Happy 2018 – Day 20 – Beat Social Anxiety by asking questions.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received, when fretting over how I would ever cope in social situations, was so simple and so effective. 

Ask people questions about themselves.

This seemingly common-sense and rather obvious method of communication hadn’t really occurred to me.

Why?

Because it was all about me. My fear. My awkwardness. My embarrassment. My anxiety.

I’ve said before, that when you’re struggling with your mental health, there’s a tendency towards self-obsession. Like the whole world has nothing better to do than watch your every move, rubbing its hands together in glee at the thought that you might slip up or embarrass yourself in some way.

So it’s only natural that people who think in these terms would struggle with social situations, largely in part because they go into them obsessing about themselves. Will they notice I’m out of breath? What if they catch me trembling? What if they think I’m weird? Will they tell everyone else I’m weird?

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Rather than trying to control and stop these kind of thoughts, I’ve found it really helpful to take my focus on other people; to make it a challenge to find out more about them, while ignoring my anxiety.

If this doesn’t come naturally to you, and especially if it’s a situation where you’ll meet new people or it’s of some significance – partner’s parents or a job interview etc. – then why not prepare some beforehand? Write down 5 questions that you could ask.

For myself, I like to start with closed questions and follow them up. If I’m on a teaching course, for example, I might ask: What do you teach? What do you enjoy about it? Which school are you at? What’s the school like? What do you think about….? Fortunately, teachers really like to talk about themselves, myself included, so it’s easy enough to gain interesting responses and get to know someone.

The body cannot maintain the intense physical symptoms of anxiety for a sustained period of time, so if you can weather the storm for a few minutes, you should find that your symptoms calm and you find yourself nattering away at ease.

While you might have to prepare questions at first, it’s won’t be long before you’re naturally going into every social situation, genuinely interested in finding out more about those around you. Building up a memory bank of these positive experiences will also reinforce the message for your brain, that this isn’t a ‘threat situation’ so there is no need for the body’s protection (which presents as anxiety symptoms and panic.)

You may just find that the world, rather than waiting to laugh at your mistakes, is just waiting to talk about itself.

 

 

8 Comments

  1. Great idea and great blog! Since my teenage years, I’d always been a bit socially anxious but it got much worse during my last year at uni, and a year later I’m still trying to shake it off. I want to work in communications and it’s all about confidence. So this year is dedicated to becoming the confident version of myself I know is there. Can’t wait to read some more of your blog 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just the fact that you’ve set yourself that goal is awesome. Once you realise that confidence is a skill that you can learn, like writing or column addition, you realise that you just need training. I highly recommend these three TED talks on YouTube – Amy Cuddy: body language; Michelle Poeler: 100 days without fear; and Dr. Ivan Joseph: the skill of self confidence. They all really inspired me! Good luck xx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Defiantly! It’s a hard thing to wrap your head around – you get so used to thinking it’s just this innate thing some people have and others don’t. I’m gonna go check those videos out now! Thanks 🙂

        Like

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