As the holiday season comes in full swing, how do you feel about all the social events on your calendar? Are you excited for all of them? Yeah, me neither.
Parties and dinners with people you don’t know well or haven’t seen in a long time are enough to drive most of us into social anxiety. Who hasn’t walked into a party determined to have a great time, floated around smiling vaguely at no one and then drifted toward the crudite just to have something to do? Eventually you feel upset about getting excited at all. (Clearly I speak from experience).
As an introvert, I find some social situations truly exhausting: networking events; huge, loud concerts; or um, holiday parties where I don’t know many people (or sometimes anyone at all). Over time, I’ve realized that I love people, but not situations where I have to assume a certain kind of character. For instance, I often struggle to have a good time when I’m conscious about appearing likable, suave, and cool (Please accept me, I’m worth getting to know!). But naturally, these are the times when you need social graces the most.
Usually all I need to feel at ease is just one close friend, but I often find myself alone at events. Here are some tips for social anxiety that help me get through these situations with grace and hopefully a modicum of charm. 😉
1. Adjust your expectations.
Before I go to any event where there is no one I know, I tend to idealize the setting and situation. I’d walk in and someone would immediately compliment me on my outfit and we’d strike up a conversation and then one after another I’ll have made friends with a bunch of interesting people, all laughing heartily at my jokes. This of course rarely (if ever) happens and I end up leaving with a pang of disappointment that I haven’t “performed” to my expectations. Don’t set unrealistic expectations for the night so you feel the pressure–instead, have a more realistic view like, “I’ll go in and have a few drinks and perhaps say hello to a few people.” This way you’ll feel satisfied no matter what happens.
There is no reason to drive yourself anxious with any type of social situation. Unlike say, a job interview, not too much is at stake here, if you really think about it. Even if you don’t have the best night of your life or meet the One (or anyone), nothing has been lost! On the other hand, getting out and about is an exercise in opening yourself up just a bit more, which is always positive. So just take a deep breath and relax.
3. Go with an open heart and be curious.
When you arrive, are you already about to take a defensive stance like pretending to check your phone for texts? Or are you really keeping an open heart about the situation and who you might meet? If you find yourself already on the defensive, try relaxing your gaze by lowering your sight for a half minute (about 45 degrees), and then looking up at people again. Feel the difference in how much softer your gaze becomes? Uncross your arms, and go ahead and take off your coat and put it somewhere safe. (So you won’t be tempted to hide yourself or fuss with your belongings). Be curious about what you might find, stay present, and smile. I promise you, your positive, open energy will also attract reciprocal attention.
4. Be authentic.
Studies show that on average, people lie 3 times within 10 minutes of meeting a stranger. Meeting someone new can bring on urges to hide your true self or show what you think people want to see. Instead of creating an illusion, how about showing who you really are? Remember: you–and your friends and family–love the real you, not the made-up version you show to strangers. A real connection happens only when you are being true to yourself.
5. Talk to people first.
Don’t you love when someone talks to you first? Even if it’s not the conversation of a lifetime, just the fact that a total stranger breaks the ice to reach out to you makes you feel glad, noticed, and appreciated. So be that person who makes others happy. If someone is alone, it’s the easiest thing to simply say, “hi, how are you?” If everyone else is already in groups, don’t be shy about joining up–nothing horrible is going to come out of it.
6. Make eye contact.
The purpose of your presence isn’t to show up and perform the part of some perfect socialite or the Life of the Party–it’s to have genuine interactions with anyone you may meet. Even if it doesn’t become a lifelong friendship or a business relationship, it’s still worthwhile during this time to give your attention fully–and making proper eye contact is the single biggest step to that. Even if I already know I won’t click with someone, I try to stay engaged with them while it lasts rather than looking over their shoulder, searching for better prospects. You know, staying classy. 😉 And remember, your respectful and genuine attitude will attract similar energy from others too.
Do you find these social events daunting or just fun and exciting? Do tell!
Also see: How to Overcome Social Media Anxiety
Photo: Prink Ko via Pinterest; Peaceful Dumpling