Overcoming Social Anxiety: How To Use Questions To Start A Conversation
By: Sarah Fader
Updated January 27, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Rachael Lee
Whether you're just meeting a new person or have known someone for years, it can be hard to start a conversation. If you have social anxiety, it's even more difficult. The good news is that you can use questions to start a conversation - and if you prepare in advance, it can help alleviate some of your anxiety about the prospect of social interaction. Here's how.
What Is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, which often leads to feelings of being inadequate, feeling inferior, self-conscious, embarrassed, humiliated and depressed. Social anxiety can be specific, or it can be generalized. Specific social anxiety could be the fear of one specific social event while generalized social anxiety is feeling nervous, anxious and uncomfortable in almost all social situations. It is much more common for people to have a generalized type of social anxiety than specific social anxiety.
Social anxiety is anxiety that is triggered by social situations. Even though you may initially be excited about attending a social event, as it draws near, you become more nervous about the idea of interacting with others. Symptoms you begin to experience may include irritability, sweating, fear, upset stomach, feelings of dread, or lightheadedness.
While each person can feel social anxiety in different ways, there are a number of different situations that can trigger the feeling of anxiety. Common social situations that cause feelings of anxiety that people tend to have trouble with are:
- Speaking in public
- Being introduced to other people
- Being the center of attention
- Being watched while you are doing something
- Meeting people of authority (“important people”)
- Talking to a stranger
- Having to go around the room (or table) and say something
- Going to parties
- Entering a room full of people
This list is definitely not a complete list of situations that might cause anxiety and/or distress. And like we said before, all of these situations don’t have to be a problem for you. You might have no problems going to a party but being introduced to someone is extremely uncomfortable.
Social anxiety can easily be confused with being shy, and while they are similar to each other and share many of the same symptoms and triggers, there are differences between the two. People who are shy feel less and less nervous as they get more familiar with the social situation, while people who have social anxiety do not, and might actually feel their fear and anxiety get worse. Most people who are shy do not feel the negative emotions that come with having social anxiety, and while shyness can evolve into social anxiety, it isn’t a natural progression. Many people who suffer from social anxiety don’t actually think of themselves as shy and often come across as talkative and friendly, but under the surface struggle with feelings of anxiety.
While social anxiety can stem from any number of things, often the pressure to come up with conversation topics and remember details about a person's life from previous interactions can start to feel overwhelming. Instead of being enjoyable, engaging in a discussion feels like a minefield: one wrong move and your reputation - or, worse, your relationship - will be ruined.
The good news is that while the pressure may feel very real to you, it is a symptom of the anxiety - and the stakes aren't that high in reality. Conversations and interactions start, stop, and feel halted all the time between many different people. It's normal, and not unique to you. However, whether you are shy, or have social anxiety, there's a simple trick you can use to make the conversation flow more easily and make you feel more comfortable if you get anxious about the pressure to make conversations with others.
Use Questions To Start A Conversation
Using questions to start a conversation is a simple trick that can help get a conversation flowing. Using a question to start a conversation can also give you time and space to ease your nerves and feel more comfortable in the social setting because it gives you time to relax and listen, rather than feeling anxious in worrying about being able to have something to say. Asking someone a question is also a great way to let the other person know that you are interested in them, their lives and their opinions.
Before you go to a social event, think about the people who may be there and what you know about them. Brainstorm some discussion or conversation topics that you can draw from when the conversation stalls or you feel pressure to start a discussion. If you commonly have this experience with strangers while out and about at unexpected times, think of some generic getting-to-know-you questions that you can ask whenever you need.
In order to effectively jump-start a conversation, the questions you choose should be open-ended; that is, they should require more than a one-word answer. Questions that facilitate longer, more detailed responses are best as opposed to questions that prompt one-word responses, such as those beginning with, " Did you ever…" or "What is your favorite…" These open-ended questions will encourage your conversation partner to respond with a more detailed answer, giving you more opportunities to absorb information that may result in a follow-up question. This will help to keep the conversation going and avoid awkward pauses that can feel uncomfortable.
While they are talking, it's important that you listen closely for clues about potential follow-up questions.
Sometimes social anxiety can be crippling - and even though you try to make connections with other people, you still find yourself struggling with loneliness because your intense fear of social situations impacts your ability to make and keep friends. The good news is that you can overcome these anxieties, and a counselor can help.
Social anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders. You are not alone in feeling anxious in social situations. If you find yourself feeling very anxious, and maybe even irrationally anxious in social situations and then feel much better when you are alone, you may be experiencing social anxiety.
With social anxiety disorders, most of the time, you know that the anxiety you feel in a social situation is irrational and doesn’t make sense but knowing this doesn’t necessarily mean that you can believe it and not feel anxious anymore. If those intense feelings of anxiety, regardless of the situation, don’t go away, it can be beneficial to talk to someone to help work through your thoughts and feelings.
Whether you experience butterflies in your stomach before you attend a party or can't even bring yourself to leave the house, Betterhelp.com has licensed therapists ready to help. Better yet, they even offer their services online, so you don't have to interact face-to-face with a new person right away if you don't want to. Get your life back - counseling can help you do just that!
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