I have always struggled with shyness. It has been a thorn in my side for as long as I can remember. I have always struggled to sit on the sidelines while I watch other groups of soccer moms get together for coffee and playdates after practices. I have always been the lone woman in the bleachers with my nose buried into a book rather than attempt to strike up a conversation with other parents. The few relationships I have made are strained, and occasionally people will tell me they were afraid to talk to me because they thought I was rude or just a plain old snob. What they didn't realize is that I was struggling with social anxiety. Instead of living life, I had been fearing situations where I may be forced to interact. If you find yourself doing the same things I did, then you are most likely suffering from social anxiety as well. The good news is, you CAN live the life you deserve. You don't have to sit on the sidelines or feel excluded if you take a few steps toward building your confidence and practicing interactions with people on a regular basis.
Rule # 1:
Don't allow yourself to be in a position where you don't have to interact with people regularly. I allowed this to happen when I left the work force to be a stay at home mom. I spent all my time with my husband and children. The few friendships I had dwindled as I saw other people less and less frequently. Before I knew it, I had become somewhat of a recluse. When I was working, I built relationships with coworkers and other people who I interacted with regularly. I was better at interacting with others outside of my family. Socializing is definitely a use it or lose it skill, and when I stopped working, I did nothing to forge new relationships with anybody else. Make sure you do SOMETHING that encourages interactions with people. Whether it is signing up for a painting class, joining a book club, or even a parenting group, you HAVE to continue to interact with other people, or else you will find yourself withdrawing more.
Rule # 2:
Strike up a conversation. I know how hard this can be, but it is something that can certainly make the difference between allowing yourself to become the snob or the rude person and becoming a friendly face. Starting a conversation and maintaining a conversation can definitely be difficult, particularly if you have been out of practice for quite some time. You may be terrified that you will start up a conversation by asking somebody a question, they will answer it, and then there is nothing left but awkward silence. While this is sometimes the case, and you may not "click" and have an easily flowing conversation every single time, it is worth a shot to try, and you will get practice by doing this. Come up with a mental list of things to say or responses. Come up with more questions to get the other person talking so that you can find some common ground or a relatable experience. Conversation is an art and it does take practice to become good at it. Some people have this gift naturally. Others, like me, struggle with the "gift of gab", and often leave conversations trailing in uncomfortable silences and awkward moments. But the more you practice talking with other people, the easier it becomes. And when you learn enough about somebody through striking up conversations, before you know it you have a friendly face in a sea of strangers.
Rule # 3:
Smile! It seems almost impossible to do sometimes. But when you sit with an impassive look on your face, or bury your face in a book, your knitting, or on your phone, people will think you are benevolent at best. By smiling (in a non-clownish or creepy way, of course), you become more inviting. Somebody else just may strike up a conversation with you if you can't bring yourself to start one yourself. A smile makes you more welcoming, and appear happier and frienly, and thereby more approachable. A smile alone can make you far more likeable.
Social anxiety can completely send a person reeling. It can make a person feel like they are an alien when they have to interact with other people. When people suffer from social anxiety, they may find themselves making excuses to not have to go to a spouse's company picnic, or to go on a getaway with some friends and their family. It can cause you to stop living life and instead spend time working on how to avoid situations where you may have to talk to another person in a setting outside of your house. Social anxiety can literally ruin lives. You can live the life you deserve to live, however, by taking small steps to overcome social anxiety. It may seem impossible at first, but by putting yourself out there and forcing yourself to interact with other people in a social setting, you can gain and maintain the skills necessary to help you overcome your social anxiety. Before you know it, you may be the life of the party!
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