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How to Overcome Social Anxiety

Photo by Jade
Nothing can be done without hope and confidence. ~Helen Keller

Imagine standing in a fancy ballroom in a hotel. You’re at a networking event, one of a handful of females in a room with investors and self-confident entrepreneurs.

You don’t know anyone, so you’re looking down at your smartphone pretending you have a message, but you don’t. You look around, hoping for someone to approach you … but no one does.

That was me, five years ago. Unsure of myself, scared to approach people and telling myself that I was a fake or a phony.

I had just launched a business, and we needed to raise capital — fast. The key to raising money is relationships: You need to meet the right people, get the right introductions and sell your idea.

Those were all things I did NOT want to do.

But I quickly realized that if I didn’t, our startup dreams would end up burning out. So I made a commitment to myself.

That night alone in my motel room after an exhausting day of awkward conversations and hesitations, I vowed to come out of my shell and improve my social skills.

How I Got There

Within the year, I improved my communication skills, built an awesome network of advisors and investors and, most importantly, raised $100,000!

It was not easy. It took many awkward and uncomfortable moments, second thoughts and being totally out of my comfort zone. But I did it, and you can too.

The one thing I realized is that effective communication is expressing your true self. In order to do that, you have to be confident and comfortable with your self.

Why Confidence Matters

Part of my issue with being shy and introverted was that I had a nasty habit of telling myself that I wasn’t good enough. I’d tell myself that my idea was bad or the business would fail … although I had no proof that would be the case.

Telling myself this over and over made it that much harder to be open, meet new people and sell my idea.

Today I want to share some tips that dramatically improved my communication skills.

Tip #1: Change Your Vocabulary

What you tell yourself matters. I was telling myself I was a phony or a fake. I used these words over and over again, and there comes a point where you actually believe it.

I’ve been studying people with social anxiety and awkwardness. Throughout multiple interviews, I’ve noticed that people who struggle with socializing always come up with negative stories about what others think of them.

They’ve developed debilitating stories of themselves and how they’re perceived. This in turn makes them nervous to socialize. It’s a vicious cycle!

One easy way to control these emotions is by finding less emotional synonyms to describe what you’re feeling. So rather than feeling “terrified” of approaching or responding to someone, just tell yourself you’re a “tad fretful” instead.

This way, you’re not totally denying your true self and how you feel, you’re simply minimizing the impact and not letting that emotion totally overtake your mind. Learning how to control your emotions and what you tell yourself is such an important part of who you are.

Like Tony Robbins says, “We are the stories we tell ourselves.”

So if you’re using exaggerated negative words, stop and replace them with tamer words. That way you don’t psyche yourself out into believing you’re not the absolute best person you can be. For more tips on mental habits, click here.

Tip #2: The 120 Second Confidence Hack

If all else fails, and you need to attend a social event or job interview, trick yourself into feeling confident. Thankfully, I came across this awesome TED Talk by Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist.

She explains that two minutes of power posing can increase testosterone levels (the brain chemical that makes you feel powerful) and decrease cortisol levels (the brain chemical that makes you feel stressed).

In the experiment, subjects who power posed showed a 20 percent increase in testosterone levels and a 25 percent decrease in cortisol levels!

So all you have to do is find a bathroom stall and do some power poses for 120 seconds.

Our body language says a lot about how we feel in a given situation. As humans we are accustomed to non-verbal cues and using them as response triggers. Changing your physiology can change the way you feel, so take advantage of this neat tip and get confident!

Tip #3: Smile

In that one year, I went from being that girl at a bar that people would ask, “Why aren’t you smiling?” to becoming someone who others would find approachable and easy to talk to.

I realized a simple smile would make this happen. It gave me confidence by making me feel happy, and it also put others at ease.

Smiling has been scientifically proven to liven your mood by triggering brain chemicals that make you feel happy. This study shows that smiling can make us more likeable and even seem more competent.

When you simply see someone smile, that’s enough to activate mirror neurons that also make you feel happy. It’s contagious!

For those of us who find socializing to be nerve-racking, a smile without any words can simply be enough to spark a conversation.

Conclusion

Transforming your social skills takes a lot of self-development, time and effort but it is possible. Work on improving your confidence, and you’ll find you’ll naturally begin to feel more comfortable socializing.

For now, practice some of these tips to begin cultivating your confidence and communication skills.

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About the author

Katrina Razavi is a business development executive and communication coach based in San Francisco, CA. She’s on a mission to help self-described introverts improve their confidence and communication skills to live their best lives. She blogs at communicationfornerds.com. where you can subscribe and get your free eBook: 5 Quick Hacks to Avoid Awkward Conversations.

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3 thoughts on How to Overcome Social Anxiety

  1. Love your points behind this. However, like you pointed out in the end of your article, time is biggest help for us all. When I was 22 (now 28) I suffered from severe SAD (social anxiety disorder) & GAD (Generalised anxiety disorder). I got to the point where I would walk about 10 meters into a mall or shopping centre and have a severe panic attack. I would go red, start sweating and thought I was going to die. I needed to get out of the situation ASAP. After years of living like this I never thought there was a light at the end of the tunnel, I started to get depressed because I thought I was going to be like this forever. However, I’m now 28 and can have conversations with anyone anywhere. I once walked up to a CEO of a large football team and educated him about the Law of Attraction. There are hard days… but there is a light at the end!

    • Hi Simone,
      Thanks for sharing! Yes there’s definitely a light at the end of the tunnel and great job for getting there. It can be really hard to get over social hang ups but when you do..your life is transformed!

  2. I suffered from anxiety all thanks to the circumstances around me but i am glad i went to India, met people and realized that life is not about chasing the world or being a part of the rat race, it is about being happy with what youve got and work your ass off to be the best version of yourself and also spread happiness.Anxiety ends right there when happiness steps in.

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