Anxiety around social situations is a very common thing people have sought counselling for. However, since the beginning of COVID, social anxiety has increased substantially in all people, even if they did not really struggle with it previously. We are created for connection with others, not for isolation. Lean into safe relationships and here are some tips for overcoming Social Anxiety from Anxiety Canada.
Social Anxiety blog post
Step 1: Identifying your trouble spots
Below are some questions that you may want to ask yourself to identify the areas you want to work on:
It can be helpful to rate yourself on a scale of 1-3
- 1 weakness-not very strong
- 2 moderately strong
- 3 strong skill
- Do I have trouble starting conversations?
- Do I quickly run out of things to say?
- Do I tend to say “yes”, nod and try to keep other people talking to avoid having to talk?
- Am I reluctant to talk about myself?
Tips for Starting a Conversation:
- Start a conversation by saying something general and not too personal, for example talk about the weather (“Gorgeous day, isn’t it?”); give a compliment (“That sweater looks great on you”); make an observation or asking a question (“I noticed that you were reading a book on sailing, do you have a boat?”); or introduce yourself (“I don’t think we have met, I’m…”).
- You don’t need to say anything extremely witty. It’s better to be sincere and genuine. Remember, once you have started the conversation you and the other person are now sharing the responsibility to keep it going. It’s not 100% your job.
- Remember to pay attention to your non-verbal behaviour — make eye contact and speak loudly enough so that others can hear you.
Tips for Keeping a Conversation Going:
- Remember that a conversation is a 2-way street – don’t talk too little, or too much. As much as possible, try to contribute to about one-half of the conversation when speaking 1-on-1.Once you have talked for a while, especially if you know this person, it might be appropriate to move on to more personal topics, e.g., relationships; family matters; likes or dislikes; opinions; feelings; etc.
- Disclose some personal information about yourself, such as your weekend activities, your favourite hockey team, or a hobby or interest. Personal information does not need to be “too personal”; you can start with giving your opinion about movies and books or talking about things that you like doing.
- Try to show a little vulnerability: it can even be OK to admit that you are a bit nervous (e.g., “I never know what to say to break the ice”, or “I’m always so nervous at parties where I hardly know anyone”). However, take care – sometimes disclosing too much too soon can put others off.
- Ask questions about the other person, but when you’re first getting to know someone it’s more appropriate to ask less personal questions. So ask about their weekend activities, their preferences, or their opinion about something you said (e.g., “How do you like that new restaurant?”)
- Try to ask open-ended questions rather than close-ended questions. A close-ended question is one that is answered by a few words, such as yes or no (e.g., “Do you like your job?”). In contrast, an open-ended question invites much more detail and can keep the conversation going longer (e.g., “How did you get into your line of work?”).
Remember: People generally like to talk about themselves, especially if the other person is showing genuine interest.
Tips for Ending a Conversation:
- Remember, all conversations must come to an end – Try not to feel rejected or become anxious as a conversation nears its end. Running out of things to talk about doesn’t mean you are a failure or that you are boring.
- Think of a graceful way to end the conversation. For example, you can say that you need to refill your drink, go to the bathroom, catch up with another person at a party, get back to work, or you can promise to continue the conversation at a later time or date (e.g. “Hope we’ll have a chance to chat again,” or “Let’s have lunch together soon”).
Step 2: Experiment with and practice your conversation skills
The next time you have an opportunity to practice starting or ending a conversation, try breaking some of your normal patterns. For example, if you tend not to speak about yourself, try to share your thoughts and feelings a bit more and see what happens. Or, if you tend to wait for the other person to end the conversation, try a graceful exit yourself first.
Below are a few suggestions for some practice situations:
- Speak to a stranger (e.g. at a bus stop, in an elevator or waiting in line).
Talk to your neighbours (e.g. about the weather or something going on in the neighbourhood).
- Interact with co-workers (e.g. chat with co-workers on your coffee break or in the staffroom at lunch).
- Have friends over for a get-together (e.g. invite a co-worker or acquaintance over, meet someone for coffee, or throw a birthday party for a relative. Make sure you interact with your guests).
- Try giving a compliment– Resolve to give at least 2 compliments each day – preferably ones that you would not normally give. But remember to always be sincere: only give a compliment to someone if you truly believe what you are saying.
Hint: If you are unsure, record yourself practicing. While you might feel a little silly at first remember, you are just experimenting. Have fun with it!