The one piece of advice you’ll need to reduce your social anxiety and feel more relaxed meeting new people
“One of my main regrets in life is giving considerable thought to inconsiderate people”
As a child and well into my teens I was always a very confident and out going person.
I can’t remember a single time when I ever worried about how I came across to others or what those people thought of me.
A couple of years ago at a family get together when talking to a couple of my female cousins they even described me as being boisterous!
They said I was always loud, full of energy and causing trouble, they even felt a little nervous around me as they were both very timid when they were younger.
I was quite taken aback by this, I had never thought of myself in that way and I guess that has a lot to do with the years of anxiety changing who I was and the way I perceived myself.
I had gone from that often over-confident adolescent to someone who became very nervous and anxious whenever I was in large crowds or meeting new people.
If the focus fell on me during a group conversation, especially if I didn’t know everyone or thought I had to come across well to those people, my heart would start to pound, my cheeks would redden and I would begin to shake and perspire. Often stumbling over my words until I made an excuse to leave.
I felt like an embarrassment and eventually I started avoiding many of these situations altogether.
How had I become this person who couldn’t bear to be around others?
Why did I care so much what people thought of me?
Thankfully I stumbled upon a unique technique which enabled me to rediscover my social confidence again.
I began to use it over and over again until being relaxed around others became the norm. Now I don’t even think about it when I’m out and about with people, I feel calm and relaxed, just as I always used to.
In this article I will explain exactly what I did to greatly reduce and in most situations completely remove my social anxiety.
This will help you if:
- You find yourself avoiding social situations, get-together and events
- You find yourself shaking and sweating when a friend introduces you to someone new
- You avoid making conversation with people you meet during your day
- You constantly avoid eye contact and always look away when you notice someone is looking at you
- Your heart starts to race just at the thought of going on a date or approaching someone you like
So what is this technique?
Well, it’s something I would wager you would never have thought of before, most likely because almost all advice puts the focus on you.
There are many books and websites dedicated to helping those with social anxiety, but not once have I seen this advice mentioned in any.
Before I explain the technique we first need to take a look at what causes social anxiety and examine the current general advice out there.
What causes social anxiety?
People become socially anxious because they are worried about what people think of them – that is all it comes down to.
Some people are more specific, they worry they will say something stupid, freeze and have nothing to say or that the person or people they are talking to will notice their signs of anxiety (red face, sweating, trembling etc).
It doesn’t matter what your specific thought is, it all comes back to what you feel a person will think about you.
It’s easy to say, ‘who cares what people think about me’, but it’s a damn lot harder to actually believe that you don’t care.
This has led to all sorts of advice being given on how to feel calm and relaxed at your next social gathering, let’s look at what this usually contains.
Typical social anxiety advice
Here is some typical advice you are likely to hear:
- Concentrate on your breathing – good breathing helps, but by focusing on this whilst you are talking means you are less likely to feel present in the moment. This is never a good sensation to feel when around new people.
- Prepare in advance by thinking about the situation and relaxing whilst doing it – this can help you feel more relaxed before the event, but it can also put more stress on you by thinking about it more. What if there is not time to prepare? Not all social interactions can be planned out in advance – some of the best interactions you have, happen through spontaneity.
- Ask lots of questions to take the focus off you – terrible, terrible advice. Have you ever seen a real life interaction where one person is just asking lots of questions? It just looks false and awkward. The person you’re speaking to will just feel like they are getting the Spanish inquisition and the conversation is unlikely to ever feel natural. A conversation is made up by 80%-90% of statements, otherwise it just feels like an interview. By all means show interest in them, but if you have nothing actually meaningful to say the conversation won’t go far.
- Focus on your surroundings – this is better because it does try and help you take the focus off yourself, but if you’re not careful the person you’re talking to is going to wonder why the ceiling is more interesting than them.
- Be yourself and don’t worry about showing a less than perfect image – probably about the best advice of the lot. When you don’t care what people think about you, you are less likely to feel anxious. This however, does take time to establish and may not work as instantly as you would like.
Most of the advice above isn’t exactly bad, but for most people it doesn’t help much either. Most of it centres on either you or the situation you are in. This isn’t great because:
a) By focusing all the attention on yourself you are only going to exacerbate and notice your thoughts of fear more quickly.
b) No two situations are the same and sometimes you are thrust into a conversation with someone new before you have even had time to establish your surroundings and what is about to happen.
I’m not saying don’t try these if you feel they can help, but surely there’s a better way?
What’s my advice and why does it work?
