How to be outgoing despite having a social phobia

You’ve been invited to a social gathering, and your mind is racing. Part of you wants to go, to laugh with friends, and enjoy marvelous food and wine. But there’s another part of you that wants to hide. How can you possibly survive hours among a large group of people, maintain a witty conversation, and manage not to trip/fall/offend anyone/spill drinks on strangers?

More than anything, you're wondering how you can be more outgoing so that you'll fit in better. If you feel shy, socially anxious, or otherwise awkward in group interactions, you aren’t alone.

It's possible to overcome that awkwardness and find your inner social butterfly so that you can get through the door and stay away from the safety of the food table at the next social occasion you attend.

You Are Not Alone

One of the first things to acknowledge in social situations is also one of the least obvious: almost no one is a natural at them. Even the most extroverted, outgoing person at the party feels a twinge of anxiety walking through the door, mingling in the crowd, and dancing on the makeshift dance floor.

Most people don’t talk about those moments, but they exist nearly universally. So, to feel more settled when entering a gathering, sometimes you have to see your discomfort in everyone else, too.

When you realize how focused everyone else is on keeping themselves from looking foolish or otherwise exposing their awkwardness, you have the chance to settle your own mind and concentrate on helping alleviate their anxieties instead.

Not only that—did you know that most people can’t tell when you are anxious? Even though you might experience what is known as the “spotlight effect” (it seems like all eyes are on you, and everyone can see your anxiety and awkwardness), truthfully most of what you are experiencing is hidden. To the outside world, you may appear cool and calm, which makes it easy to put on whatever persona you choose. It really is all up to you.

Fake It Until You Make It

If you don’t feel the least bit outgoing, you still can pretend you do. Make a game out of matching the energy of each person you meet. That way, high-energy, outgoing people naturally coach you through your own discomfort because they offer you a prototype to mimic.

Plus, many outgoing people enjoy fellow outgoing companions. Once you establish a brief connection with an outgoing person, you can relax and allow that person to take the lead in future conversations.

One more tip—try to make eye contact no matter how much it pains you. Not looking your conversation partner in the eye, or for that matter, anyone in the room in the eye is likely to reduce the connection between you and other party-goers.

People want to feel as though you are interested and engaged when you talk, and eye contact is one of the easiest ways to convey that.

Ask Lots of Questions

Most people (socially anxious excluded) love to talk about themselves. If you find yourself feeling awkward or anxious, turn your full attention to learning as much as you can about someone else in the room. This doesn’t mean turning a party into an inquisition. But, in small doses, turning a conversation back to your companion is an easy way to ease your own uneasiness.

Learning about other people at a social gathering also puts you in a unique position as a networker. Your attention to the likes, concerns, work, and hobbies of others sets you up to link people throughout the course of the evening. Everyone involved feels validated, and they perceive you as a valuable resource as well as a good conversationalist.

Have an Exit Strategy

Not all parties are worth suffering through until the bitter end. If you are extremely anxious about attending a function, give yourself permission to try to attend it for a set amount of time or until you have interacted with a given number of people.

Until you reach that milestone, commit wholeheartedly to enjoying yourself as best you can. Sometimes, you may find yourself exceeding your maximum time without realizing it. When you do, decide whether you have the energy to keep going.

There is no wrong answer; honor how you feel, and be kind to yourself regardless of what you resolve to do next. Not everyone is meant to be outgoing, and that’s OK. Do the best you can, and be proud of yourself for trying.

A Word From Verywell

If you find that despite your best intentions, every social situation turns into your worst nightmare, it might be helpful to speak to your doctor or a mental health professional to assess the symptoms you are experiencing. Even severe social anxiety is a treatable illness that can be helped through the right combination of therapy and medication.

Being a “social” person with social anxiety might sound a bit like an oxymoron — akin to “jumbo shrimp” or “exact estimate.” But the truth is, having social anxiety and being a talkative person are not mutually exclusive.

Sometimes, what looks like being the “life of the party” may actually be a coping technique to mask the anxiety going on within. Other times, talking too much and too fast may be a way of overcompensating for feelings of social inadequacy. If an outgoing friend confides in you about a struggle with social anxiety, validate their feelings and try to understand where they are coming from — chances are it took a lot for them to share.

