written by Kathy Best, CNTC, CRRC, ACR, SPPDC
Have you ever been to a social event or gathering where you felt uncomfortable or inhibited? You’re not alone. Over 12% of adults and 9% of adolescents experience social anxiety at some point in their lives. For some it can be a lifelong issue. Certain social situations can be very pleasant, when we’re surrounded by company we enjoy. Other social situations can sometimes make us wish we were somewhere else. We may feel anxious about spending time with people we don’t know, or self-consciousness about our lack of conversation skills. We may look around and believe everyone, except us, is having a good time. There probably isn’t a single person who hasn’t felt shy or awkward at one time or another.
One of the most effective ways to overcome your feelings of shyness or awkwardness is to focus on the people around you. If you can acknowledge that some of the people near you might be feeling the same way, it can make the thought of speaking to them less intimidating. Remember that these feelings of anxiety and fear are learned behaviors that have become familiar to your mind and your body. Therefore you need to practice making the unfamiliar – anticipation, confidence, and charm – familiar. Anything can be learned or unlearned when we decide to make it a priority.
The next time you feel nervous, anxious, or fearful about attending a social gathering try this exercise: Close your eyes and breathe deeply for a couple of minutes. Imagine your body being enveloped in a protective white light. See yourself feeling safe, confident, and completely comfortable surrounded in this warm, loving light. Visualize people that interest you being drawn to you because of the confident, comfortable feelings you are emanating. You can also spend some time researching conversation topics that interest you and use them to start conversations at any event.
Begin doing this several days before the event and right before the
event. As soon as you arrive spend a few moments mentally extending the light
of acceptance to everyone around you. Smile and greet people genuinely. Walk up
to someone who’s standing alone and introduce yourself. When you practice radiating
acceptance and receptiveness, others can’t help but respond in kind.
When we focus on how we can make others feel at ease it helps us forget about our own insecurities. We often end up making the very connections that we were seeking in the process. The next time you attend an event or gathering, encourage people to join you in the comfort zone that you created. Allow yourself to enjoy being encircled in the warmth and wonder of new acquaintances.