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15 Things Your Socially Anxious Friend Would Never Tell You

15 Things Your Socially Anxious Friend Would Never Tell You

It’s the third largest psychological problem that Americans face and yet nobody talks about us. Yes, I am just one of those 15 million Americans who suffer from social anxiety disorder (SAD). It is sometimes referred to as social phobia. Like most disorders, it is a spectrum one where severe cases can lead to crippling effects while milder cases are various degrees of shyness. We know that there may be a genetic connection but that also our environment may have caused all this distress. What is even worse is that this condition has to remain a secret because we fear that it may affect our relationships with family and colleagues. Here are 15 things we do not want you to know.

1. We cannot relax with others

The problem is that we are acutely aware of how you are watching us all the time. Our logic and reasoning tell us this cannot be for real, but for us it is. We feel as if we are being judged all the time and this makes us terribly tense and uneasy. We do not know whether you are laughing with us or at us. Watch this video here to find out what we have to go through on a daily basis.

2. We do not show off about our achievements

Are you repelled by the show offs and the arrogant? If you are, then you probably appreciate how modest we are about our own talents because we find it terribly difficult to talk with people, let alone shout our achievements from the rooftops. The great thing about us is that we never dominate meetings and we just get on with our job, quietly and efficiently.

3. We usually avoid eating out

It is true that we get very nervous in front of people eating at the canteen or restaurant. We feel that they are constantly scrutinizing us so it is much better when we can eat in peace, alone. We also can enjoy our food much more.

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4. We know how to listen

Being socially anxious means that we have got listening down to a fine art. We are much more empathic and that is why we are so suited to working in health and customer care. We love listening and it makes our work easier, in a way.

5. We make great friends

In spite of all the social unease and shyness, when you get to know us, then you are likely to form a deeper and longer lasting friendship with us. Actually, instead of worrying how we are cultivating the friendship, we should relax a lot more because people know we are somewhat different but the quality of friendship is just as good for them, if not better!

6. We hate speaking in public

I hated speaking at meetings because I was extremely aware of being criticized and being judged all the time. Probably my colleagues were just wondering when the next coffee break would be or how they would get promotion. We are extremely fearful and anxious about these situations.

7. We dread confrontation

We just hope they never happen but they often do! You know when you have to deal with a problem with a neighbour who is making your life hell because of an extra loud TV. Even being assertive with family means that we have to move out of our comfort zone and that is really difficult and challenging for us. We just hope and pray that you do not notice how we sweat and our hands tremble when we manage to speak to you.

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8. We work well alone

We are proud of how we can stay in the zone and get things done. There are no interruptions caused by chatty colleagues because they avoid us by now. But what we have achieved in terms of meeting a deadline and a project is fantastic. The downside is that we hate teamwork because we feel that there is far too much emphasis on talking, rather than getting down to it.

9. We are better rewarded

I bet you never knew that we get great satisfaction and joy from achieving our goals. Our reward buttons are very active and this spurs us on to do even better. There is some research that suggests that the extroverts and socially adept are not getting the same rewards buzz as we do.

10. We risk isolation

We would rather not attend the first day of class at university because of the fear of meeting all those new people who will be in our class. How will we sound with a shaky voice like that and a sweaty handshake? I was once mocked by a high ranking executive because I spoke quietly about my background. He interpreted my social anxiety as being ashamed of my nationality. It was an excruciating experience, I can tell you. So, now you understand why we skip that first day and prefer to mingle quietly or remain unnoticed when we do turn up.

11. We are afraid of asking for basic information

We prefer to go without something, rather have to face up to asking someone in the supermarket where something is. We know this is ridiculous but we would rather go without. The same applies when we have to ask for information at an office. Knocking on a door requires a lot of courage for us as does dialling a number and talking to a stranger on the phone.

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12. We avoid parties

It is normal to be a little shy at parties when you have to meet new people. But we always go for the upgrade. We just get swept up in the anxiety. We get lots of physical reactions such as sweating, butterflies and maybe palpitations. You can see why we avoid these occasions when and if at all possible.

13. We are not reaching our full potential

It comes as no surprise that the majority (70%) of us are at the bottom of the socio-economic scale and that half of us may not have even completed high school. Social anxiety is keeping us from reaching our full potential. I know people who turned down high powered jobs because of the fear of speaking at meetings. Others never became actors because the fear of being watched on stage was too terrifying a thought.

14. We are conscious of the give away signs

In a way this makes it even worse because we know that some of the following reactions can be a give away. That makes it even worse and we freeze up completely. For example, we do not want to make eye contact. We sometimes talk very quietly or may even talk extremely quickly. Blushing is a problem for us so we tend to use a lot of make-up if we are women. I know some people who are socially anxious and they tell jokes all the time as if to hide their fear. Others would not dare even tell a joke and I am definitely in the latter category.

15. We practise our lines all the time

Honestly, you would think we were about to go on stage! You see, we constantly repeat and practise what we are going to say and also how we are going to deliver it. Over and over again. We just add to the fear by imagining negative and dreadful scenarios. It will be a catastrophe or disaster! I know that I could start drinking to get over my fear but then everyone will smell the alcohol on my breath.

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Now I know that I have to decide whether to seek psychotherapy and medications to help me get out of this mess. I can tell you that it is no surprise to learn that about 35% of people with SAD wait about 10 years before actually getting treatment.

Featured photo credit: romantic couple in love young people on the docks in the winter via shutterstock.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2019

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Step right up, don’t be shy!

Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

Culturally Conditioned

We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

1. Broadens Your Network

After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

2. Improves Your Communication Skills

I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

3. Continually Learning

So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

4. Increases Self Confidence

Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

How to Talk to Strangers

Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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1. Say Hello

Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

2. Ask About Them

Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

3. Just Do It

One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

4. Don’t Take It Personal

One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

6. Detach

A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

7. Share Your Stories

Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

8. Give a Compliment

Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

9. Relax Your Body Language

If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice

Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

The Bottom Line

As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

More Resources About Strengthening Communication Skills

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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