We wanted to know what outgoing people with social anxiety had to say about this, so we asked “talkative” members of our mental health community who live with social anxiety to share one thing they wish others understood about them.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “ You think I’m super outgoing, but I’m actually talking nonstop because I’m so nervous. A lot of the time later on when I’m alone, I replay the conversation we had and hate myself for half the stuff I said. To you, the whole thing was just a ‘normal’ conversation. To me, it’s so much more complex than that.” — Hannah L.

2. “I may look comfortable continuously talking for hours, but inside me is the anxiety and unexplainable embarrassment waiting to burst. I feel like the moment I stop, people will completely lose interest in me — as if it’s the only thing I can offer.” — John B.

3. “I overanalyze every single conversation, every single word spoken to me or about me. I know it can be irrational, but it’s just how my brain processes other people’s words, meanings and implications (whether they’re good or not).” — Elizabeth G.

4. “[I wish others knew] that we can be close friends and spend almost every day together for months and then — seemingly out of the blue — I won’t come around or hang out or even text as much. I might even try to avoid running into you out in public. It’s nothing personal, sometimes the interaction with friends or family is even more overwhelming than usual. Don’t give up on me though, I’ll be back.” — Layla M.

5. “I wish other people understood that just because I’m good at social interaction does not in any way mean I don’t have social anxiety.” — Daniel J.

6. “I’m not trying to be annoying, I just love when I can finally talk to someone and not be terrified. I tend to say a lot in a short amount of time, so it really helps if you just listen because sometimes people will just get annoyed and shut you down for being talkative.” — India S.

7. “I’ve learned to be a very good actress. You would never know the anxiety that’s going on inside or how nauseous I get when I’m getting ready. Once I push myself out the door and get there, the acting kicks in and I’m OK as long as I stay ‘in character.’” — Tammy B.

8. “Even though I am talking to you and [might] seem completely chill, inside my mind I am over thinking and analyzing every aspect of your body language and words in an attempt to detect if I am being weird or awkward.” — Sarah J.

9. “Being social isn’t easy for me. I have at least 10 different ways of saying the same sentence in my head and I’m made to make a split decision on which one to choose. I stutter and talk fast to get the conversation over and done with.” — Kaicee M.

10. “I talk so much because I’m uncomfortable. I’m not trying to make friends with everyone — I’m trying to fit in/assimilate by being outgoing. I may seem confident and friendly, but on the inside, I wish I could just crawl into bed and hide from the world.” — Lauren A.

11. “Even though I seem outgoing, sometimes seemingly small things are too difficult and I just can’t do it. Even if I’ve done it a hundred times before.” — Bailey M.

12. “I talk a lot and to a lot of people because I want to make people feel included. I often go through bouts of thinking no one really likes me, so I don’t ever want to make others feel that way.” — Tasha B.

13. “I’m not a hypocrite for being both talkative/making plans and anxious to the point where I’ve had to cancel plans. I understand I need to take time for my mental health, but [I] also feel like I’m blowing off my friends when I have to bail.” — Nicole C.

14. “I find myself thinking I need to hurry and say what I’m thinking, often rambling at warp speed because my distorted thinking tells me the person listening either doesn’t care or is going to interrupt soon, so I better hurry . My messed up inner critic makes me do it! But I’m getting better about it.” — Linnea H.

15. “I wish people would understand my fidgeting, lack of eye contact, dislike of being touched and inability to stay focused on a conversation is not due to lack of interest in the conversation/them and I am not intentionally trying to come across as rude.” — Sarah B.

16. “My way of releasing my anxiety is often to talk and talk and talk. I feel so self-conscious, and my anxiety makes me try to predict any negative feedback and address it before it happens. So I can keep talking a lot. Instead of trying to talk over me or roll their eyes, a better thing my friends can do is maybe change the subject or just join in and turn it into a conversation.” — Jenny B.

17. “I become like a broken record because I get so anxious about being misunderstood. It means I repeat the same point over and over which can become really irritating. I irritate myself when I do it too, but after the panic sets in, I can’t stop going over and over the same thing.” — Caro H.

18. “We don’t always talk to represent ourselves, but rather, to make others feel more welcome because we know what it’s like to feel uncomfortable in our own skin.” — Adam P.

