- Social Anxiety: How To Be Around Other People when You’re Terrified of Talking to Them
- Have a Chat With Yourself
- Develop an Ice Breaker
- Be a Good Conversation Partner
- Leave On a Good Note
- Talk To a Professional
- Talking With Strangers And Getting Over Social Phobia
- Ways to Overcome Social Phobia
- Begin To Practice Mindfulness Meditation
- Talk Where You Feel The Most Comfortable
- Moving Forward
- Mental Health
- What is It?
- Who Does It Affect?
- What can I do about it?
- Where do I go from here?
- © 2013 | Back to top | PDF | More info sheets
Social Anxiety: How To Be Around Other People when You’re Terrified of Talking to Them
You try to approach someone in a social setting. Your hands shake, and you feel sweaty. Your brain feels it won’t work.
It’s the same kind of adrenalized fear you get when a strange noise wakes you up in the middle of the night and you think there might be a stranger in the house.
Social anxiety is no joke; it takes a normally innocuous, everyday action and turns it into the stuff of nightmares.
Social anxiety is rooted in a couple of places. It’s in the fight-or-flight aspect of our fear. It screams at us to run away because something awful is sure to happen. The good news is, the chances of something truly awful happening aren’t that great. No one will die. No one is going to jail.
The consequences of awkward conversation are practically non-existent. But when your brain is engaged in that deep emotional response, it’s hard to make it listen to reason. Any professional will tell you the best way to get over a fear is to face it.
So what do you do when it is terrifying to talk to other people?
Have a Chat With Yourself
As impossible as it sounds, the best thing you can do is try to bring logical thought to the process. Engaging your logical, thinking brain shuts down the emotional side of your brain. When you feel that familiar panic rising, talk to yourself about what’s going on.
Identify the feeling, and identify why you are afraid.
What are you afraid will happen? Are those fears logical? Are you engaging in catastrophic thinking? When you go down the chain of what-could-go-wrong, does it end in ridiculous places homeless, jobless, dead? Identify all of the nonsensical and impractical leaps in logic you make in those thought chains. Tell yourself this thinking pattern is unhelpful and substitute those leaps in logic with things that are more ly to happen. The more factual and logical you are in this process, the more you engage the logical side of your brain and quiet the emotional side.
Develop an Ice Breaker
You’ve quieted your fears, walked up to someone, and now it’s time to talk. What do you do?
Develop an ice breaker, of course! It doesn’t have to be fancy, or intricate. It can be as simple as a compliment, or an open-ended question. You can learn simple magic tricks, or teach yourself the art of humor and open with a joke.
You can use your surroundings to take the focus of conversation off you; for example, you can take your dog to the park and use him as an ice breaker, or meet people with similar interests at meetups, conventions, and other events.
Your shared interests make the perfect ice breaker.
Be a Good Conversation Partner
The difference between a good and bad conversation is the level of interaction. It’s how well the people connect and how much back and forth there is. The key to being a good conversationalist is listening. Don’t listen for your chance to talk, listen for content. That way, when you do respond, you’ll be able to respond with meaningful questions or comments.
Conversation can be a dance, and luckily, you don’t always have to lead. This is great for people with social anxiety, because it means you don’t have to be the focus of conversation. You can sit back, let the other person do the heavy lifting, and just listen. It takes the pressure off you, and it makes the other person feel good. After all, we all enjoy the idea that we’re interesting.
Leave On a Good Note
Whether the conversation is good or bad, it has to end sometime, right? Anyone with social anxiety knows that even when the good conversations happen you can still get that itch to walk away and take a moment to yourself, if for no other reason than to retreat to a safe spot and take the pressure off before diving in again. This is doubly true if the conversation is bad. Bail in a polite way. Excuse yourself to the bathroom or to get a drink. Let them know it was fun talking. Leave them feeling good, and the next approach will be easier.
Talk To a Professional
You’ve tried and it just doesn’t work. You can’t swallow or talk down the flight response. In situations that, it’s okay to get a little help. Talk to a professional.
Your social anxiety might be rooted in other, treatable problems, generalized anxiety or depression. And even if it isn’t, a therapist can help you identify the issue, learn coping mechanisms, and form a plan of action.
Treatments cognitive behavioral therapy can help you learn where your anxiety comes from, and how to combat it.
