Those who suffer from social anxiety know how uncomfortable social interactions can be. You may have a fear of saying or doing the wrong things, believing that, at any moment, you could be exposed as dull or awkward.
As a result, you may resort to saying little during social interactions. If you worry about being perceived negatively in social settings, take comfort in the fact that there are a few techniques you can use to mitigate your anxiety.
Divert Your Attention Away from Yourself
Focus on observing aspects of conversational topics. This technique may seem counterintuitive, because, often, people with social anxiety are hyper-vigilant to the mannerisms of others, suspicious of any sign of rejection expressed via another person’s gestures, tone of voice, or conversation.
This type of persistent hyper-focus can be draining. Instead, allow yourself to hone in on the meaning behind others’ conversation. Talk is topic-focused. Others are no doubt paying attention to the topic of discussion rather than on the surface characteristics of others present.
If you can relate to the issue discussed, you can allow yourself to refocus your attention on what may be an interesting or edifying conversation. If you find yourself at a loss for ideas to contribute, admit to your unfamiliarity with the topic at hand. Say, “I don’t know much about that, but I would love to hear your thoughts.”
Resist the compulsion to rehearse ideas in your head before starting a conversation. Get comfortable with the thought that you don’t have to be exceptional, witty, or insightful all the time. This technique involves accepting yourself for who you are, thereby becoming tolerant of the fact that there are some subjects about which you may have nothing to say.
Minimize Your “Safe” Behaviors
Many people with social anxiety tend to occupy themselves superficially in social settings, giving the pretense of being busy with something else. You may play with your phone, fiddle with your clothes, or pretend to cough. These behaviors can prevent you from fully participating in social interactions. Remember that practice makes perfect, and your ability to learn and grow will stem from your ability to be fully present in social situations.
Sometimes, you may wish to minimize your social discomfort by talking too much. If your method of interaction involves dominating the conversation or jumping too fast from one topic to another, you could be putting others off without realizing it.
Social anxiety is characterized by the fear of becoming exposed. If you worry that silence will expose you as awkward or dull, that means that you are not fully at ease with who you are. Getting comfortable with yourself involves getting comfortable with the natural silence that occurs in conversation. Remember that others are just as responsible as you are for keeping a discussion running smoothly.
Affirm Your Right to Be Heard
If you are interrupted, don’t give up on the conversation. Simply re-state what you were going to say again once the other person has finished, louder and with more authority.
Make enjoyment the object of a social situation. Usually, people with social anxiety aim to avoid appearing foolish. If you treat the purpose of the conversation in this way, you will no doubt find yourself taking the lion’s share of responsibility for whether the interaction goes well. If you can reframe the goal of social situations to the pursuit of enjoyment, you can relax and worry less about the impression you’re making on other people.
If you’re prone to experiencing discomfort in social situations, you can use a variety of techniques to unwind and enjoy yourself. Once you relax, you may find that your creativity flows, and conversational topics come easily to you. Creativity feeds upon itself, and, with practice, you can reduce the anxiety you feel during social interactions.