19. “I wish people understood that sometimes I am in the mood to talk and sometimes I’m not. Being shy and anxious around people is just how I am, how I’ve always been. Struggling with social anxiety does not make me ‘stuck up,’ it makes me human. It’s hard to have so many thoughts and conversations swirling around in my head but having no idea how to start them, or being afraid to start them.” — Emily H.

Individuals with social anxiety experience heightened fear in threat situations. They also find it extremely difficult to be in social settings and worry about being negatively perceived by others. Decreasing the negative bias exhibited by people with social anxiety has been the goal of many interventions, including cognitive behavioral approaches. Two therapeutic methods that have been shown to be quite effective at reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression in individuals with social phobia are cognitive bias modification for interpretation (CBM-I) and computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (cCBT). Until recently, these techniques have not been compared to each other. To fill this research gap, Jennifer O. Bowler of the University of East Anglia in England led a study evaluating the effects of CBM-I and cCBT relative to no treatment at all in a group of 63 adults with social anxiety.

Participants were assessed at baseline and at the end of treatment, and were compared to anxious individuals who received no therapy. During the study, all of the participants were required to report their levels of threat perception while under cognitive stress and under nonstressful conditions. Bowler found that compared to the control participants, the individuals in the therapy classes had much lower levels of depression and anxiety throughout the study period, regardless of whether they were in cCBT or CBM-I. However, when cognitive resources were taxed, the CBM-I participants demonstrated greater symptom reduction. Bowler notes that the people in her study were relatively young, with an average age of 22, and that future work might look at a broader age of participants. Additionally, the results were based in large part on self-reports and not clinical assessment tools. Despite these limitations, Bowler believes that her findings demonstrate that people with social anxiety may benefit from a diverse treatment approach. “Combining the two interventions could therefore produce better outcomes than relying on either alone,” Bowler said. “We conclude that these two approaches could be used as alternative or complementary interventions to reduce anxiety.”

Reference:
Bowler, J. O., Mackintosh, B., Dunn, B. D., Mathews, A., Dalgleish, T., Hoppitt, L. (2012). A comparison of cognitive bias modification for interpretation and computerized cognitive behavior therapy: Effects on anxiety, depression, attentional control, and interpretive bias. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029932

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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Linda Neely

It makes perfect sense to me that you would use diverse approaches with therapy just as we do with other aspects of life. I think of this as kind of like the way I approach losing weight. Eventually you will become accustomes to one method, so maybe that’s the time that you then have to change things up a little bit and try something new. And if they have both worked alone, then whey not try the approaches together and see if some new progress can be made that way?

Richard

“diverse treatment approach” and “Combining the two interventions could therefore produce better outcomes than relying on either alone,”

I can agree, relying on one intervention could leave a person feeling like his/her treatment may be incomplete or lacking some component. Much like a second opinion that one would seek from a different doctor, a second approach would add a certain sense of something complete or thorough. Combining different therapies may be what is needed to satisfy the client’s need for a second opinion or “view”.

Jameson

Was any of this done with axiety reducing meds too?

I am generally a confiden person and did not experience social anxiety in the past.However I feel I have social anxiety of late.It is not always present but sometimes being in public just makes me paranoid.I am planning to see a doctor for this and it’s reassuring to know there are several alternatives available out there.

Parsons d

My only concern here is that if something ain’t broke, then why try to fix it?

I am always of the mindset that some things work just fine and don’t need to be tweaked.

hilda

I always wondered about options in treatment- whether it is medications or therapy – Does a better technique always mean it is better for everybody? Like if a therapy technique is said to be better than another, sometimes some people may have an aversion to it or it may just not work for them and the ‘lower performing’ technique may be better suited to the person. So isn’t labeling one technique as better than another not somewhat inaccurate?

just a thought – wouldnt those with social anxiety have problems approaching and seeking therapy, much less actually attend the therapy sessions and derive benefit from them?!

Layla

Just like with anything else, sometimes you have to shake things up a little to get that perfect little mix!

lennox

I have never been the type to be socially anxious or shy- I suppose some would say that I am outgoing to a fault. But I do feel for those people who find that they must struggle with this. That has to be a real difficulty that they live with, especially since so much of our society looks to those who are the most gregarious and outgoing for leadership and guidance. I would hope that for the sake of those who are not nturally inclined to be this way that there is some help coming for them because they deserve to be able to live without that cloak of anxiety and worry forever seeking them out.

