I don’t think I’ve talked about social anxiety much here on TIL, but it’s something that I’ve seriously struggled with.
I want to quickly point out here that introversion and social anxiety are two different things. I know people who say that they have social anxiety when really they’re just an introvert. Introverts don’t panic when they have to talk to new people; they just prefer not to be around people as much as they like to be alone. Social anxiety is a disorder that can actually interfere with your life. Introversion is a personality trait.
I’m someone who needs more time alone, but I like to be around people too. I just struggle with talking to new people, being in large groups, and I’m an HSP. All of this can make social interactions kind of awkward sometimes.
There’s one thing, though, that I struggle with most when it comes to social anxiety: SMALL TALK. I honestly hate it. I understand why small talk is a thing, it’s just something that always seemed forced and uncomfortable for me. I feel like it’s basically the center of my social anxiety, as silly as that may sound.
My social anxiety is something that I’ve been slowly overcoming and it’s gotten a lot better over the years. It’s still a struggle sometimes when I’m in large groups, but it’s so much easier for me to deal with than it used to be.
So, today I thought I’d share some tips that I’ve learned on how to handle small talk when you have social anxiety!
Turn down the self-judgment.
As someone who struggles with social anxiety, part of the problem is being scared of saying or doing the wrong thing. I spent way too much energy focused on judging myself, monitoring and assessing my actions. But all this did was make me more anxious, and it made everything way harder than it needed to be.
If you do this, it’s important that you leave your self-judgment behind. This is easier said than done, but it’s important to work on it. No one is judging you as much as you’re judging yourself anyway.
Accept that it will probably be awkward at first.
When people are meeting for the first time, it can be a little bit awkward at first. Small talk usually just a simple way to meet a person, learn their name, and the basics about them. This isn’t always the most comfortable thing, even for the most social of people. When you realize that and lower your expectations, it makes things a little more bearable.
Keep it simple.
I used to struggle with wanting to make a great first impression but small talk with someone you’ve just met doesn’t really need to be complicated. You don’t need to come up with witty remarks or anything. Overcomplicating things doesn’t help when you’re struggling with social anxiety. Just take things one step at a time and try not to get overwhelmed.
Have some topics in mind.
One of the most uncomfortable things about small talk for me was those awkward silences when the conversation kind of struggled to move forward. If you get anxious making small talk, there’s nothing wrong with having a few topics in mind to keep the conversation going. Depending on who you’re talking to, the topics may vary, but here are a few ideas:
- Pop culture
- Local news
- The weather
I also want to point out that there are also some topics that are usually best to avoid when it comes to your first interaction with people. Things like politics, religion, money, or other more sensitive topics.
Ask plenty of questions.
The single biggest struggle for me when it comes to my social anxiety is not knowing what to say to people I didn’t know. I don’t mind answering questions about myself, but I get anxious when all of the attention is on me. One thing that helps is keeping the conversation going by asking questions about whoever I’m talking to.
Most social people love to talk about themselves so this is a great way to allow them to do so while also engaging in the conversation myself. This is helpful because it allows you to learn more about the other person and maybe find some things that you might have in common, which can give you more to talk about.
Truly listen and be present.
I generally have good listening skills. I mean, I love listening to people! But when I’m in a social situation and dealing with anxiety, it’s hard to TRULY listen to someone. I mean, I’m way too focused on wondering what the other person is thinking about me, worried about what to say next, and struggling to keep myself calm.
Instead of placing your focus on your worries, try to focus on staying present. Focus on what the other person or people are saying. Really listen to their words. This will not only help you remain calmer, but it will also show the other person that you’re really interested in the conversation. People can tell whether you’re really present or not!
Work on your conversation skills.
Most things get easier with practice. And it’s easier to practice when you educate yourself. So, learn more about improving your conversation skills and practice what you learn. Accept the social invitations that you receive, practice small talk when you go to the grocery store or other times you’re around people you don’t know. It really does get easier the more that you do it!
I found a super helpful article from the National Social Anxiety Center that you can read right here, all about how to overcome social anxiety. It discusses strengths to develop, crutches to let go of, how to initiate and exit conversations, and more!