Sometimes social situations can be scary. When people are placed in situations where they are uncomfortable, such as a large conference or room of people full of complete strangers – whether a social function or business – it can cause a bit of social stress and anxiety. Now, I’m not a professional psychologist by any means, but I have been in hundreds of social situations, large and small, for fun and business, and I’ve learned ways to break the ice and feel better about entering these kinds of situations. I am no longer fearful of them, but instead, often look forward to them! By sharing these 5 ways to deal with the scary feelings that can come from social stress anxiety, I hope you can learn to love being placed in social situations – even if only once in a while!
1. The best way to feel comfortable around a group of strangers is by getting to know them. Ask them lots of questions! Everyone likes to talk about themselves, so give them the opportunity to do just that, get to know them at the same time, and ease your nerves – all simultaneously! If you know your audience in advance, do a little research ahead of time so you can ask them more targeted and relevant questions. Here are a few questions that can help get your started:
- What do you do for a living?
- What do you love most about what you do for a living?
- How long have you worked there?
- What is your biggest challenge in your line of work?
- What is it like working there?
- Where do you work?
- How long have you been in that line of business?
- How did you learn to do such and such?
- Do you have any mentors? How did you find meet them?
- Do you work every day? What are your workdays like?
- How many people do you work with?
- How do you handle your work/life balance?
2. Give out genuine compliments. Everyone loves a compliment, so find ways to compliment people – but only genuine compliments! People can spot a snake from a mile away – be honest and genuine in your compliment, and they’ll appreciate it and be more likely to remember you. You can easily do this by looking at those people nearest you, searching for ways to compliment them. Better yet, you can compliment them AND ask a question all at the same time (double bonus!). To get your started, because I’m good like that, here are some examples:
- Wow, that suit is amazing!
- Where do you get your hair done? It looks incredible!
- You’re a really great speaker/presenter!
- Wow, this is a great business card!
- Your kids are so well-mannered!
- Your ideas are brilliant, how do you think so quick on your feet like that?
- This event / party / dinner is so organized, your event planning skills are flawless!
3. Do the uncomfortable more often. I know, this sounds counter intuitive, doesn’t it? The idea here is that, the more you put yourself into these uncomfortable situations, the better you’ll become at dealing with them. I know this works because I’ve done it myself! When I was a kid in elementary school, I was so completely afraid of public speaking that I’d shake (literally) from nerves just at the thought of my teacher calling on me in the classroom in front of all the other kids in class. It didn’t matter if I knew the answer or not – I didn’t want to have to SAY it in front of all those other kids! It was absolutely terrifying to me! Fast forward to my early college days, when I was a completely broke college student who joined the Army National Guard to help me pay for my schooling. During basic training, I was given the reigns of “platoon guide”. What this meant was that not only did I have to stand in front of the entire platoon each day (about 40 people) and report – IN FRONT OF ALL OF THEM – on the status to my drill sergeant, I also had to march the entire platoon places, and – get this, SING CADENCES while running in step with them. I had to stand to their left side, while they were all able to stand in columns and rows nicely and neatly. I stood out – something I did NOT ever like to do! I preferred to blend in and never to be really “noticed”, because I had some social stress and anxiety going on! But you know what? I did it! And after my 8 weeks of Army basic training, I was a flippin’ rock star! Ok, maybe that’s taking it too far – but I sure FELT like a rock star. My confidence was through the roof because I was forced to face my fear every. single. day. And to do that for 8 weeks straight? It completely worked! I now speak in front of crowds of hundreds and am FINE with it! Pretty cool, right? If I can do it, you can do it, too – heck, probably even better than me!
4. Use the power of positive thinking to counteract those negative and scary feelings! Before you head into a socially stressful situation, use positive self-talk to get your head in a better place. Let’s face it, most of the reasons we have social stress and anxiety stem from our fears of what others will think of us. We worry about how our looks will be perceived by others, how we speak in front of others, and ultimately – whether we’ll be accepted or rejected by others. But if you think long and hard about all the social situations you’ve ever been in, I bet you’ll realize that those who walk around with the most confidence are the ones that are admired most – regardless of what they are wearing or how they look! Don’t get me wrong, study after study indicates that “first impressions” are a BIG deal (especially in business situations), so your business convention might not be the right tine to try out those new leopard leggings you bought, but if you wanted to try them out in a fun social settting – go for it! Just be sure you walk around with loads of confidence – even if you have to FAKE it! You can do this, too, and it really does work – I’m living proof! I have done this (minus the leopard leggings), where I psyched myself up in a positive thinking way ahead of time, and really talked myself into an “even if they DON’T like me – who cares? It isn’t the end of the world” mindset. Then, I applied many of the principles I’m telling you about here, and it worked out just fine. Really! I am actually still completely alive and well – I have survived every single social situation I’ve ever been in! Yep, it’s true. Amazing, right?!
5. Relieving stress ahead of time can really help, too! For me, one of the biggest relievers of stress is to lift heavy weights. Really! If I can go to the gym and get even a solid 30 minute workout in (not just a walk on the treadmill kind of workout – for me, it has to be solid weights!), my entire body relaxes afterwards! For you, maybe the key is yoga, or a run. Whatever you do, make sure that your stress release is a healthy one – don’t chug a bottle of rum beforehand, that’s all I’m saying. Eat healthy, get plenty of rest, and do something that allows your entire body to relax! You’ll be setting yourself up to be in the best mindset possible, and you’ll walk into your upcoming social situation surprising even yourself with how well you will handle it!
What are some of the scariest social situations you have ever had to face? I’d love to hear about them, and to know if they happen more as an adult, or more as a child!