Elliott

I’m currently in therapy for social anxiety and my therapist and I have adopted CBT. Seeing the results of this study,although I am making progress,I am just wondering if CBM would have been a better choice. Does the therapy method really matter a lot? Or should I just continue with what’s ongoing?

Richard Schultz, Ph.D.

Seems a bit ho-hum to me. Haven’t examined the study itself, but this says that cognitive restructuring (CBT as usual, with an emphasis on the C), is superior to computerized CBT, when subjects were “cognitive taxed.” I haven’t treated a single socially anxious person who WASN’T cognitively taxed when triggered by the object of their fear. I love the creative ways academics use to rationalize their lack of clear findings. Been guilty of it myself. Next!

Richard Schultz, Ph.D.

And one more thing; behavioral exposure is not mentioned here at all, thus the all important “B” gets dissed. What’s up with that. :). In vivo exposure is crucial to recovery in social anxiety.

How to be outgoing despite having a social phobia

Our minds often give us images of certain types of people when we think about certain things. For example, we tend to think of those with anxiety to be by themselves, preferring to be alone and in the quiet. It can be easy and even confusing to separate introversion and social anxiety , since both include a preference of being alone and away from crowds. Even though there are significant differences , the assumption is that most people with social anxiety are also introverts, and that the two go hand in hand.

It’s important to remember though that those with disorders and illnesses do not have to have the same personality traits . While the idea of extroverts – those who thrive off of crowds, enjoy talking to large groups of people, and get their energy when they’re around others – also having social anxiety doesn’t seem to make sense, it’s something that can still happen. Being an extrovert is not a protective factor against anxiety, since anxiety is something that your mind can’t help but think about.

How to be outgoing despite having a social phobiaExtroverts with social anxiety have two major parts of themselves conflicting, but if you take a step back, you can see how the two can influence each other. Social anxiety often includes fears of having their anxiety be noticeable and facing criticism, and those who have these and are also extroverted can feel these fears to a larger degree. They like to be around people, but they also want to make sure that they are being accepted by them . Because they want to be accepted, their anxiety can make them afraid of the worst case scenarios and that people won’t actually like them, and will actually find their outgoing traits to be annoying.

Those with social anxiety (or other mental illnesses) who are also extroverts can also be afraid of admitting they have these issues, because people don’t think that this combination is possible. Because people expect extroverts to be social, lively, and loud, extroverts can feel that they have to be that way all the time, not just to meet the standards of others, but the image they have of themselves. One 24 year old woman goes into detail about her experience as someone with anxiety and depression, but considers herself to be an extrovert. She explains that her more extroverted traits, such as being loud, can come out because she uses it to try and make up her fears of being judged by others when in public.

While there are images that we think of when we think about mental illness, they can still be stereotypes and damaging to not just those who meet that image, but those who “conflict” with it.

Are you an introvert or extrovert? How do you think that the stereotypes and stigmas about mental illness can affect those who don’t meet them on the outside, such as outgoing and extroverted people?

How to be outgoing despite having a social phobia

It would seem that extroverts and social anxiety are opposites. Social anxiety is defined as having an “unreasonable fear” of social situations. Those with social anxiety are intensely self-conscious. They fear that others are making fun of them or judging them. They may avoid social situations in an effort to avoid the fear.

Extroverts vs introverts

Extroverts are energized when they are around other people. They crave social connections and are often good conversationalists, friendly and outgoing. They are often the life of the party. Introverts are people who get their energy from being alone. Although they appear shy, they might not be; they might not be apprehensive about being around other people, instead they may simply prefer to spend more time alone. After being in a social situation, they may need time alone to recharge.

Whether you are an extrovert or introvert is considered a personality trait. One is not better or worse than the other. One misconception is that introverts have poor social skills and extroverts have good social skills. One reason for this is that extroverts, because of their need to be around other people, have more opportunities to practice and develop social skills. But this doesn’t mean that all introverts lack social skills.

Social anxiety and extroverts

Social anxiety is an anxiety disorder and whether or not you have social anxiety is not dependent on your personality traits. Both introverts and extroverts can develop social anxiety and worry that others are silently judging them. Imagine you are standing in a group talking. You join in the conversation and laugh along with the others. Two people break away from the group and walk away, talking quietly to each other. If you have social anxiety, you might worry that they are whispering about you. You might start going over everything you said during the conversation, dissecting each word. The more you think about it, the more you are sure you made a fool of yourself.

