Everything we want involves people. So, we can’t let social anxiety get the best of us. But if you’re shy or a reluctant socializer, how do you put yourself out there without feeling awkward and anxious? With practice. You practice habits and model behaviors that will help you beat social anxiety. As with all habits, we have to build them before we need them. So, I’ve detailed some ideas to help you through this process.
Smile and look people in the eye
It’s not a staring contest, so looking people in the eye shouldn’t feel weird. Do it with warmth and genuine interest in the other person. If you do, it won’t feel weird. Looking at people will minimize your fears, because usually, it’s trying to avoid others that heighten our fear of them. We think we’ll be judged so we don’t look for fear of what we’ll see. But ironically, by looking people in the eye, they are less likely to judge you. You’ll come across as more confident than you feel, and more trustworthy too.
Practice by looking yourself in the morning for one minute every morning, and smile while you’re doing it. Look into your eyes and really see and accept yourself.
Listen twice as much as you speak
By trying so hard to find something to say, we put pressure on ourselves to carry a conversation and end up getting anxious when there’s a pause. But silence can leave ’em intrigued. It can make others feel heard, and it means less work for you, if you feel socially awkward. In her book, How to Listen so People Can Talk, Becky Harling shares some good listening advice and has a chapter on asking great questions.
Practice by taking an acting improv class.
Really SEE people so you can give genuine compliments
One of the nicest gifts we can give someone, is to really see them. While everyone else at the party is preoccupied with “What do you do for a living?”. You can skew your conversations towards things genuine people really care about — their interests, kids, pets, TV and pop culture. Try to find things you have in common. Look to learn.
Practice by striking up a conversation with everyone you interact with. One of the most enigmatic people I know, would ask with undeniable magnanimity, “How’s it going?” whenever he walked into a room (or elevator, or store).
Appreciate the little things
Pay attention to your surroundings and start appreciating the little things. The act of appreciation gets you out of your overthinking and being overly critical, to focus on just being here. If you’re in a moment of overwhelmed stress or negativity, take the time to sit and list the things around you that you’re greateful for. When you’re in an appreciative headspace, you are more likely to have something positive on your mind and be more aware of others.
Practice by having beautiful things around you, like flowers on your desk, beautiful scents and great music in the background.
Check-in with yourself every 2 hours
You’re human, with feelings and insecurities. Own them. By acknowledging your insecurities, you make them less frightening and easier to work on.
Practice by checking in with yourself often, to see how you’re feeling. This will help you more quickly identify when your mood switches and what you need to address it.
Read more than you watch TV
Not only will this habit make you a more interesting person with more things to talk about. It will also improve your vocabulary and communication skills.
Practice by committing to reading a book a month. Mainly read books you’re really interested in, there are too many books out there to force yourself to read any one book for whatever reason. But you also want to read some bestsellers – they’re bestsellers for a reason and give you more to potentially discuss with others. Don’t lie if you didn’t read the whole thing. Share what you liked and what turned you off. That itself can be the conversation starter. You give the other person the opportunity to share something you’ve missed.
Put only “must-dos” on your to-do list
Stressed people are uptight. Cut down your to-do list and you’ll be a more relaxed person to talk to. Not to mention, you’ll have more time to do the things above that will make you more interesting.
Exercise daily and do physical activities
Energy is felt. People who exercise have a more energetic and vital aura that others find appealing.
Learn good posture
How we stand and hold our bodies not only communicates how we feel, it affects how we feel. Learn good posture and you’ll breathe better, which will make you feel better.
Talk about feeling better and feeling good about yourself.
To beat social anxiety, don’t just read this article and put the ideas away. Create a plan to work on each habit until you have a few of them down cold. Beat social anxiety by not letting it keep you from engaging with the world. Be okay with maybe being a little embarrassed now, to be happier and more confident later.
Christine is a Life Strategist and Emotional Health Coach living in Los Angeles. She's big on meditation and believes in systems and routines, and in personalizing everything you do to help you get where you want to be.