For those of us who experience social anxiety, it can often be all too easy for our mind to go into a state of panic when talking to others, and most of the time it’s for no real reason- unfortunately our anxiety is causing our brain to send us the wrong messages.
Blushing, stuttering, sweating, the shakes, mind blocks…. These and many more are all symptoms that can prevent our conversations from delivering the kind of outcome we desire. It’s all so frustrating because we know there’s no need for these reactions. They’re totally involuntary.
In my personal experience however, I’ve found that there are ways of intercepting this false information and not allowing it to dictate how my social interactions pan out.
The key here is identifying and accepting this panic as it sets in, because we can’t do anything about it until we consciously realise what’s happening. All too often, we tell ourselves that social anxiety has caused us to have an awkward interaction …. But that’s only after it’s happened. In order to overcome it, we really need to realise what’s happening as it happens. If we can tell ourselves the truth- that this is happening and that our anxious response is the cause- then we can take the necessary steps to calming ourselves down.
Once we’ve identified the cause, we can then take the next step- which is to normalise our breathing. I realise this is easier said than done during the throes of awkward conversation, but as our panic is caused by our mind playing havoc with our breathing pattern, it’s crucial that we do. So instead of blurting out a rushed response (which we’d be much more likely to do if we hadn’t identified the panic), we could take a few seconds before replying to say what we’d say with an unafflicted mind… and most importantly we should use this brief pause to take a deep breath, in and out.
If the person we’re talking to is speaking for quite some time before we have to respond (eg. they’re describing something to us) then that’s even better- we can utilise that time to use a proper breathing technique such as my favourite which is breathing in for 4 seconds, holding it in for 4 seconds and breathing out for another 4. We can do this while listening to what the other person has to say and this should help relax us a bit before it’s our turn to speak.
When we do speak, it’s helpful to make sure that we do so slowly and clearly. This way we can deliver our speech in a way that’s far less prone to stuttering and changing in pitch of voice whilst maintaining the steady breathing pattern that is so important for keeping a calm head.
We should also remind ourselves that we’re almost certainly not coming across as badly as our mind is falsely telling us we are. Even if we’re blushing or shaking, there’s a good chance the other person hasn’t noticed and even if they have, they’re unlikely to care much or think badly of us for it. in fact, they’re much more likely to be thinking about themselves and how well they handled the interaction than about us and how we handled it.
The more we practice the art of conversation, the better we get at it and the less anxious we feel about it in general. If we can start conversations with people and carry them on, then we can certainly carry on conversations that people start with us. It’s a tough ask for many of us and I know it was initially very challenging for me personally, but after doing so myself I have no doubt that entering ourselves into as many conversations as possible makes us become much more comfortable in them over time.
After having coached myself to be able to keep calm in social situations, I now enjoy many of the conversations I have with people, whereas I rarely did in the past- I only worried and tortured myself about how they would go or how they went. It doesn’t have to be like this, and I believe that if we can see the problem we have for what it is, then we can be truthful about it and be kind to ourselves, and we can then do what we need to do to remedy it.
Guy Ostler is a freelance writer who has experienced social anxiety for most of his adult life. Having managed to find ways to lessen his anxiety and increase his confidence, he’s found a passion in passing this information on through his writing. His website is www.guythescribe.com.