are some tips for dealing with social anxiety.
- Become aware of when your social anxiety gets triggered. Is it at the supermarket? Parties? Meetings? Get clear about when you feel the most uncomfortable. You can then be better prepared for those situations.
- Take someone with you. When I got back from the mixer that I told you about, my wife asked me how many people I met. I said “None”. She went with me to the next mixer and introduced me around. It really helped. Find someone that is more outgoing than you are, and have them help you meet people and show you how it’s done.
- Ask questions. If you are concerned about what to day in a social situation,get good at asking questions.
- Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Ask questions such as: What do you do? Where are you from What made you come here today? Get people talking and you won’t have to fumble for things to say.
- Create a script. Have a script of things you want to say or talk about. Don’t wing it, be prepared with questions you can ask or topics you can talk about.
- Make sure you eat. Social anxiety can be triggered by being hungry. If you are going to put yourself into a situation where there might be some social anxiety, make sure you eat something before you go.
- Practice. Find someone you trust and practice making conversation comfortably. Or join clubs or take classes where you will become “desensitized” to social anxiety through exposure to situations where you will be meeting new people.
- Mental rehearsal. Before you go into a social situation, imagine yourself feeling calm, relaxed and comfortable. Take some time to relax your body. See yourself having interesting conversations, smiling and having fun.
- Be realistic in your thinking. Are people really judging you? Is everybody really looking at you? How do you now the other people are better or smarter than you? Examine and try to replace thoughts that don’t serve you with positive affirmations such as “I can do this!"
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