Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Have Social Anxiety Part 2: How I Handle Meeting New People

Recently, I wrote about having social anxiety. The last time I wrote, I talked about how difficult it can be for me to be up in front of people talking. Even people I know. It just makes me all around nervous. To read more about that aspect of my social anxiety, you can click here.

My social anxiety also affects me when I go out to places with a large amount of people, when I meet new people, and have to make conversation with people, who I don't know very well. 

For example, this makes me super anxious:

Midpoint Music Festival

Wowza! Lots of people!

Doing this in front of people watching made me crazy anxious.

This does not! Haha! But dancing is my comfort zone.

Me salsa dancing with people I don't know!

Before I explain a little about this part of my social anxiety, I wanted to share a quote that I heard somewhere about social anxiety (I can't for the life of me remember where it from!), but I think it really helps to show how difficult it can be and how awkward you feel in a room with a bunch of people. 

Have you ever been in a room full of people and just felt like everyone and their mother is staring at you? Their eyes are on you, analyzing what you're doing, the way you look, what you're not doing, why you're standing there on your own, among other things? I have that feeling all the time. Sometimes I am able to contain this feeling inside of me and move on. I can smile, look like I'm having fun, and carry on a basic conversation with people whom I do not know very well. Sometimes I do actually have fun.

Other times, the feeling is harder to control. I feel the anxiety coming on, and I do my best to control it. I picture my relaxing scene in my mind: my dad's grilling on the beach. Rachael, Bjorn, and I are hanging out in the sun. Crabs are skedaddling past us, hoping we don't catch them in the process. Laughter and peacefulness come over me....well, sometimes that works in these situations.

And then, like last night (at one of Bjorn's shows), I got that old sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, that everyone's eyes were on me. I stood awkwardly on my own at the side of the room, hoping no random people came up to start a conversation with me. I never know what to do with my hands. I clutch the strap of my purse. My hands  jump from "in my pockets" to "out of my pockets." First, I have my whole hand in my pocket, then I'm not sure if that feels right, so I take them out and stick my thumbs in my pockets, the rest of my hands resting on the side of my hips. But to me, I feels so exposed. Not necessarily physically, but so emotionally exposed.

Most often, I am not the most eloquent person the first time I meet someone. I don't always know what to say or what to ask. I try to keep up the best conversation that I can, but don't want to ask too many questions or say the wrong thing. I would much prefer to stand next to someone with a quiet understanding: it's okay to just stand here and enjoy the moment, whatever it is we're doing. I don't have to talk. But, I always feel pressure to hold up my end of a conversation.

A great post about social anxiety written by mommyblog0627 here.

If I am not asking someone questions about their life or what they did that day or offering up information about myself, it is not because I'm not interested. It's because, in my mind, I am trying to wrangle in my anxiety. It's like I'm in a rodeo and I'm up next to lasso the calf running around the pen, and I am the worst catch on the ranch. Sometimes it may take me awhile to warm up; sometimes, I'm having a difficult day, and I am just not able to be myself.

I promise you that I am not uninterested. I truly enjoy your company and am happy to be talking to you! I think that this is the misconception about people who have social anxiety. I, in no way, am not interested in getting to know you, answering your questions, or being friendly. It is just incredibly challenging to maintain my peace of mind, quiet my anxiety, and be socially present when in this heightened state.

Many things can affect how I feel that day: how tired I am, how anxious I've felt that day, how well or not well I know who I am with, if I feel like I can create a connection with people or not, and the list can go on.

Over the years, it's funny, but I feel like this aspect of my life has gotten better and worse: in one way, I'm not as afraid to put myself out there. I know who I am, and I'm not afraid to be me. On the other hand, my social anxiety has become a little worse as I've gotten older (as with all aspects of my anxiety in general).

In my experience, my usual strategies tend to serve me well in these situations: 

  1. Walk away for a few minutes and picture my relaxing scene (this does not work when my anxiety is higher than a 7 on a scale of 1-10). 
  2. Take deep breaths and focus on calming my anxiety brain. I'm lucky that over the years of working on my anxiety, I have learned how to firmly quiet my mind by sheer will power and telling myself. Okay, this is just anxiety. It's uncomfortable, you will be fine, shut up already! Sometimes tough love works on my brain! 
  3. Find someone I know to stand with your hang out with while talking to others whom I don't know so well. This really builds my confidence! (But not always possible.)
  4. I've also realized that it's okay to have a lapse in conversation! I can sit and watch the    band play. I can take a walk around wherever we are and go back. I can walk outside for a few minutes. I can just stand there and listen to someone else talk. I don't always have to take part in the conversation, and that's okay.
  5. I'm okay with who I am, and I don't apologize for being me!
  6. Try to "blank" my mind when I go into a public place where there are a lot of people.
    That's me going in with an "open-mind." It takes some effort to stop my thoughts.
    If I can't stop my thoughts that night, I replace my negative thinking with a positive
    thought. Negative: I don't know what to say! Everyone will think I'm awkward!
    Positive: I don't have to know what to say. I am an interesting person.
  7. Sometimes I just put myself out there and not be afraid! Ask an oddball question: 
    • Have you eaten anywhere fun lately? 
    • Have you been listening to any great music lately?
    • I've had such a crazy week! (Insert interesting thing that happened to me this week.) What's the craziest thing that's happened to you this week?
    • How long have you lived in Cincinnati? How did you end up here
    • Sometimes I find it hard to talk about my personal life around people I don't       know very well. This way, I feel like I'm still conversing with people, but I don't get as uncomfortable talking about myself! This way, it's a little easier to throw myself out there.

I've spent a long time working on my social anxiety. I told Rachael the other day, "I know I'm always going to have social anxiety. It's just something that I'm going to have to work through every time I go out." I'm okay with that. That's who I am, and I'll be fine. It's just a lot of work, and sometimes, it takes a lot of energy. Some days more than others. But it's nothing I can't handle.

Do you ever feel yourself uncomfortable when you're out around people you don't know very well?

Shout out to Dave and Mary last night for making my night!! I was so excited to see you two!

Love and happiness <3 Holly


  1. DUDE it's like you're reading my mind. I JUST wrote a massive post on social anxiety and my experiences with it! This really helps me so thanks for writing it. It is nice (but also not nice, if you know what I mean) to know that other people are dealing with the same kinds of things inside their brains. Good luck!!

    Kirsten |

    1. Kirsten, I totally agree with you! I read it, and I love it! I feel the same way as you do in your post! I totally know what you mean! It's nice to have people who you meet in life you can relate and share in your experiences. It's so nice to have met you ;) Love your blog :) Good luck to you too!! Sending you love and hugs!! <3 Holly


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