If you have social anxiety, it can feel impossible to do anything but hide out in your private space. But with these small steps, you’ll be more prepared for any unexpected situations that might come up.
I know this because I used to have social anxiety. Social anxiety is the fear of being judged, evaluated and rejected by others. It’s extremely common, affecting at least one in five adults.
Social anxiety can be crippling and debilitating, but it doesn’t have to control your life. You can get rid of it with small steps that you commit to each day.
Here are 10 tips to help you work toward socializing when you have social anxiety:
1. Be prepared for unexpected situations.
Social anxiety is like a fear of the unknown, which keeps you trapped in your comfort zone. When you’re worried that someone might say or do something to make you uncomfortable, it can feel impossible to do anything different or new at all.
But the opposite is true. To gain a new perspective on the world, take control of your life by getting involved in something completely different — like volunteering — where there are no expectations or big rewards. You can start small by joining a smaller club or organizing an event with friends and gradually expanding your social circle as you build confidence in doing new things.
2. Stop comparing yourself to other people.
Social anxiety makes us focus on what other people do and say, which makes us feel like we’re at a disadvantage. But this doesn’t mean you have to measure up to others: you just have to compare yourself with your standards and goals, not those of others.
If you’re sure about your goals, be passionate about them and trust that you’re good enough, then there’s no need to compare yourself with anyone else. If you’re not sure what you want in life or how good you or others are, take the time to discover the path that works best for you.
3. Stop relying on other people to have fun.
When you rely on other people to have fun, you constantly assess any social situation based on how it affects your anxiety level. Social anxiety makes it hard to relax and enjoy yourself when you’re constantly thinking about what others think of you or your behavior. Socializing becomes a chore rather than an enjoyable experience.
But there’s a way out of this standstill — just focus on enjoying yourself and relaxing as much as possible, even if it means by yourself for the time being. Enjoying yourself will make you feel more secure and effective in social situations, which will make the events more fun in the long run.
4. Don’t wait for your life to be perfect before socializing.
If you’re waiting for your life to be perfect before you can start socializing, you’ll never get started. It’s important to accept that making mistakes is okay, and the only way to improve is by learning from them.
Next time you think about waiting until your life’s better, tell yourself that it won’t happen unless you take action now. You can start by working on small daily goals, like smiling more in conversations or introducing yourself to new people each week. With time and effort, these small steps will help overcome your apprehensions about socializing with others.
5. Don’t live for others’ approval.
Social anxiety makes us paranoid about what others think of us, but this is a perception issue. Socializing means being yourself, not trying to please everyone or impress people. Don’t forget: you’re the only person who knows exactly how good your intentions are and how hard you work at socializing.
You may not get the approval you want because of your specific situation, like having a disability or being shy, but that doesn’t mean you should stop trying to fit in with others. No matter what others’ opinions are about you, remember it’s okay to be different — and that’s something people will admire about you in time.
6. Stop taking everything personally.
Social anxiety makes it easy to take everything personally, but remember: other people’s opinions of you don’t reflect on who you are as a person. When you make this mistake, it usually means you’re viewing yourself from a negative perspective. Just because someone doesn’t want to be your friend doesn’t mean that your qualities and characteristics aren’t good or likable — it just means the person has different interests than you.
Don’t let others’ opinions define what you think of yourself, especially if your true friends don’t validate these opinions. Instead, focus on the positive feedback and support from those you trust and enjoy being around.
7. Avoid jumping to conclusions.
We’re hard-wired to make quick decisions and conclude based on our perceptions, but social anxiety makes it harder to think logically and reason through our thoughts. Without the facts, it can be hard to tell whether others are mean or rude, so you’ll end up feeling hurt, scared or resentful if you don’t give them a chance.
Instead of making assumptions about someone’s intentions, ask yourself what the facts are before jumping to conclusions about what they mean for you and your relationships with them. Talk with someone else you trust if you have questions or doubts, rather than letting your social anxiety run the show.
8. Don’t be afraid to share your feelings, even if they’re negative.
Social anxiety can make it hard to respond to critics and express your feelings, especially if you’re a highly sensitive person. You may want to avoid conflict or disappoint people by being positive all the time, but this can hurt your long-term goals by limiting your personal development. By avoiding these uncomfortable conversations, you’ll miss out on the chance to learn from your mistakes and grow.
Remember: learning from our mistakes is part of socializing, which makes us more likable in the long run. By learning from your mistakes, you’ll become more self-aware and confident in social situations, which will make you a more effective person in the future.
9. Don’t let negative feedback keep you from trying again.
Once we believe other people don’t like us for good reasons, we stop trusting them again due to their criticism or disapproval of our actions, which keeps us from improving or growing. This is especially true if the criticism is very harsh or doesn’t make any sense.
When you get negative feedback from others, just remember that this is just one person’s opinion: that doesn’t mean it’s true about you, what you do or how others feel about you. It’s important to remain open-minded and be flexible about your ideas and goals, so you can learn from your mistakes and keep on improving.
10. Don’t let social anxiety stop you from doing anything.
Stopping from doing anything can seem like the perfect way to have time for yourself. Still, it only leads to more negative thoughts about yourself and a lack of fulfilling experiences due to fear of rejection or rejection itself. This is a bad habit that’s difficult to break because it creates a cycle of feeling lonely and overwhelmed with anxiety, which hinders your ability to connect with other people.
Don’t let social anxiety make you take on a personality that’s not your own, and don’t make it hard to spend time with people you enjoy. Honesty is key, especially when asking people we like on dates or meeting new people.
Social Anxiety Isn’t a Death Sentence
Your realistic goals are going to allow you to prioritize the time and effort that’ll help you socialize. It can be helpful to write some of your real-life goals on index cards or post them where you’ll see them often during the day. This way, you’ll be reminded of what’s important to you and are more likely to set aside time for them daily.
Don’t forget that social anxiety is no match for your willpower, love and determination. You have the power to change your life in a positive direction just by making small changes every day. Even if one change doesn’t seem like much, it’s still one more step in the right direction. Remember: each small step forward is one more step towards your goals.
Realize that social anxiety is not your fault, nor is it something you should take personally: it’s just how your brain works. By taking positive steps towards socializing, changing your thoughts and learning from others’ criticisms, you can progress on the road to a better life — even if you’re already nervous about saying hello to someone for the first time.
If you need more help socializing, check out my program, From Socially Awkward to Socially Awesome. You will learn how to thrive in social situations. This powerful program will give you everything you need to finally get rid of the anxious feeling that rises within you whenever you are faced with an uncomfortable situation and start living the life you want.