Two Questions I Use to Reduce My Social Anxiety

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I get anxious every time I make plans to go to a networking event or any other event where there will be a lot of new people. If you’ve met me, it may seem hard to believe but it is true.

From the outside I seem like a people person, an extrovert and my Myers Briggs would agree.  But on the inside, I am like squishy jello — feeling a bit unstable, off balance and out of whack. This is what they call “faking it until you make it.”

As someone who has been in the public eye and in front of people a lot, you would think I would’ve have gotten over this anxiety a long time ago.  But I haven’t.

I do recognize that my anxiety is brain generated activity — a brain pattern if you will.  The anxiety I feel is a defense mechanism I put together when I was a kid. I always felt awkward and out of place as a kid. I was 5’9” by the 9th grade, with braces and thick glasses. I had grown so fast I couldn’t keep up with my body and used to trip a lot going up steps (hello size 11 feet when shoes only went to a size 10 at that time).

In high school, I remember friends calling to ask me to go places with them.  I was filled with so much dread at going to a dance or a party where I was sure I wouldn’t fit in I’d say, “I have to ask my Mom,” and then I’d call back and tell them she had said no.  Mom caught on after awhile but was okay with me using her as an excuse.

Thirty-five years later I still feel that same dread in the pit of my stomach when I am about to enter a room full of new people. But now I don’t let the anxiety stop me, I use it to my advantage. How do I do it?

First, I recognize that my anxiety is NOT real. It is only the memory of me not fitting in as a child that triggers it.

Second, I know that the feeling will pass, just like gas. (Insert smile here.)

Finally, I shift my viewpoint about the situation from “this is going to be really scary” to “I wonder what fascinating person I will meet at this event?”

It’s simple, but it isn’t easy.  

So, here are two questions I use that help me relax, get to know people, make new friends and identify new business contacts.

#1. When meeting someone new I ask: “What’s new with you THIS WEEK?” Asking people what’s new in the past week gives people a recent experience they can talk about. Who doesn’t love talking about themselves?  If they don’t have an answer then try question #2.

#2. “Anything new in your life to celebrate?” This gives people an opportunity to be in the space of gratitude and happiness. According to Dr. Marianna Pochelli, N.D., “thinking positive, happy, hopeful, optimistic, joyful thoughts decreases cortisol and produces serotonin, which creates a sense of well-being. This helps your brain function at peak capacity.” What a great way for people to remember YOU, as someone who made them feel happier.  Only that’s the trick. You simply asked a question that led them to create their own happiness. Cool, eh?

Remember that before you ask those questions, have your own answers because inevitably the person you are talking to will ask you the same.

See you at the next gathering! I think we’ll have lots to talk about.

P.S. I'm curious. Do you ever get anxiety the way I do? What do you do to handle it? Please leave your answers in the comments below!