Extroverts with social anxiety disorder face a unique problem. They become energized by being around people – the very thing that causes them anxiety. When extroverts avoid social connections because of their anxiety, they can feel lethargic and depressed. They need the social connections and at the same time fear them. When extroverts participate in social situations, they can spend their energy looking for disapproval from others rather than enjoying their time. Either way, extroverts worry about being accepted. They worry that others will find fault with them and secretly judge them.

Tips for extroverts with social anxiety

Look for safe social situations. Surround yourself with people you trust and make you feel secure. Plan or attend social functions with at least some of these people, giving you the opportunity to be around people but still feel safe.

Talk to a few close friends about your social anxiety. Letting those you trust know about your social anxiety can help, especially when you are in a social situation. If they know how you are feeling they can help you navigate rough moments. If you are going to a social situation alone, ask if you can bring a friend along, then bring someone who understands and will be on the lookout for signs of anxiety

Be mindful. Pay attention to the present moment and what is going on around you – right now. Anxiety fears often deal with what might happen in the future. If you focus on the present moment, rather than worrying about what might (or might not) happen later, you can free yourself to interact with those around you.

Set goals for yourself. You might have a goal of speaking to one new person during an event or your goal might be to get out of the house and be around people. Start with small goals. Each time you reach a goal, no matter how small, give yourself a pat on the back.

Remember, you are not alone. Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental illnesses. Chances are, wherever you are, there are others that are just as nervous and scared as you. It might help to join a support group (online or in-person) to talk to others who understand exactly what you are going through.

Avoidant personality disorder is characterized by feelings of extreme social inhibition, inadequacy, and sensitivity to negative criticism and rejection. Yet the symptoms involve more than simply being shy or socially awkward. Avoidant personality disorder causes significant problems that affect the ability to interact with others and maintain relationships in day-to-day life. About 1% of the general population has avoidant personality disorder.

Avoidant Personality Disorder Symptoms

Avoidant personality disorder symptoms include a variety of behaviors, such as:

  • Avoiding work, social, or school activities for fear of criticism or rejection. It may feel as if you are frequently unwelcome in social situations, even when that is not the case. This is because people with avoidant personality disorder have a low threshold for criticism and often imagine themselves to be inferior to others.
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-isolation

When in social situations, a person with avoidant personality disorder may be afraid to speak up for fear of saying the wrong thing, blushing, stammering, or otherwise getting embarrassed. You may also spend a great deal of time anxiously studying those around you for signs of approval or rejection.

A person who has an avoidant personality disorder is aware of being uncomfortable in social situations and often feels socially inept. Despite this self-awareness, comments by others about your shyness or nervousness in social settings may feel like criticism or rejection. This is especially true if you are teased, even in a good-natured way, about your avoidance of social situations.

Social Impact of Avoidant Personality Disorder

Avoidant personality disorder causes a fear of rejection that often makes it difficult to connect with other people. You may be hesitant to seek out friendships, unless you are certain that the other person will like you. When you are involved in a relationship, you may be afraid to share personal information or talk about your feelings. This can make it difficult to maintain intimate relationships or close friendships.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a person diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder needs to show at least four of the following criteria:

  • Avoids occupational activities that involve significant interpersonal contact, because of fears of criticism, disapproval, or rejection.
  • Is unwilling to get involved with people unless they are certain of being liked.
  • Shows restraint within intimate relationships because of the fear of being shamed or ridiculed.
  • Is preoccupied with being criticized or rejected in social situations.
  • Is inhibited in new interpersonal situations because of feelings of inadequacy.
  • Views self as socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others.
  • Is unusually reluctant to take personal risks or to engage in any new activities because they may prove embarrassing.

Avoidant behavior may commonly be seen in children or adolescents, but a diagnosis of a personality disorder cannot be made in childhood because shyness, fear of strangers, social awkwardness, or being sensitive to criticism are often a normal part of child and adolescent development.

A mental health professional can assess your symptoms, make an accurate diagnosis, and suggest the appropriate treatment options.