Over 40 million Americans experience issues with mental health, and nearly half of Americans experience mental health issues at some point in their lives. Therapy is a natural step towards solving those problems; it can help people with anxiety grow past their fears and engage in a full, happy social life.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
Contact a Resource Specialist
Author Bio: Lynne Rush has evolved from the shy kid to a shy adult. She writes on everything from video games to mental illness. She can be easily bribed with books.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
Talking With Strangers And Getting Over Social Phobia
By: Stephanie Kirby
Updated October 14, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Cessel Boyd
Your mind is racing. Your palms are sweaty. You're in the middle of a room, at a work-related party you did not want to attend. And, you don't know how to start a conversation when you're faced with having to talk with someone. Talking with strangers is not your forte. This is because you have a social phobia.
This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.
Social phobia, also known as social anxiety, is the third most common mental disorder in the United States. There are more individuals who are not diagnosed but still suffer from fear and anxiety in social situations, so the numbers are most ly even higher.
Dealing with social phobias and social anxiety can result in physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms that can hinder your ability to go through daily life and make it more difficult to have relationships.
While there are some things that you can do yourself to help minimize the impact of social anxiety in your life, working with a professional counselor can help give you the tools needed to cope with and overcome it.
Individuals working with professional counselors who use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy alone have a high success rate of improving or recovering from their social anxiety.
This is when you may feel overwhelmed by thoughts that someone doesn't you or will think what you say is stupid, unintelligent, or unpleasant.
It seems impossible to get rid of these thoughts, so, eventually, you'll start making excuses to friends and family to get going to events that you have planned with them.
Before you know it, you are only doing the things you absolutely have to do, and you're avoiding everything else that involves social interaction with others.
Ways to Overcome Social Phobia
Social anxiety can hinder your ability to fully enjoy your life. This makes it hard to have a job. It makes it hard to have relationships. And, it can make it hard to experience the things you used to enjoy. While it may seem an impossible task, there are things that you can do that can help you start the journey toward overcoming your anxiety.
Challenge Irrational Thoughts
If you're not speaking up in a business meeting, refraining from attending a party, or not asking for help in a department store because you don't want to speak, then you are exhibiting a social phobia in some way. The first step is to challenge the irrational thoughts that are hindering you from talking with strangers.
Talk to your colleagues, co-workers, friends, and family. Try to eliminate your safety nets one by one. Get rid of your training wheels a little at a time. Stop rehearsing what you will say in your head. Just say it. Don't drown your phobia in alcohol or drugs, as these forms of «courage» will only make matters worse.
Rate Your Anxieties About Talking With Strangers
Write down what makes you anxious about talking with someone you don't know. Then, rate each of those anxieties on a 0-10 scale. Level 0 would be feeling no anxiety, and level 10 would be a full-fledged panic attack or another intense side effect.
Once you rate them, work your way up the scale and address each one. You'll start with the things that only bring you small amounts of anxiety. Once you push yourself to do that activity a few times, you will see that it doesn't put you in danger, and you will start to become more comfortable with that activity.
You can then move your way up to the next item. As you slowly become more comfortable with each action, you will work your way up the ladder. Eventually, you'll be able to take on and conquer the things on your list that used to cause you the most amount of fear.
Begin To Practice Mindfulness Meditation
If you have social anxiety, mindfulness meditation can help you in multiple ways. The first is that you will learn deep breathing exercises that can help you to calm yourself when you're faced with a situation that makes you feel anxious.
Learning how to breathe deeply helps you to slow your heart rate and calm a nervous mind.
When you become comfortable with the breathing exercises, they are something you can easily put into practice wherever you are and whenever you feel the anxiety coming on.
You will also learn the practice of being mindful. Mindfulness is when you purposely focus your thoughts on something that is either neutral or pleasant. So instead of constantly thinking about the upcoming situation that makes you nervous, you choose to think about the way it felt when you were on the beach during your last vacation.
You'll remember what the waves sounded as they lapped around your ankles, what the saltwater smelled , and how the warm sun felt on your skin. Then you will picture something the sun setting over the horizon, and with this relaxing image, you will start to settle down.
This works because instead of trying to get you not to worry about something, it gets you to purposefully focus your mind on something that's healthier for you to think about.
Talk Where You Feel The Most Comfortable
While it's important to help get over your fears of talking with someone you don't know, you can start by communicating where and with whom you feel most comfortable. Email a work request.
