If you don’t know me from anywhere but here, you might not know I deal with anxiety on a day to day basis. I don’t ever intend to go deep into my own mind here, I have other places where I explore the deeper parts of my psyche, but I did want to share an experience I had, and a great article I read.
Last night was my second Adventure Run, run by Road Runner Sports. For those of you who don’t know what an Adventure Run is, here’s the rundown:
Road Runner Sports Adventure Run is a FREE, 60-minute scavenger-like fun run filled with hundreds of friends, giveaways, raffle prizes, music and free beer*. (* our location served root beer floats, which in my opinion are far superior to regular beer!)
Before the run, you walk around and talk to all the sponsors. Most people who know me would say I lean more extroverted, but that doesn’t mean talking to people always comes easily. For people like me who suffer from mild social anxiety, talking to strangers, particularly strangers who are selling a product, can be terrifying! But, in order to get extra tickets for the raffle, you have to talk to them. Period. So I took a deep breath, walked over to a table, and pretended I wasn’t ridiculously intimidated by this good looking, fit guy who was there to represent a mud run event. I got a flyer, he told me about a discount code, and I realized as we talked for a minute that he was more intimidated by me than I was by him! This relaxed me a bit, and I moved on to the next table, a Crossfit Box. I attached onto a group of people in front of me and eavesdropped. Someone asked when the classes were held, and I heard the first class was at 5:30 am, so when I stepped up to the table, I had a conversation starter, and it went smoothly! The rest of the tables were much of the same.
I had inadvertently stumbled upon a coping strategy for my social anxiety. (My generalized anxiety is another story, but I’m working on it.) And this morning, while researching this very phenomenon, I came across an article I really connected with.
Why You “Lose” Your Personality when You’re Feeling Insecure (and How to Get it Back)
We all lose confidence and feel insecure every now and then. We all struggle with feeling like an outsider, or not feeling good enough to engage in conversation. Even the person who seems uber confident all the time has moments of self doubt. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. But how do you deal with it when it happens?
We’ve all heard the phrase before. But it really does work. If you want to feel confident, act confident. Stand tall, shoulders back. Smile. Be assertive. Take up space. I opened up the conversation by asking a question, and it made the conversation flow more easily. Is it easy? No, but as you continue to act like this, it gets easier. Ask questions, start sharing something about yourself without expecting a reaction. Introduce yourself!
Remember that Positivity Project mirror I posted a tutorial for a couple months back? Make yourself one. Look in the mirror and see yourself surrounded by all these positive words. Look yourself in the eye and tell yourself that you are brave, strong, and that you can accomplish anything, even if you don’t believe it.
Remember Your Clean Slate
If you’re meeting a large group of new people, remind yourself that THEY DON’T KNOW YOU EITHER. They have no pre-judgments, no expectations of your behavior. If they assume anything about you before you speak to them, they have no basis on fact for their assumptions. You are a blank canvas to them, and it’s up to you to paint the picture.
Will this solve all your problems? Not remotely. But it’s a start. And you can’t make new friends if you don’t walk to people, right?
12 thoughts on “Putting Yourself Out There: Strategies for Social Anxiety”
Ah, social anxiety…my old friend. lol. I laugh at myself, but that doesn’t mean I’m any better at it. I’m lucky to not suffer from general anxiety (some would argue I’m about the least anxious person you’ll ever meet), but dealing with strangers face to face is well nigh impossible. I often wonder if it’s an only child thing. Like – I had no siblings, I also grew up in a “safer” world where it wasn’t really unusual for a kid to be home alone, and I was mature enough to babysit myself. I kind of feel like, spending the vast majority of my formative years on my own had the fortunate side effect that I’m a self-starter, but the unfortunate side effect that I have absolutely zero skill at starting conversations with people I don’t know. Online, this is SO EASY, because you’re meeting people in a situation where you already know you have common ground. If you meet on a pet website, you know the other person likes animals, a game website, you know the other person likes gaming – and you’ve got your icebreakers on hand.
