Back in high school and college, I was a theatre nerd. (Okay, I kind of still am.) I loved the camaraderie backstage, the rehearsals, painting sets, singing show tunes, directing scenes. And I was addicted to performing.
But during the school day, I was the quiet, introverted kid. People were shocked to hear I was in the cast of school plays because most of them didn’t even hear me talk on a normal basis. But being on stage meant I could pretend to be someone else, which gave me all the confidence I needed. It was the stress I felt about everyday things, like being called on in class, having to search for a lab partner, or being sent to give a speech at the front of the class, that kept me quiet normally.
What I’ve come to realize is that I struggle with social anxiety – a fear of making mistakes or being humiliated in front of others, to the point of shaking or having panic attacks, or avoiding social activities all together. While there are those that suffer with it to a much more serious degree, I’ve felt it keenly as I’ve grown up, even as an adult.
I’m learning a lot about it, and how I can better prepare myself for situations where I feel anxious. There are certain strategies that help me feel more confident, and less focused on what could go wrong. To help put it in context, I’m sharing some of the things that make me most nervous! Here are 6 things that people with social anxiety hate, and how to deal with them:
1. Crowds. With people around at all sides, squeezing by, stopping short, calling to each other – it can feel totally claustrophobic. I felt this way at the mall right before Christmas, to the point of almost having a panic attack.
How to deal: Find a calm place to sit and escape for a bit. If you’re with someone, explain that you’re feeling overwhelmed, and ask for help finding a quiet place.
2. Starting the conversation. Especially if it’s someone new, but even with old friends. It can feel like a tremendous amount of pressure just to say hi. How will this person react? What if I say something stupid?
How to deal: Bring someone with you. If you see that someone else has already met or knows them, ask them to introduce you. To get the conversation going, comment on something they are wearing or something neutral, like the weather.
3. Small talk. Even if it’s not going into detail, talking about myself can be terrifying because I feel like I’ll say something embarrassing, or reveal something that makes people dislike me.
How to deal: Ask lots of questions. Usually for me, something will click once we get to a topic I feel confident about, and it’s more easy to talk.
4. Phone calls. Maybe it’s the small talk, but calling people is something I avoid like the plague. Once I get into it, I’m fine; but it just makes me anxious, even if it’s someone I know well.
How to deal: Set up a specific time to talk, so you are prepared. Think of questions you want to ask the other person, and things you want to catch them up on in your own life.
5. Eye contact. If I don’t look you in the eye, it’s not because I’m lying or because I don’t care. It’s because eye contact just freaks me out.
How to deal: Practice! It’s easier for me to look into the person’s eyes when I’m listening to them; that might work better for you.
6. All eyes on you. We all have those moments – when someone calls attention to you in front of a group (even in a positive way), when someone’s planned a surprise party for you, when someone asks a question and many pairs of eyes watch waiting for a response. It’s totally normal, but can make me feel like a deer in headlights.
How to deal: Focus on one person at a time. Again, ask a question to turn the attention off of you, or change the topic.
7. Unexpected company. When people show up earlier than I expect, or there’s more or less people at a function than I expect, I want to hide. It’s easier for me when I know what’s coming.
How to deal: Ask lots of questions! Ask the host what or whom to expect if it’s not your event. Confirm with your company if they’re still coming and when. If it’s people who come over regularly, let them know to send you a text if they’re on their way.
With any situation, it always, always helps me to pray before I go into them. Putting my fears before God, and entrusting the worries I have to him helps me feel more ready to go into social situations.
If you deal with social anxiety, what are some things that stress you out, and how do you deal with them? If not, how can you help someone who has social anxiety?