You try to approach someone in a social setting. Your hands shake, and you feel sweaty. Your brain feels like it won’t work. It’s the same kind of adrenalized fear you get when a strange noise wakes you up in the middle of the night and you think there might be a stranger in the house. Social anxiety is no joke; it takes a normally innocuous, everyday action and turns it into the stuff of nightmares.
Social anxiety is rooted in a couple of places. It’s in the fight-or-flight aspect of our fear. It screams at us to run away because something awful is sure to happen. The good news is, the chances of something truly awful happening aren’t that great. No one will die. No one is going to jail. The consequences of awkward conversation are practically non-existent. But when your brain is engaged in that deep emotional response, it’s hard to make it listen to reason. Any professional will tell you the best way to get over a fear is to face it. So what do you do when it is terrifying to talk to other people?
Have a Chat With Yourself
As impossible as it sounds, the best thing you can do is try to bring logical thought to the process. Engaging your logical, thinking brain shuts down the emotional side of your brain. When you feel that familiar panic rising, talk to yourself about what’s going on. Identify the feeling, and identify why you are afraid. What are you afraid will happen? Are those fears logical? Are you engaging in catastrophic thinking? When you go down the chain of what-could-go-wrong, does it end in ridiculous places like homeless, jobless, dead? Identify all of the nonsensical and impractical leaps in logic you make in those thought chains. Tell yourself this thinking pattern is unhelpful and substitute those leaps in logic with things that are more likely to happen. The more factual and logical you are in this process, the more you engage the logical side of your brain and quiet the emotional side.
Develop an Ice Breaker
You’ve quieted your fears, walked up to someone, and now it’s time to talk. What do you do?
Develop an ice breaker, of course! It doesn’t have to be fancy, or intricate. It can be as simple as a compliment, or an open-ended question. You can learn simple magic tricks, or teach yourself the art of humor and open with a joke. You can use your surroundings to take the focus of conversation off you; for example, you can take your dog to the park and use him as an ice breaker, or meet people with similar interests at meetups, conventions, and other events. Your shared interests make the perfect ice breaker.
Be a Good Conversation Partner
The difference between a good and bad conversation is the level of interaction. It’s how well the people connect and how much back and forth there is. The key to being a good conversationalist is listening. Don’t listen for your chance to talk, listen for content. That way, when you do respond, you’ll be able to respond with meaningful questions or comments.
Conversation can be like a dance, and luckily, you don’t always have to lead. This is great for people with social anxiety, because it means you don’t have to be the focus of conversation. You can sit back, let the other person do the heavy lifting, and just listen. It takes the pressure off you, and it makes the other person feel good. After all, we all enjoy the idea that we’re interesting.
Leave On a Good Note
Whether the conversation is good or bad, it has to end sometime, right? Anyone with social anxiety knows that even when the good conversations happen you can still get that itch to walk away and take a moment to yourself, if for no other reason than to retreat to a safe spot and take the pressure off before diving in again. This is doubly true if the conversation is bad. Bail in a polite way. Excuse yourself to the bathroom or to get a drink. Let them know it was fun talking. Leave them feeling good, and the next approach will be easier.
Talk To a Professional
You’ve tried and it just doesn’t work. You can’t swallow or talk down the flight response. In situations like that, it’s okay to get a little help. Talk to a professional. Your social anxiety might be rooted in other, treatable problems, like generalized anxiety or depression. And even if it isn’t, a therapist can help you identify the issue, learn coping mechanisms, and form a plan of action. Treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy can help you learn where your anxiety comes from, and how to combat it.
Over 40 million Americans experience issues with mental health, and nearly half of Americans experience mental health issues at some point in their lives. Therapy is a natural step towards solving those problems; it can help people with anxiety grow past their fears and engage in a full, happy social life.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
Author Bio: Lynne Rush has evolved from the shy kid to a shy adult. She writes on everything from video games to mental illness. She can be easily bribed with books.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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