If you’ve met me, you’ve probably realised that I’m a very awkward person. I stumble over words, never know how to greet people (is it a handshake? A hug? A kiss? Two kisses?!), and have been the perpetrator of many a social faux-pas. Trust me, I’ve got enough to fill a whole other blog post. Actually, I just might; it would certainly make for some entertaining reading!
I feel constantly paranoid about my appearance and spend hours after a perfectly normal conversation, cringing about something I said. However, in recent months, I’ve developed a few methods of easing my worries and alleviating some of my social anxiety.
Here are some of the things I tell myself:
“[Friend’s name] isn’t giving our conversation a second thought”
Are you worried about something you said in an earlier conversation? Take a moment and think about it. Are you over-analysing all the things the other person said? I doubt it. You probably don’t even remember the exact words they used. So chances are, they probably don’t either.
If, however, you have genuine reason to believe they’ve misconstrued something you said – ie. they confirmed what you said back to you and it wasn’t quite right – you can always send them a message to clarify. Make a joke about it, if appropriate, or apologise if you’re concerned you caused offence.
“It’s OK to make mistakes”
Life isn’t scripted. Sometimes we mess up our words or accidentally interrupt each other. That’s absolutely fine. Again, make a little joke, or apologise if you’ve interrupted someone, but don’t sweat it. We’re all human.
“It’s not always up to you to fill the silence”
Obviously if you’re hosting a dinner party, you probably should try to keep the conversation flowing. But I’m talking more about those awkward situations at work – you know the ones. Whether you’re trying to make a cup of tea around someone washing up their Tupperware, or enduring a silent ride in the lift with your boss, it’s important to remember that it’s not your responsibility to fill the silence. Remind yourself that they’re not saying anything either, so if they’re happy being quiet, you can be too.
“We’re all in the same boat”
Worried the person you met at that party last weekend thinks it’s really weird you kissed them on both cheeks? Chances are, they’re sitting at home stressing about the fact they shook your hand when you left, rather than giving you a hug. We all do it. Every one of us lies awake at night replaying these moments in our heads. They’re honestly probably too busy worrying about how they came across, to think about anything you did.
“It’s fine to step away from situations that make you anxious”
Sometimes I find large gatherings, especially with a lot of people I don’t know, very overwhelming. If things become too much I excuse myself to go to the loo, or step outside for a moment of fresh air. No-one’s going to think you’re rude or weird, and it’s OK to be honest with people. If someone judges you for telling them you need a moment to clear your head, quite frankly there are probably better people you could be spending your time with!
Other things that can help
In social gatherings I often like to have a drink in my hand. And no, it’s not because I’m a boozehound. Having something to hold (that isn’t my phone) means I don’t gesticulate wildly, which was something I found made me feel very flustered when I talked. It also gives one of my hands something to do, as I often feel self-conscious about how I’m holding myself and what I’m doing with my hands. Also, I find it really helpful to have something to sip while I talk, as it lets me pace myself, stops my mouth from getting dry, and gives me a couple of seconds to clear my head if I’ve lost my train of thought during a conversation.
I’ve learned to make jokes if I accidentally say something silly. I know – it’s easier said than done, and it definitely takes time. But I’ve really found that by not taking myself too seriously and just embracing my own ridiculousness, I’ve become much more relaxed in social situations.
I try not to plan too many social events in one week, as I know I need time to recharge. You don’t have to accept every invitation – your friends will understand. Use whatever helps you feel organised, whether it’s a paper diary or the calendar on your phone, to manage your social life. Not only will planning ahead help you feel more in control, but scheduling regular self care time is a great way to avoid feeling burnt out. By being more selective, you’ll find that the social events you do go to are so much more enjoyable.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help
It can feel really daunting turning up to a large gathering by yourself. If there’s going to be someone there you know, why not ask them to come out and meet you at the door so you can walk in together? Obviously this won’t always be an option, but when it is, please don’t feel too embarrassed to ask. They’re not going to think you’re being silly but again, if for some reason they do, I would argue that there are plenty more supportive and understanding people you could be spending your time with.
Just be honest
Everyone has certain things that make them uncomfortable. What makes your needs any less important than someone else’s? For example, if you don’t feel safe in crowded places, let your loved ones know. In the same way they probably wouldn’t take their vegetarian friend to a steak restaurant, they shouldn’t want to take you somewhere that makes you feel anxious either. Your needs matter and you deserve to surround yourself with people who are considerate of your feelings.