As some of you may know I suffer from anxiety and I’m very socially awkward, and that means that I can get very nervous and anxious around people and sometimes have panic attacks. I’m extremely shy, I’m an introvert and I don’t have the best confidence. I’m not good at reading social cues either, I overthink everything and have a tendency to overcompensate when I’m nervous and sometimes I get really loud and obnoxious just because I’m scared, and then afterwards I can’t get over my behavior or the stupid things I’ve said and end up beating myself up about it for days.
At my old job I was so giddy and hyper that people couldn’t stand to be around me for long, and it’s ironic because, in reality, I just wanted to be calm and chill and sort of hide away, but I was so worried about what people would think that I tried to hide it by being overly social without actually enjoying it or knowing how being social actually works.
I also have a personality disorder which complicates personal relationships even more. I was bullied mercilessly as a child, teenager, and young adult and it made its marks. I never learned to small talk or understand body language. I never had close friendships and my only experiences with people were the bullying. Now as an adult I have yet to develop the social skills I should have learned as I child, so I’m pretty much starting from scratch on this social anxiety journey and hope you’ll all come along with me so we can learn together and conquer this thing!
Last week I joined a three day Canon photography class. It’s every Tuesday for three weeks and THERE ARE PEOPLE THERE. The class itself is great. I had a bit of trouble concentrating when my mind wandered to my own awkwardness, but I got most of it so I’d call that part of the experience a success so far (two more sessions to go!). The social part though…that’s where it got tricky. I actually wrote down notes on everything that went through my head so I could talk it over with my therapist later and I had a lot of really mixed thoughts.
Some girls were chatting, laughing and whispering in a corner when the teacher was talking and it was just so rude that I got really annoyed. Yet, part of me was jealous of their social interaction, the bond between them and the little giggles. Very perplexing! When we introduced ourselves I made my introduction short and sweet because I didn’t want to stand out or look stupid. The others just chatted away about themselves leaving me to yet again feel like the odd one out. In this case the cold and unapproachable one.
We were asked to photograph the person next to us, but there was no person next to me. No one had sat there, and no one came down to ask if I wanted to join. They all had their backs turned. I had to remind myself that they didn’t know me and there was no way they could be judging me yet. They were simply in the moment with what they were doing and if I wanted to join in it was my job to make them aware of me. I didn’t. I just didn’t take the picture.
Lunch break came along and they all started comfortably chatting and laughing. At this point, I went on Instagram to share my pain with my friends there, but by being on my phone I yet again excluded myself and made myself unapproachable. So, I made a decision to fight this anxiety bastard head on and I got out of my chair and awkwardly went to the table with the other girls and said: “Oh, I heard you talking about Lightroom, have you seen the cool online classes on Skillshare?”. And by the time class started back up three girls had scribbled down Skillshare on their notes along with names of presets. I was still awkward, I won’t lie, and I might have stammered a bit and had really poor posture, but I did it! I got up and spoke to them!
Thanks to my wonderful friends on Instagram who have shared their social anxiety tips with me, I’m much better equipped to go to class next week if I succeed in actively using all the tips I’ve been given. In hopes that these tips can help you too if you’re dealing with social anxiety, I’ve compiled it all into one long list below. I’ll keep adding to it over time as more things come to mind.
Okay, so this will be a long one, but it’s full of gems from some really sweet people so I hope there’s help to find for you in here. Enjoy!
Tips on dealing with social anxiety, collected from my lovely friends on Instagram:
- Just say hi! It’s simple but very effective. You’ll instantly be the nice one that said hi and started talking. Just smile and be open and nice and start with a simple hi and let it go from there!
- Listen. This one is really important. People like listeners so show genuine interest and let people tell you their thoughts and feelings and just listen without worrying too much about your own story. Interject if you can relate so they know they can connect with you.
- If someone else is sitting alone, that might be the person to go and talk to. Most likely you’ve found a fellow shy person or introvert and it might be a less intimidating place to start than jumping into a big overwhelming group conversation.
- We have a tendency to think that people are super invested in what we say and do, but most likely their focus is on themselves. No one cares about that little thing you did. Just like we focus on ourselves so will others. So while you think you might have said something stupid, others are most likely so caught up in what they said themselves that they won’t give your little thing a second thought. We’re all focused on ourselves and what goes on for us, and it’s actually quite a relief to remember this when you’re feeling anxious.
- You can work on your anxiety in advance by mediating. I’ve been told to try this countless times but for some reason, the idea of being alone with my thoughts scares me so much. But, I will conquer this fear very soon and try it! I’ve been recommended three apps to help with it: Headspace, Sonescence Music and Calm. Personally when I need to really relax I listen to a mixed playlist with new age music by Terry Oldfield.