If you don't receive an answer, then follow up in person or via phone. The more you do something, the more comfortable you will be.
Talking more within your comfort zone will help ease you into getting over your phobia by making you feel you are doing it on your terms.
Track Your Successes
Tracking the success that you're having is a good way to build confidence and encourage you to keep trying new things. Every time you're able to do something in a social situation that you had wanted to avoid, add it to your list of successes. You can even journal about the activity. When you are struggling in the future, you can look back on these for strength.
Keeping a journal can help you sort through your thoughts, help you identify patterns, track your successes, and allow you to recognize when you start to fall into old habits. All of this can be helpful in overcoming social phobia or anxiety.
It's easy to let yourself go and focus on how you are feeling rather than making sure you are staying healthy. Practice a bit of self-care, such as eating healthy, taking a warm bath, exercising regularly, and other activities that nurture and promote your physical and mental health.
Join a Support Group
Join a support group that connects you with other individuals who are struggling with similar challenges and gives you a safe space to start working through your phobia and anxiety. One example is Toastmasters International, which is a well-known support group for public speaking and can be a good place to meet new people and make new friends.
Be Kind To Yourself
The most important thing you can do throughout this entire process is to be kind to yourself. If you had a bad day, it doesn't mean that you're a failure. It only means that you need to focus on the present and to continue practicing the techniques you are using to overcome your anxiety.
See a Therapist
If you have tried implementing the techniques listed above and still find that you have social phobia, enlisting the help of an in-person or online counselor can help give you some new perspective and even new techniques. A therapist will also provide emotional support and understanding as you work through your phobia.
BetterHelp Can Help You Overcome
One of the key characteristics of social phobia is a fear of going outside and interacting with others. This is what makes online counseling options BetterHelp so great. With BetterHelp, you can talk to a licensed counselor via messaging, chat, phone, or video, whichever is most convenient and comfortable for you.
You can also do this from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Working with a counselor as soon as you notice you are starting to struggle in social situations can help make the recovery process easier. Through BetterHelp, a counselor will help you find the tools and techniques that are best suited for you and your particular needs.
Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.
«Dr. Boring-Bray has been instrumental in my recovery from avoidance and social anxiety. She is both supportive and informative. She has helped me navigate my emotions to have a better understanding and control of them. Anything is possible with a strong therapist and hard work.»
«It's amazing how beneficial therapy is. The EMDR sessions with Keith have enabled me to reclaim my power and control over my own life.
As a result of my work with Keith I went from too scared and anxious to leave the house with crippling panic, to being able to enjoy walks with my husband in the park, garden and we have even traveled by plane, and train.
I've been able to leave some toxic relationships that weren't serving me, and now feel equipped to not only face life but to enjoy the richness and fullness of it. I highly recommend Keith as a counselor and the EMDR sessions.»
Even if you have been feeling overwhelmed by social situations for some time now, it doesn't have to stay that way. A truly fulfilling life, in which social phobia doesn't hold you back, is possible-all you need are the right tools. Take the first step today.
Amal is a young man in his 20s. When he was a child, everyone thought he was very shy. Now that he’s in university, he’s having a hard time fitting in. He rarely joins class discussions, and he avoids talking to his classmates. He lives in constant fear of doing or saying the wrong thing.
He thinks that other people will judge him or laugh at him. When he does talk to others, he feels shaky and nauseous. Amal has always been a good student, but his grades are starting to slip.
His teachers notice that he doesn’t asks questions or participate—in fact, he’s been missing more and more classes as the school year goes on.
We can all feel nervous in social situations job interviews or when we’re giving presentations. But if you’re so scared of interacting with others that it affects your relationships with other people or it affects your work or school performance, you may have something called social anxiety disorder.
What is It?
Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is a mental illness. It belongs to a group of mental illnesses called anxiety disorders.
People with social anxiety disorder feel very nervous and uncomfortable in social situations meeting new people.
Or they might feel very anxious when they have to do something in front of other people, talking in a meeting. Some people feel very anxious in both situations.
People with social anxiety disorder often feel they will say or do the wrong thing. Or they might think that other people will look down on them and think poorly of them because they’re “strange” or “stupid.” It’s important to know that adults with social anxiety disorder recognize that they feel too anxious, but they may not be able to control it.