Avoidant Personality Disorder Treatments

As with other personality disorders, a mental health professional will design a treatment plan that is appropriate for you. Avoidant personality disorder treatments vary, but they will likely include talk therapy. If a co-existing condition, such as depression or anxiety disorder, is also diagnosed, appropriate medications may also be used.

Avoidant Personality Disorder and Other Conditions

Other mental health disorders can occur along with avoidant personality disorder. Treatments in these cases will be designed to help with the symptoms of each disorder. A few of the conditions that most frequently occur with avoidant personality disorder include:

  • Social phobia, in which a person experiences overwhelming anxiety and self-consciousness in common social situations. , in which people rely excessively on others for advice or to make decisions for them.
  • Borderline personality disorder, in which people have difficulties in many areas including social relationships, behavior, mood, and self-image.

Many avoidant personality disorder symptoms are commonly shared among these other conditions, particularly in the case of generalized social phobia. Because of this, the disorders can be easily confused. It may take some time for a mental health professional to make a clear diagnosis and choose the appropriate treatments for you.

Sources

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., Washington, D.C.

National Institute of Mental Health: “The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America” and “Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder).”

How to be outgoing despite having a social phobia

Being a “social” person with social anxiety might sound a bit like an oxymoron — akin to “jumbo shrimp” or “exact estimate.” But the truth is, having social anxiety and being a talkative person are not mutually exclusive.

Sometimes, what looks like being the “life of the party” may actually be a coping technique to mask the anxiety going on within. Other times, talking too much and too fast may be a way of overcompensating for feelings of social inadequacy. If an outgoing friend confides in you about a struggle with social anxiety, validate their feelings and try to understand where they are coming from — chances are it took a lot for them to share.

We wanted to know what outgoing people with social anxiety had to say about this, so we asked “talkative” members of our mental health community who live with social anxiety to share one thing they wish others understood about them.

Here’s what they had to say:

“You think I’m super outgoing, but I’m actually talking nonstop because I’m so nervous. A lot of the time later on when I’m alone, I replay the conversation we had and hate myself for half the stuff I said. To you, the whole thing was just a ‘normal’ conversation. To me, it’s so much more complex than that.” — Hannah L.

“I may look comfortable continuously talking for hours, but inside me is the anxiety and unexplainable embarrassment waiting to burst. I feel like the moment I stop, people will completely lose interest in me — as if it’s the only thing I can offer.3” — John B.

“I overanalyze every single conversation, every single word spoken to me or about me. I know it can be irrational, but it’s just how my brain processes other people’s words, meanings and implications (whether they’re good or not).” — Elizabeth G.

“[I wish others knew] that we can be close friends and spend almost every day together for months and then — seemingly out of the blue — I won’t come around or hang out or even text as much. I might even try to avoid running into you out in public. It’s nothing personal, sometimes the interaction with friends or family is even more overwhelming than usual. Don’t give up on me though, I’ll be back.” — Layla M.

“I wish other people understood that just because I’m good at social interaction does not in any way mean I don’t have social anxiety.1” — Daniel J.

“I’m not trying to be annoying, I just love when I can finally talk to someone and not be terrified. I tend to say a lot in a short amount of time, so it really helps if you just listen because sometimes people will just get annoyed and shut you down for being talkative.” — India S.

“I’ve learned to be a very good actress. You would never know the anxiety that’s going on inside or how nauseous I get when I’m getting ready. Once I push myself out the door and get there, the acting kicks in and I’m OK as long as I stay ‘in character.’” — Tammy B.

“Even though I am talking to you and [might] seem completely chill, inside my mind I am over thinking and analyzing every aspect of your body language and words in an attempt to detect if I am being weird or awkward.” — Sarah J.

“Being social isn’t easy for me. I have at least 10 different ways of saying the same sentence in my head and I’m made to make a split decision on which one to choose. I stutter and talk fast to get the conversation over and done with.” — Kaicee M.

“I talk so much because I’m uncomfortable. I’m not trying to make friends with everyone — I’m trying to fit in/assimilate by being outgoing. I may seem confident and friendly, but on the inside, I wish I could just crawl into bed and hide from the world.” — Lauren A.

“Even though I seem outgoing, sometimes seemingly small things are too difficult and I just can’t do it. Even if I’ve done it a hundred times before.” — Bailey M.