- If you can make people laugh then that’s a really good way to lighten the mood and relax. Just be natural and if you happen to be funny or silly embrace it and let the real you out. People like happy fun people.
- A good idea could be to bring a friend to the event for the first session then that’s a good idea. Take a class with a friend so you have someone to talk to and who you can engage in other conversations with. It might make you more comfortable. But eventually, try it on your own when you’ve practiced by having your friend there.
- If you leave a conversation thinking you’ve said and done something stupid, try to shake off that feeling. You can’t change the past and chances are that it was nowhere near as bad as you are imagining. It’s your anxiety blowing it out of proportion in your head and you’re making yourself feel worse by obsessing about it. At the photography class, I was telling a girl that I’d taken an online video class to learn Lightroom and that “it only took a day to learn the basics”. What I meant was to encourage her to try and not find it too daunting to learn a new program, but I was so afraid that I’d sounded braggy like I’m so smart that it only took me a day, which is NOT what I meant. I obsessed about it for hours before finally realizing that it was over and done with, I can’t change it, and that girl is doing something in her own life right now and not at all thinking about 9 words that a stranger had said earlier in the day. That gave me a bit of perspective and I’ve now let it go and it felt much better to just allow myself to move on from that little tiny possible mistake.
- Also, remind yourself that there are so much worse things that can happen in life than some slight awkwardness. Give yourself some perspective. In the big picture, this little thing about you being awkward and anxious doesn’t matter. And remind yourself that you know you’re a good person. Being anxious doesn’t make you a bad person in any way either. No one cares and it doesn’t really matter. Don’t waste your life, time and happiness worrying about whether or not you said something awkward. It doesn’t matter.
- You don’t need to be friends with everyone and everyone doesn’t have to like you. Sometimes someone will dislike you for no reason at all and that’s okay and there’s nothing you can do about it, nor should you care. Be a nice friendly person and know that at least you’ve done your part.
- Live a great life and you’ll have interesting things to talk about! Read, travel, create. Share yourself, your interestest, your knowledge and your experience. Talk about the places you’ve seen, draw people in. Believe that you actually have something to offer and let your personality out and let it shine.
- Be honest! Simply say that you’re a bit shy, that you don’t know anyone at the party so would you like to chat. This is a great way to accept yourself and people usually don’t judge shyness but see it as quite sweet. Sometimes honesty is the best policy.
- Bring an object or do an activity that can start a conversation like a book with an interesting cover people might want to ask you about, or a really pretty delicious lunch or anything really. Anything that can inspire a conversation where you don’t necessarily have to be the one to start it. You can also try to do something “openly” that invites people to come over. Don’t sit with your phone and hide away but play around with something that draws people in. I was at a New Year’s party with Daryl’s friends and there were a lot of girls there I didn’t know. At one point I went to the kitchen to make myself a drink and another girl comes up to me and asks me what kind of drink I’m making and we start chatting. I was awkward, I always am, but besides that, the conversation did flow quite naturally (ironically, as soon as it started my introverted self just wanted to escape. Whoops!). The point is, be busy but in an open way that draws people into what you’re doing.
- It’s okay to plan your conversations starters. Think ahead what topics might pop up, make a list even. Imagine the people who are going to be at whatever event and what questions will be fitting to start up conversations naturally. “So, why did you decide to join this class?”, “OMG haven’t seen you in forever! What have you been up to? Still living in Berlin?”, “Ooo I love your dress, where did you get it, if I may ask?”. Stuff like that. Just think of the people and the context and plan it a bit. Also, what questions might they ask you that you want to prepare for? I was asked by an old co-worker what I’m doing now. “I have anxiety and am on sick leave because I can’t talk to people” might not be the best reply if I wanted to ease into a conversation (the deep stuff can come later). Instead, it would be a good idea to say something like “Oh I’m trying a new path actually and have been working on some personal projects” or whatever. Just prep for the “scary” questions where you might get awkward and end up being mad at yourself for spilling something you weren’t planning on sharing.
- Try to pretend like you’re interviewing the people you’re talking to. Instead of having to talk a lot about yourself and end up overdoing it, try instead to ask questions about their life. Simple things like “so, what do you do?”, “what made you choose this path?”, “how long have you lived in New York?” etc. People respond really well to people showing genuine interest in them and their lives. Just let the conversation flow by the answers you get. An added bonus is all the new stuff you’ll learn and you might even make a new friend!
- Find common ground early on. If you can scope out what you have in common it will be a lot easier to make conversation. In my case I’m in a camera class and thereby I know we’re all interested in photography. This gave me the opportunity to mention Lightroom and ask who uses it, which helped to shrink the distance between me and the others a bit, which felt nice. And there are so many other things I should be able to talk to them about knowing we have this one thing in common. I also laughed with a girl about how hard it was to follow what the teacher was saying when he talked fast. A nice little moment.