The advice I’m going to share with you works because:
- It works with everyone, no matter what sex, age or position of seniority etc
- It can be done in seconds so you can still use it when a social interaction happens out of the blue
- It’s easy to remember and carry out
- It helps improve your body language and facial expressions which is hugely important for a person’s first impressions of you
- It counteracts your main fear – ‘what will this person think of me, are they going to judge me?‘
Here is the best piece of advice you’ll need to reduce your social anxiety and help you feel more relaxed around new people:
Every time you meet someone tell yourself this person is going to be the best person you’ve ever met!
That’s it. When you truly believe that the person you are about to meet is someone great, someone you want to talk to, someone who isn’t going to judge you immediately, the way you feel and the way you feel about them completely changes.
Even if you’ve been told in advance by someone that this is not a nice person, don’t just take their word for it. Still use this rule and give them the benefit of the doubt, just as you would like them to do if they had previously heard negatively of you.
You must tell yourself:
- This person is going to be fun and exciting
- This person is going to be warm and friendly
- This person is going to be interesting and knowledgable
- This person is going to be some who I’d be happy to have in my life
- Most importantly that this person is going to be kind and understanding – if you actually told them how nervous you were they would show understanding and a kindness towards you and never think less of you because of it.
If you can do this every time you meet a new person or group of people you will instantly feel calmer. It takes your focus off you and puts it solely on them, but in a good way.
It will make you want to interact with them positively and you’ll not be worrying about what they think of you – “they’re too good a person to be that shallow and judge you within a five minute conversation”.
Rather than feeling cold and closed off you will feel warm and open. People will notice the smile on your face, the warmth in your eyes and your open and accessible body language.
Your body language and facial expressions tell someone more about they way you feel towards them than any words could. By showing them you are enjoying the interaction and are invested in the conversation they will feel more relaxed too.
Remember, you might not be the only one who suffers from social anxiety here.
Now I know a lot of you might be thinking it can’t be that easy, and to an extent you’re right. Like anything worth doing it takes a little time, practice and effort on your behalf.
Knowledge is only the first step, putting it into action is what makes it work.
Rather than jump in the deep end, start off slowly. The next time you are meeting someone you know and feel pretty relaxed around try it with them. Just before you meet up and during the conversation, remind yourself of all their positive attributes, why you like them and how good a person they are.
You’ll be surprised that even with a friend just how much more you’ll then enjoy the interaction with them.
You can then start to do this with people you have fleeting interaction with, perhaps when getting a coffee or filling up the car. Go up to the cashier with that feeling of how great this person is and even for just those few moments of conversation you will feel better.
The next step is to use it more and more as you go out and get into longer and deeper conversations with people.
On the whole, most people really are genuinely decent and nice. They do not want to be judged or thought of in a negative way just as you don’t. So what you’re actually doing by already imagining them in this way is not really that far from the truth.
Yes, you are taking it that step further and telling yourself this person is not just decent, but damn right amazing. This just helps cement that thought in your mind and makes the way you interact with them come across much more positively.
What happens if the person clearly isn’t the best person you’ve ever met?
It’s unlikely that you are going to meet anyone who does or says anything in the first few exchanges to show that they’re really not a nice person. That they are someone who will judge you, think bad of you and even speak badly of you to others after just meeting you this once.
If you do however meet someone who quickly comes across like this, someone who you can tell is either:
a) genuinely not a nice person – arrogant, brash, rude etc
b) makes judgements very quickly – you can often tell they are doing this just by the way they are looking at you
You can completely disregard this person as someone whose opinions you have any respect for. You must not care what they think about you because it’s clear that they’re not the type of person whose thoughts and judgements are worth the paper they’d write them on.
You’ll often find that these are the type of people who are just as worried as you about what people think of them. Their way of dealing with this is often to become overly aggressive or to make their judgements very quickly – almost as a ‘get in there first’ type way.
You therefore must be careful not to jump too quickly to a conclusion as well. But again that’s the beauty of this rule, by going into a conversation believing how great this person will be, you are giving them every opportunity to show this.
If it’s clear they’re not, then at some point you have to draw a line and for your own feelings of self-esteem discount them as someone of value to you and the way you feel.
It sounds harsh, but if you end up caring what every single person thinks of you then you are always going to feel anxious around people.
By giving someone the chance to show what a good person they are it makes it so much easier not to care what they think when you find out that they’re not that great after all.
Putting it in to action
Now you have the knowledge, there is only one thing left to do.
Get out there and use it.
The longer you delay in doing it, the more likely it will be that you forget to use it.
Don’t allow social anxiety and your nervousness when meeting new people to limit what you do.
We humans are social creatures and you’ll be amazed how uplifting and enjoyable events and nights out with people can be. The more you do it the more it will help your self-esteem and general overall anxiety.
By shutting yourself away you will only compound your anxieties and feelings of panic further.
Make the right choice, take the harder route now and revel in the satisfaction you’ll get from being able to do it without fear forever more.
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