Now insert a random real life outing. Everyone is into their own thing, not paying you any mind, the context can be something where there’s obvious common ground, in which case it’s easy to start a conversation, but I seem to be physically incapable of keeping them going. If you get me on a subject I’m interested in, I can go on and on, but if you grab me on small talk, I lose interest to fast. I’m just not able to entertain extended conversations about ‘the weather/the game/whatever nonsense is on the news/etc’ – there’s so much going on in my head all the time, that I find with no training in social graces (and an analytical mind that finds many of them pointless wastes of time, admittedly), I tend to zone out on topics that don’t interest me. And, whoops, there went the icebreaker, and before I realize it, the moment is gone.
So, I GET social anxiety. I go out like ‘today I am going to try to appear approachable and friendly. I am going to attempt to look for openings to converse with people.’ And, so far that hasn’t helped. Little by little, I’m getting better about telling myself ‘yes, I’m the weird girl. And, that’s okay. What made me a freak in high school makes me quirky and interesting as an adult!’ ….but as someone who naturally observes first, then finds a tactic to approach, by the time I think of something, the moment has passed. ….and this comment has become a novel. Yikes! Proof, though, that I can totally talk up a storm…but only under the right set of circumstances.
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Everything you said is an issue for me, too. It might actually be an only child thing. I was very shy as a child, and while my dad did encourage me to speak to people on my own, it wasn’t forced. And then I spent most of my adult life making friends in cyberspace! So, like I said, these methods aren’t a fix, but it works to get me through the current situation while actually looking like I know what I’m doing. Ha-ha.
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I was a shy kid, too. I wasn’t at first, when I was very young, but when I was 7, we moved. Going to a new school halfway through 2nd(1st?? Mental block!) grade is like having a bucket of ice water dropped on you out of thin air to a little kid. I was used to being surrounded by people I didn’t remember not knowing, then, suddenly everyone is a stranger.
At about the same age, I was being drilled with the ritual ‘never talk to strangers/never tell someone on the phone that your parents aren’t home’ thing, which is normal to teach a kid, but I was being taught ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ at a time in my life when everyone was a stranger. I hadn’t even made any friends in my new school yet.
I find I still have problems dealing with strangers. It’s the root of what social anxiety I have. I take time to warm up to people. Public speaking doesn’t scare me. Being in crowded places doesn’t scare me. (Though I’m not crazy about it.). I’m not overly worried about getting lost in unfamiliar places; how can I be with a GPS on my phone? But, there will be PEOPLE I DON’T KNOW. And, I want to be able to have good interactions with them, but I also know, from 34 years of data accumulation, that it is not part of my skill set. So I tell myself, ‘this time I will do better’, but it pretty much always ends up being exactly the same as the time before. I don’t seem to be able to make connections with new people until we’ve met several times, or unless I meet them in a group situation where I know someone already, since that gives me a social context to work from. Doesn’t stop me from trying to get better, but it’s a bit like trying to assemble a toy or piece of furniture with 1000 tiny pieces and no manual, or picture of what it’s supposed to look like. Keep taking it apart, putting it back together. I haven’t found the right order to make it functional yet, so I just have to keep disassembling it and trying again. I don’t know if that’s accurate for everyone, but that’s what social anxiety feels like to me: being given a box of parts, but no assembly instructions.
Your point that people in a new group don’t have expectations of you yet is something I REALLY need to remember. I never thought of it that way before, but you have a point!
I try to encourage my clients at work to use the positivity mirror, or other versions, quite often. Great ideas. I am totally an anxious person and have practiced making others perceive I am confident when I often am not. And it almost always works!
I was first introduced to ”Mirror Work” by Louise Hay. It’s a powerful exercise. I loved your thoughts on you’re a clean slate to strangers. Good point and something I will keep in mind.
I’ll have to check out “Mirror Work”! I’ve heard some really great things about Louise Hay. Thanks!