Social Anxiety is Normal – 5 Ways to Ease Your Nerves and Engage with Confidence

May 28, 2024 | Main Blog | 0 comments

Has your heart ever raced right before a meeting at work? Have you ever felt a sense of dread at being invited to a social event where you don’t know anyone? Or have you ever sat amongst a group of friends and felt like you were contributing the least value to the conversation?

As someone with social anxiety, I have experienced all of these feelings and so much more.

Often, I have felt like the one socially awkward person in the room, amongst a crowd of people more interesting and extroverted than me.

But as much as it can feel like a solitary emotion, I also know that social anxiety is an extremely common feeling many of us have experienced in various moments. It’s a sensation that’s rooted in our fear of judgment and rejection. Deep down, all of us want to feel a sense of belonging to the social group, and when this becomes uncertain, it can induce our fear of being an outcast.

While this feeling can never be cured, we can manage these symptoms. Here are five methods I’ve used to manage my social anxiety, and I hope they can help you too.

1. Surround yourself with people you feel psychologically safe with.

If you’re going to a social event that’s giving you anxiety, ask if you can bring someone along with you. This could be your partner, or an extroverted friend who won’t mind meeting new people. Walking into an unfamiliar social environment with a familiar face can be immensely helpful in easing your nerves and emboldening you to act more confidently.

Where possible, try to also eliminate any unnecessary social situations that continuously give you anxiety. If you don’t feel like you can be yourself, or if you feel like you are constantly at risk of being judged, then maybe this is not an environment you should spend time in.

Even if these are people you want to impress and fit in with, wouldn’t it be better if you spent time with people who resonate with you and make you feel comfortable? There is no shame in recognizing what’s bad for your mental health or self-esteem and replacing it with social interactions that instead bring you joy and confidence.

2. Pay attention and focus on the conversation.

When we hyper-fixate on our anxieties, our minds will often wander, and the resulting inattentiveness can cause our social anxiety to spiral.

Instead, try to be in the moment and involved in the conversation you’re a part of. Be naturally curious about what the other person is saying. Ask questions, get invested. This is an exercise in mindfulness, where we practice engaging in our present surroundings.

Not only will people appreciate the attention you give them, which will only strengthen your relationship with them, but focusing on the conversation can also help take your mind off your nerves and prevent them from consuming you.  

3. Brainstorm a few topics to talk about beforehand.

As someone who hates the awkward gaps in conversation, where talk has dried up and there’s no appropriate moment to leave the conversation, I’ve found it helpful to curb my anxiety by thinking up topics to discuss when pauses come up, ahead of time.

Start with the common interests you may share with the person or people you’re interacting with.

Travel is a topic that I’ve noticed almost always generates a lot of conversation, especially with people I’m meeting for the first time. Everyone has something to say about how they travel, where they have gone, or where they would like to go. Next time you’re stuck on what to say, try asking questions like: “Do you travel much? Do you have any travel plans coming up?”

Restaurants are another universal topic of interest – all of us eat after all, and we all have a list of favorite restaurants that is different from everyone else’s.

The latest news in pop culture also often gets the conversation going. Try asking the room if they’ve heard about the latest celebrity feuds, TV shows, or beauty trends – these are all things that can help spark discussion. 

4. Practice positive self-talk and calming exercises.

When faced with a daunting social situation, remember that it’s natural for your heart to start beating fast, and for your breaths to feel shallow.

Give yourself a moment to calm down before you proceed. Take slow, deep breaths this will slow your heart rate, and help induce a sense of calm.

Stand in front of a mirror and say words of affirmation to yourself. They can be as simple as:  “I am not my anxiety. I am not going to let my anxiety win today. I am enough. I deserve to be here.”

When you speak, try to remember to speak in a lower pitch. Our pitch tends to get higher when we are nervous. Speaking with a lowered pitch will help you seem calmer, more confident, and assertive.

While your anxiety will still be there, the goal of these exercises is to calm you down, so your anxiety interferes less with your social interactions.

5. Be your authentic self.

A conversation will often feel stilted and unnatural if it’s not authentic and true to you.

Try to talk about things you have a genuine interest in. Don’t be afraid to get a little vulnerable and show people your true self.

The truth is no one likes engaging in extended small talk. We all want to have social interactions that feel meaningful.

Share your interests and passions, even if they are quirky or obscure. Is there something you’ve been learning lately? Are you working towards a personal goal?

Even if your audience doesn’t have any knowledge of what you’re talking about, they will find the conversation interesting if they’re learning something new from it.

It may seem counterintuitive – our fear of being judged naturally causes us to withdraw, but it’s through being more vulnerable that we are able to build stronger relationships.

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