So you know that moment, when you just start talking to someone, and your mind races and freezes at the same time? That blast of anxiety pumping through your veins. You try to say something, but come up with,... exactly nothing.
Part of this comes from an increased self-focus. Making it hard to focus on the conversation itself. You are taken up by jitters and feelings, dreading what might go wrong. But if you can limit this focusing on yourself, you'll be able relax more, and even enjoy some small talk with strangers.
A good conversation isn’t about just you. It concerns other people and the underlying dynamics. Focus less on yourself and more on the other makes conversation better. So here are a few steps to help you let go.
- Don't overestimate your symptoms
- Don't put up a front
- Lose the filter
- Stop overanalyzing
- Stop evaluating your performance
- Focus on the person in front of you
- Not every conversation has to go great
- Be invested in the now
- Use your breath
1. Don't overestimate your symptoms
Your anxious thoughts and symptoms are way less visible than you think. Sure people might notice you are a bit on edge. But most people don't get how anxious you are.
Even if people do notice, it is not that they will think you are a bad person all of a sudden. Most people will actually sympathize. Besides feeling anxious doesn’t mean you are doing badly.
2. Don't put up a front
Stay true to yourself, albeit a bit more social :). Don’t limit yourself because of fear of judgment. Neither try too hard to look cool. The more you try to impress people, the less impressed they will be.
If you build barriers to hide your anxiety, you'll also hide yourself and lose any chance to make a true connection. Instead, be yourself, stand for what you feel and think. But leave other people in their value.
3. Lose the filter
Don't censor yourself! Your anxiety can cause you to highly curate what you say. Which creates the feeling of a very artificial conversation. Especially in informal settings.
When you talk to people, show yourself. Don't worry about judgement, blurb out what’s on your mind. The most stupid, weird and mundane stuff is most often the things you bond over.
It makes for great conversation to speak your mind.
4. Stop overanalyzing
Not everything is about you. Even if it feels that way.
Somehow your mind will frantically analyze every reaction, and relate it to why you suck. Trying to confirm your anxious feeling, without any real evidence. But that's just a stupid quirk of the mind. The small silence wasn’t about you, neither was the glancing away.
You can't really consciously stop this, but you can recognize when you start overanalyzing. And choose to focus on the moment or the other person. This way you'll focus less on connecting irrelevant matters to yourself.
You are not on everybody's mind. Don't worry, people are already preoccupied, mostly by thinking about themselves.
5. Stop evaluating your performance
Also try to stop checking if everything you do is alright. Only you are constantly checking in if you are doing well. There is no one right manner of socializing. And your constant evaluating will prevent you from engaging.
There are lessons to be learned from encounters, but wait to evaluate until later. Now be in the moment.
6. Focus on the person in front of you
When talking pay attention to who your talking to. What is she saying? What is her expression? What does that tell you? Can you ask something considerate in response? Concentrate on the conversation you are involved in.
Besides, other people might not feel that comfortable either. If you focus on making them comfortable, you make yourself more comfortable. Simply by showing interest, asking questions and just not being a dick.
As you do, you will automatically adapt your tonality and body language. You'll fall into instinctive social patterns. Mirroring their behavior and get in the flow.
Just know, attention to other people is the key to a great conversation.
7. Not every conversation needs to go great
You don't need to shine in every talk you have. There are good ones and bad ones. You learn as you go. Don’t expect them all to go well. You’ll make progress as you go.
Even if you're a charismatic miracle, over half of conversation you have on a day are just 'meh'. Not every interaction will be good. And that is okay. Instead learn to be better at them, and just move on from the medium ones
8. Be invested in the now
Don’t focus on the few things that might’ve gone wrong. Hey, so what there was an awkward silence a few minutes ago, no problem. You are over it. Focus on the now. It is okay if there are silences – they are not an evil vacuum needed to be filled. Besides, it is not just your responsibility to keep a conversation going.
9. Using your breath
If you do still feel anxious. There are 2 techniques you can use to mitigate your nerves. In the long run, you want to check out some Meditation. For a good rundown check this guide. It will help you relax and decouple your thoughts and reactions.
For the short term wins: relaxing breathing techniques. If you feel stressed out, breath in for 4 seconds, hold….., and out for 4. Focus on your breath entering your body, surging through your trachea. Holding it there for a second, letting it out, pushing it back into the world. Do this 10-20 times. You will much more at ease.
[This is part of a blog series on social anxiety. Where we delve into what causes your anxiety, what prevents you from solving it, challenging negative thoughts, embracing positive mindsets, letting go of self-focus and how to overcome your anxiety by exposing yourself step by step.]