Believe it or not, many people get a little anxious in social situations. Whenever they encounter others in a social environment, their level of anxiety increases. They become self-conscious about what other people might think of them. As a result, they can get so wrapped up in their worries that they’re unable to actually engage. Even worse, their fears and concerns can actually cause them to be awkward and give off a bad impression. Of course, this only fuels the fire, making them even more anxious for the next social interaction.
Overall, about 7 percent of people experience some type of social anxiety at any given time. But with the coronavirus pandemic, these numbers have risen. Naturally, we are concerned about contracting the COVID-19 virus in social situations, but this is only part of it. The socially distanced greetings and partings that we are now forced to use also contribute to these emotions. Because these don’t feel normal to us (and they’re not!), we tend to experience greater anxiety. That’s why it’s important to not only recognize these situations but also adopt some relationship skills that can help.
Why We Experience Social Anxiety
Feeling a little bit tense in social settings is a perfectly normal emotion. Even those with exceptional relationship skills experience these emotions. As individuals, we need to have a sense of belonging. Whether it’s our friends, our colleagues, or our community, we thrive when we believe others value us. At the same time, conflicts and disapproval of others trigger powerful feelings in the opposite direction. Therefore, it’s common for us to want to present our best self when interacting with other people. With all of the social rules now changed with COVID, it’s no wonder some are having greater social anxiety. This is simply another manifestation of pandemic stress.
Of course, there’s a spectrum of social anxiety that we might experience. On the one hand, you might become tense when meeting someone new for the first time. Or you might become anxious when presenting at your office meeting via Zoom. But for some, their social anxiety can become paralyzing preventing them from leaving the house. Unfortunately, this only makes matters worse. Rather than exposing one’s self to social interactions, the isolation encourages fears to blossom to an even greater degree. In order to turn things around, it’s not only important to have relationship skills but to practice them as well.
Some Important Relationship Skills to Practice
A little bit of anxiety when meeting someone new or when public speaking isn’t all bad. In fact, a healthy level of anxiety encourages us to prepare so we can perform our best. However, social anxiety can become excessive if we allow it. As a result, there are several relationship skills and other tips that can help you avoid such situations. The following are some key pieces of advice that you may wish to consider.
- Be in the Moment – At the heart of any anxiety is a fear of what’s about to come. Social anxiety is no different. With social anxiety, we anticipate how things might go wrong in the social context we are going to experience. Therefore, one of the relationship skills that can help with this anxiety is to be more present in the moment. Think less about predicting the future and more about being actually engaged in the conversation.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Be Honest – Despite our gut instinct to hide our social anxiety from others, it’s something many people experience. This is often common when dating someone for the first time. Therefore, one of the best ways to diffuse it is to simply admit we’re anxious about something. This may be easier to do when speaking with a small group or a single person. But it’s one of the best relationship skills to have regardless. Honesty is often the best policy.
- Don’t Set the Bar Too High – In an ideal world, every social encounter we have would allow us to present our best self. Of course, this isn’t possible, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still strive for perfection. Unfortunately, setting the bar so high can lead to social anxiety. By lowering our standards, and being more realistic, we can avoid triggering an excessive level of worry.
- Practice Self-Praise – Many who suffer from social anxiety often have too much negative self-talk in their heads. A constant running commentary of criticism can prevent your ability to be present in the moment. Likewise, it can also set you up for failure as a self-fulling prophecy. Relationship skills experts thus suggest practicing self-praise and positivity instead. This can help keep you in a frame of mind where anxiety is less likely to be overwhelming.
- Focus on Others’ Needs – Social anxiety increases when we focus an excessive amount of attention on ourselves. We constantly analyze our performance and behavior as well as others’ response. However, this only makes our level of stress worse. If we focus on others’ needs during social interactions, we can escape this common anxiety trap. Not only can this help us be more present in the conversation. But it also provides a chance to be more giving of ourselves as well.
- Learn to Laugh at Yourself – No matter how great your relationship skills are, you’ll have a few missteps along the way. After all, each of are human and prone to a few mishaps every so often. Being able to laugh at these little mistakes can also reduce social anxiety significantly. Plus, it shows others that you enjoy a healthy dose of humility as well. By laughing at your errors, you give yourself permission to mess up. And that alone is therapeutic.
Finding Opportunities to Practice Your Relationship Skills
Given that many states are reconsidering lockdowns, it might be challenging to find ways to practice your relationship skills. But it’s important that you do what you can. It’s not so much that practice makes perfect. It’s more about maintaining the social skills you have already. Without a doubt, social interactions will continue to be strange while COVID persists. Even face masks reduce our ability to communicate verbally and non-verbally. But there remain opportunities for such encounters whether it’s in the grocery store or on Zoom. By using the suggestions above, you’ll be less socially anxious when these opportunities arise. And when COVID is finally over, you’ll be even better equipped to enjoy socially healthy relationships.
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