Some people may have a panic attack or feel some physical signs of anxiety when they’re facing a social situation. Common physical signs of anxiety include stomach aches, shallow breathing, sweating or feeling hot flashes, feeling your heart is racing, feeling tightness in your chest, feeling tense and feeling shaky.
Social anxiety disorder can have a very negative effect on your well-being and quality of life. The illness can cause a lot of problems in your relationships with partners, family and friends. It can also seriously affect your school or work life.
You may avoid certain careers or fields of study, avoid contributing your ideas, turn down promotions, drop school or take many days off because you feel so anxious. Some people with social anxiety disorder fear one or just a few specific social situations.
Others fear a wide range of social situations.
It’s normal to feel a bit nervous or anxious when you have to give a speech or when you’re meeting people for the first time. But with social anxiety disorder, your anxiety is so intense that it affects many parts of your life. It might affect your school or work life, relationships, things you do for fun or your day-to-day life.
These are some other signs you might have social anxiety disorder:
If you agree with some or all of the above statements, the best thing to do is talk to your doctor.
Who Does It Affect?
Social anxiety disorder is one of the most common types of anxiety disorders, and one of the most common mental illnesses. About 8% of people will experience symptoms of social anxiety disorder at some point in their life. Without treatment, social anxiety disorder can last for a long time. Unfortunately, many people never seek help for social anxiety disorder.
There are some groups of people at higher risk of experiencing social anxiety disorder:
Age—Social anxiety disorder often starts sometime between childhood and teenage years. The majority of people with social anxiety disorder say that their symptoms started before they were 18
Women—Women are more ly to experience social anxiety disorder than men
Other mental illnesses or substance use disorder—Many people with social anxiety disorder have other mental illness depression, panic disorder, bulimia nervosa (an eating disorder) and substance use disorders. However, social anxiety seems to appear before other mental illnesses.
Young children usually don’t know that they are experiencing anxiety. They just know that they have stomach aches, headaches or other physical symptoms of anxiety. Children also know that they just don’t want to do certain activities. So children might express their anxiety by complaining about physical discomfort, avoiding social activities, refusing to go to school or acting out.
What can I do about it?
There are a few different things you can do:
Counselling—Many people with social anxiety disorder benefit from a form of counselling called cognitive-behavioural therapy or CBT.
A mental health professional trained in CBT can help you work through the thoughts or beliefs and behaviours that lead to or maintain your social anxiety. CBT helps you cope with social anxiety by teaching you skills to build confidence in social situations.
You can also learn how to interact with people and maintain relationships. CBT is usually a short-term treatment. You can get the most treatment by regularly practicing CBT skills.
Exposure—Exposure (sometimes called desensitization) helps you “unlearn” anxiety associated with a situation or thing.
With the guidance and support of a qualified professional, you gradually take small, planned steps towards a situation you fear until you no longer feel overwhelmed by that situation.
It can be a very effective treatment for many different phobias, including social phobia. Exposure is an important part of CBT treatment for social anxiety.
Medication—Anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants can be used in combination with counselling or exposure to reduce your body’s response to anxiety.
Support groups—You are not alone. Anxiety disorder support groups in person or online are a great way to share your experiences and learn from the experiences of others.
Self-help—There are some things you can do on your own to help keep you feeling better.
Regular exercise, eating well, managing stress, spending time with friends and family, spirituality, and monitoring your use of alcohol and other drugs can help keep anxiety from getting worse.
Talking to your doctor, asking questions, and feeling in charge of your own health are also very important. Always talk to your doctor about what you’re doing on your own.
Where do I go from here?
In addition to talking to your family doctor, check out the resources below for more information about social anxiety disorder:
Visit www.anxietybc.com or call 604-525-7566 for self-help information and community resources.
BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information
Visit www.heretohelp.bc.ca for info sheets and personal stories about social anxiety disorder. You’ll also find more information, tips and self-tests to help you understand many different mental health problems.
Resources available in many languages:
* If English is not your first language, say the name of your preferred language in English to be connected to an interpreter. More than 100 languages are available.
Call 811 or visit www.healthlinkbc.ca to access free, non-emergency health information for anyone in your family, including mental health information. Through 811, you can also speak to a registered nurse about symptoms you’re worried about, or a pharmacist about medication questions.
© 2013 | Back to top | PDF | More info sheets