“I talk a lot and to a lot of people because I want to make people feel included. I often go through bouts of thinking no one really likes me, so I don’t ever want to make others feel that way.” — Tasha B.

“I’m not a hypocrite for being both talkative/making plans and anxious to the point where I’ve had to cancel plans. I understand I need to take time for my mental health, but [I] also feel like I’m blowing off my friends when I have to bail.”2 — Nicole C.

“I find myself thinking I need to hurry and say what I’m thinking, often rambling at warp speed because my distorted thinking tells me the person listening either doesn’t care or is going to interrupt soon, so I better hurry. My messed up inner critic makes me do it! But I’m getting better about it.” — Linnea H.

“I wish people would understand my fidgeting, lack of eye contact, dislike of being touched and inability to stay focused on a conversation is not due to lack of interest in the conversation/them and I am not intentionally trying to come across as rude.” — Sarah B.

“My way of releasing my anxiety is often to talk and talk and talk. I feel so self-conscious, and my anxiety makes me try to predict any negative feedback and address it before it happens. So I can keep talking a lot. Instead of trying to talk over me or roll their eyes, a better thing my friends can do is maybe change the subject or just join in and turn it into a conversation.” — Jenny B.

“I become like a broken record because I get so anxious about being misunderstood. It means I repeat the same point over and over which can become really irritating. I irritate myself when I do it too, but after the panic sets in, I can’t stop going over and over the same thing.” — Caro H.

“We don’t always talk to represent ourselves, but rather, to make others feel more welcome because we know what it’s like to feel uncomfortable in our own skin.” — Adam P.

“I wish people understood that sometimes I am in the mood to talk and sometimes I’m not. Being shy and anxious around people is just how I am, how I’ve always been. Struggling with social anxiety does not make me ‘stuck up,’ it makes me human. It’s hard to have so many thoughts and conversations swirling around in my head but having no idea how to start them, or being afraid to start them.” — Emily H.

Max, a volunteer at Mind Cymru, shares his experience of social anxiety and how he is overcoming this.

Coming to university was a lot harder than I expected. It was a whole new experience in a city I had never been to before. I have always been a shy person. In an environment where many of my peers were quite loud and outgoing I quickly felt lonely , overwhelmed and, at times, quite depressed due to my social skills, or lack thereof.

Because of my difficultly socialising, my relationship with my flatmates in university halls was at first quite strained. I wanted to be good friends with them but my general anxiety had a big impact on how I attempted to do so.

The strain of all this had an effect on my university work. I became more and more stressed and found it increasingly hard to concentrate.

I knew I had to do something, so I went to my student services. They got my GP to refer me to speech and language therapy at Cardiff’s Heath Hospital. This was the beginning of a positive and ongoing process to develop greater confidence in my communication and social skills. I was increasingly outgoing, going to parties and becoming more comfortable within other similar social situations. I also made new and valued friends.

Another situation where my social anxiety was particularly challenging was giving presentations at university, either by myself or with others. Very often, I knew quite clearly what I wanted to say, but the words just didn’t want to come out. With the help of speech and language therapy and a bit of practise this got a little better. Indeed, when I gave presentations as part of the Graduate Academy, feedback suggested it had improved quite a bit. Without the support I received and the improvement in my social confidence as a result of this, I might not even have attended the Graduate Academy or involved myself in the Prince’s Trust.

Though I am still a relatively shy person I have also been told by many people how equally determined I am. Despite my personal challenges, I am intent on not letting this be a barrier to me in my future life or my career. Although my strength lies with my written communication skills I am extremely eager to develop and strengthen my verbal skills, in part with the help of Mind Cymru, where I volunteer.

One of the ways I am challenging myself to increase my confidence is by taking on reception duties while being supported and learning with another volunteer. Through simply saying hello and interacting with visitors I am developing my confidence to strike up a quick and friendly conversation. This might not seem like a big deal to some people, but it’s a great achievement for me.

While volunteering at Mind I have built good working relationships with my colleagues and I am confident I could do so again in my future career. And I know I can develop my abilities and confidence further for other situations like interviews, which I have found hard before.

In the end I am glad I shared my worries during university. With the help of the many good friends I have made here, including as a volunteer at Mind and SNAP Cymru, I have come to love Cardiff. I am proud of how far I’ve come and I am positive I can make even more progress.