- Confidence goes a long way. You might not be super confident but we’ve all heard the saying “Fake it till you make it” and there’s a lot of truth in it. Back straight, big welcoming smile and just carry yourself like you believe in yourself. My confidence is crap but I can boost it by at least wearing makeup and clothes I’m comfortable in. Or by reminding myself how insanely awesome I am for even getting out that day.
- If you like me talk a lot and really fast when you’re nervous in a conversation, try to remind yourself that there’s no rush. Take a deep breath and remember that you have time and people don’t expect you to say every sentence at once.
- There’s a book called Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook that is apparently very helpful. I’ve checked different reviews and it’s very popular. I’ll be getting this myself in the near future and will add a review when I’ve read it. You can buy it here.
- Another book recommendation is The Introvert Advantage about embracing who you are as an introvert. Haven’t read it yet but you can buy it here.
- Practice small talk with random people you come across, for instance at the supermarket, post office, or coffee shop. Just talk about little mundane things. Compliment the barista on the coffee she made you. Ask the older lady if she’s enjoying the nice weather. Keep in light and simple.
- If your anxiety is overwhelming and you might be shaking or have shaky hands or burst into hives, try yelling “Noooo” in your head. It supposedly disrupts something in your brain and the tremors will stop. I’ve heard that this has worked for several people so I’m definitely going to try this one next time it manifests physically.
- When you’re meeting new people for instance in a new job or class, it’s easy to think that you sound stupid or awkward because you’re nervous. Try and remind yourself that it’s new to them too and they’re probably just as nervous as you are. They might hide it better, they might not, but usually these situations are uncomfortable and awkward for most people.
- Remember to breathe. Take time between phrases and just focus on your breathing. Again, there’s no rush.
- If you’re very shy like me and don’t say a lot, people can actually quite often misunderstand and think you don’t like them or that you’re being sort of a bitch (sorry for my language). I usually sit there thinking that whatever will come out of my mouth will sound stupid and make people uncomfortable, but in reality what they see is someone that doesn’t like them and want to chat with them. I try and make a point out of smiling slightly when I’m sitting alone to avoid having resting bitch face and also try to make eye contact with someone and smile. It’s not easy by any means, but I’d rather do that than have people think I’m too good for them.
- That being said, what other people think of you really shouldn’t matter. If you make them uncomfortable when you’re awkward so be it. It’s not your problem. Doing your best for you and living a happy life is your problem! If talking and being social doesn’t make you happy, then don’t force yourself. Accept that that’s how you feel and just try not to care how you come across. Don’t be rude, never be rude, but don’t put yourself through something you don’t want because you worry about what people think. In the end, it’s only your opinion of yourself and your happiness that matters.
- Sometimes allow yourself to just not participate and instead just rest and be shy with your book, phone or your headphones. You don’t always have to be a social butterfly. Sometimes we pressure ourselves to be like the other chatty people and feel insecure because we’re not deep in conversation or laughing loudly ourselves, but maybe that’s just how we like it and there’s no reason to change that on this particular day.
- Give a compliment! It’s easy and it makes people happy. There are so many nice things we think about each other, but for some reason don’t share with the person we’re admiring. Go ahead and compliment someone, even if you feel a bit silly. Last year in London I saw a cashier girl with the most amazing cotton candy pink hair, and I immediately ran to her and told her how pretty she was. She blushed and had a big smile on her face, and I was really glad that I’d been honest and made someone happy.
- A conversation might fall flat and not flow. This is okay, it’s normal, natural and not your fault. Nothing to feel bad about at all. Sometimes you just won’t have anything in common or you’ll both be too shy to talk. I’ve had friends that I’ve had to leave behind because we just ended up growing apart to the point where we had nothing to talk about and would just sit there. And that’s okay. Regardless if it’s a new person or an old friendship, sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there or it’s not the right time or day to chat. So many things can factor in. But most importantly, it’s okay if a conversation doesn’t work. Just try again later if you want. No harm done.
- You can always talk about the weather. People love to talk about the weather. All people. Everywhere. Did I tell you guys that the sun was out today by the way? How’s the weather in your town? Are you still getting snow? See…it’s easy.
I want to say a big thanks to all who contributed to making this post by sharing their advice on how to deal with social awkwardness. I’m so happy to be part of such a lovely supportive community online! So while I might have trouble with social situations in “real life”, I am happy to have some amazing social interactions online and have been able to meet so many wonderful people from all over the world that I wouldn’t otherwise have come in contact with. And maybe one day I’ll have conquered enough anxiety to start meeting some of you when I travel or if you visit Copenhagen. It’s something I very much want to work towards accomplishing this year! Again, a big thank you and if you have more tips that you feel should be added to the post, please leave them in the comments so they can be added! Big hugs from a very grateful girl!