Not everyone is born with scintillating social skills – while a lucky few seem naturally endowed with the art of socializing at the other extreme are those who are painfully shy in social situations. An entirely different ballgame is when you are not simply shy but actually find yourself stricken with fear at the prospect of meeting new people. This is probably a specific condition and falls within a spectrum of Anxiety Disorders. While a diagnosis and treatment can be only made by a trained professional, here are a few things you can do to cope with your fear of meeting new people.
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What can it mean?
One of the most common anxiety disorders to affect personal relationships is Social Anxiety Disorder or SAD in which people have an excessive and persistent fear of social and performance situations. They are unnaturally sensitive to social situations where they believe they are being judged or evaluated. This condition may be generalized like being afraid speak to authority figures, go on dates, start conversations, give speeches or it may be expressed only in specific situations, like for instance when you only fear public speaking or are only afraid of meeting a person of the opposite sex. Without proper treatment, SAD can be chronic and severely impair your quality of life. Unfortunately, the nature of the disorder means that you are a person who is afraid to ask for help. If even approaching a friend, family member or your doctor seems too overwhelming, look to see if there is a university or community clinic in your area that offers confidential counseling. You may even be able to contact them for the first time via email. No matter what course of action you take, it is important to take the first step.
What you can do
If you know you have SAD but still wish to expand your social circle, be proud of yourself. Making up your mind to overcome your fears is a great start and now all you need is to plan your socializing ventures carefully. As far as possible look for get-togethers and gatherings that are activity based so that the focus veers away from exclusive social interaction to doing something enjoyable together. Shared interests like hiking, carpentry or dancing will keep you and your companions busy and give you something to talk about. If it is a party or a dinner you are invited to, suggest going to an offbeat restaurant or other establishment that will keep you entertained such as a theme-based restaurant or make-your-own pizza. Meeting new people through sports is another great idea for those who fear socializing - you could for instance go watch a football game or drop in at the local driving range to hit a few balls.
For a person suffering from anxiety disorder, a lot of the stress comes from conjuring up threatening situations and consequences. In order to allay this anxiety, find out if there is a distinct start and end time for the gathering or if it is up to you, decide on when you would arrive and leave the venue. Most importantly don’t get perturbed if there are lulls in the conversation – they are to be only expected in a normal conversation. As a matter of fact, before the date, you may even do some reading beforehand and have in mind interesting facts or current events. Having these topics on hand will fill up the awkward moments and lessen your partner’s anxiety.
Enlist the help of friends and family
Instead of enduring consecutive nights of discomfort in a bar or nightclub, let your friends and family know that you are interested in meeting new people. This is a good idea firstly because they are aware of your shyness and hence will be careful to set you up with a partner who is compatible with your personality type. Secondly, making friends will become that much easier for you when people you already know introduce you to their friends and family.
Look on the positive side
Make a list of the reasons you think someone may reject you. Your list may include words such as shy, boring, overweight, intellectual or nervous – all of which may push you further back into your shell, especially when set against highly sociable people you know. Comparing yourself to others, even if they belong to your own social circle, will bring up your own perceived deficiencies and only depress you further. Instead embrace who you are. A great way to bring back the focus from what others have to what you possess is to think about your greatest strengths. Consider what you have that others around you don’t – it could range from a widely-read intellect to culinary skills or perhaps an amazing smile which lights up even the cloudiest of days. Go over all your qualities and skills that you possess and then determine how you can leverage your strengths to create an advantage for yourself on the social scene. If you can turn out the fluffiest of pastries, take part in baking contests in your city and in TV shows which can make you a celebrity in your community. Likewise you can use whatever pluses you have like a successful career or musical ear to give you an edge and thus boost your confidence while socializing.
Learn to relax
Although no substitute for proper diagnosis and treatment, the use of self-help strategies may offer some control over your symptoms and allow you to be an active participant in the recovery process. Deep breathing, guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation are some self-help strategies that may help to reduce your anxiety in social situations.
Take rejection in your stride
Most often a deep fear of meeting new people is the result of rejection suffered in one’s social life. You might have started off optimistically and played up your best aspects. But still someone may not have warmed up to you. Here it is extremely important to see rejection in the right perspective. Remember that one person’s opinion is that person’s only and does not apply to every single on the scene. If the rejection had been due to a mistake on your part, make it a point not to repeat it again. But most of all keep in mind that the world includes people with varied priorities and preferences and someone or the other is sure to match with yours.