Challenge assumptions, practice acceptance, and tolerate uncertainty.

Posted September 9, 2016

THE BASICS

  • What Is Anxiety?
  • Find a therapist to overcome anxiety

How to be outgoing despite having a social phobia

One of my friends mentioned to me the other day that he hated giving presentations at work. Despite being knowledgeable about his job, outgoing in casual social situations, and a great communicator, he trembles and struggles to speak when he stands in front of an audience. When I asked if he knew why this happened, he said, “because I worry that people will think I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

We’ve all had experiences like these, although the situations, anxiety reactions, and explanations vary. For some, the most difficult situations involve starting a conversation with an attractive stranger, asking for assistance from a supervisor at work, or giving a presentation in class. The anxiety reactions usually include physical symptoms, like shaking, sweating, shallow breathing, or muscular tension, and distracting thoughts about whether we’re as socially effective as we’d like to be. And upon reflection, the explanations people provide for social anxiety often relate to self-doubt or concerns about others’ appraisals. Some familiar examples include “I don’t have anything interesting to say, “ “He’ll think I’m not attractive enough,” or “Everyone will know I’m nervous.”

The way we think about social anxiety can have a big impact on the intensity of symptoms. For example, we’re most likely to experience discomfort when we convince ourselves that a social situation is threatening and when we believe that we don’t have the coping resources to manage the social challenge effectively.

If you find that your social anxiety gets the best of you in specific situations, it’s helpful to take some time out to examine the problem. One approach is to ask yourself a series of questions to evaluate the threat and the degree of risk. You can also work on anticipating potential problems and the strategies you might use to cope. If you’re truly serious about addressing this problem, it’s best to go through this process well before the anxiety-provoking event, provide answers to these questions in writing, and use specific examples. Here are some sample questions:

  • What is threatening about these social situations? Do I have any reason to believe that others want me to underperform? What’s the evidence for and against this belief?
  • How likely is it that others will respond with negative feedback, such as criticism or ridicule?
  • How do I know this? Have I received direct feedback in the past or am I making assumptions about unclear reactions I get from other people?
  • Have I experienced social setbacks before? Was I able to recover? What did I do? What could I do?
  • Suppose things don’t go as well as I would like, what’s the worst thing that could happen? What’s the most likely outcome? If I experience a setback, can I recover, learn from the experience, and do better in the future?
  • How do I evaluate my own social skills? What do I do well? What can I improve and how should I get started?

After you’ve gone through the process of understanding your own beliefs, correcting cognitive errors, preparing a useful mindset for interacting with others, and making progress toward improving social skills, your concerns about social threats and coping resources are likely to be more realistic.

When social activity begins, it’s important to set these concerns aside and attend to what’s relevant in the moment—communicating with clarity, showing genuine interest in others, creating meaningful interactions, and enjoying the experience the way you do when social anxiety is absent.

Of course, this is easier said than done, and most people find that, despite good intentions and the desire to focus only on the interaction itself, it’s easy to be distracted once again by the noise—concerns about effectiveness and evaluations from others.

And here’s where self-acceptance and tolerance of uncertainty are important. Because no matter how much we prepare, our social behavior will be imperfect. And no matter how much we try to dictate what happens, there are aspects of social events that are uncontrollable. And no matter how much we try to make predictions, the social future is, to some degree, uncertain. And no matter how polished we are, we will encounter others who form critical opinions, make cruel comments, or otherwise refuse to maintain relationships with us.

THE BASICS

  • What Is Anxiety?
  • Find a therapist to overcome anxiety

So how can we think productively about social anxiety? Is it important to restructure our assessments of threat in social situations and be aware of available coping mechanisms? Yes, because social anxiety is often related to overstating the degree of risk, and we can problem solve to address existing deficits in social skills. Should we also accept that being distracted by self-evaluative thoughts and social setbacks is inevitable? Yes, because social experiences are meaningful and it’s normal to be frustrated when the process isn’t as comfortable as we’d like it to be. But rather than engaging in a harsh critique of the process and a decision to avoid social contact in the future, we can acknowledge our unproductive thoughts, and continually redirect our attention to what’s truly meaningful in the moment.

Interested in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), self-help tips, and improving personal health? Connect with me on Twitter (@joelminden) or Facebook.

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