Talking With Strangers And Getting Over Social Phobia
Updated May 12, 2020
Reviewer Cessel Boyd
Your mind is racing. Your palms are sweaty. You're in the middle of a room, at a work-related party you did not want to attend. And, you don't know how to start a conversation when you're faced with having to talk with someone. Talking with strangers is not your forte. This is because you have a social phobia.
Social phobia, also known as social anxiety, is the third most common mental disorder in the United States. There are more individuals that are not diagnosed but still suffer from fear and anxiety in social situations, so the numbers are most likely even higher. Dealing with social phobias and social anxiety can result in physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms that can hinder your ability to go through daily life and make it more difficult to have relationships. While there are some things that you can do yourself to help minimize the impact of social phobia and social anxiety on your life, working with a professional counselor can help give you the tools needed to cope with and overcome it. Individuals working with professional counselors that use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy alone have an 85% success rate of improving or recovering from their social phobia and social anxiety.
What Is Social Phobia?
Social phobia is when you may feel overwhelmed by thoughts that someone doesn't like you or will think what you say is stupid, unintelligent, or unpleasant. It seems impossible to get rid of these thoughts, so, eventually, you'll start making excuses to friends and family in order to get out of going to events that you have planned with them. Before you know it, you are only doing the things you absolutely have to do, and you're avoiding everything else that involves social interaction with others.
Ways to Overcome Social Phobia
Social phobia and social anxiety can hinder your ability to fully enjoy your life. A social phobia makes it hard to have a job. It makes it hard to have relationships. And, it can make it hard to experience the things you used to enjoy. While it may seem like an impossible task, there are things that you can do that can help you start the journey towards overcoming your social phobia or anxiety.
Challenge Irrational Thoughts
If you're not speaking up in a business meeting, refraining from attending a party, or not asking for help in a department store because you don't want to speak, then you are exhibiting a social phobia in some way. The first step is to challenge the irrational thoughts that are hindering you from talking with strangers.
Talk to your colleagues, co-workers, friends, etc. Try to eliminate your safety nets one by one. Get rid of your training wheels a little at a time. Stop rehearsing what you will say in your head. Just say it. Don't drown your phobia in alcohol or drugs, as these forms of "courage" will only make your social phobias worse.
Rate Your Anxieties About Talking With Strangers
Write down what makes you anxious about talking with someone you don't know. Then, rate each of those anxieties on a 0-10 scale. Level 0 would be feeling no anxiety, and level 10 would be a full-fledged panic attack- or another intense side effect.
Once you rate them, work your way up the scale and address each one. You'll start with the things that only bring you small amounts of anxiety. Once you push yourself to do that activity a few times, you will see that it doesn't put you in danger, and you will start to become more comfortable with that activity.
You can then move your way up to the next item. As you slowly become more comfortable with each action, you will work your way up the ladder. Eventually, you'll be able to take on and conquer the things on your list that used to cause you the most amount of fear.
Begin To Practice Mindfulness Meditation
If you suffer from social anxiety, mindfulness meditation can help you in multiple ways. The first is that you will learn deep breathing exercises that can help you to calm yourself when you're faced with a situation that makes you feel anxious. Learning how to breathe deeply helps you to slow your heart rate and calm a nervous mind. When you become comfortable with the breathing exercises, they are something you can easily put into practice wherever you are and whenever you feel the anxiety coming on.
You will also learn the practice of being mindful. Mindfulness is when you purposely focus your thoughts on something that is either neutral or pleasant. So instead of constantly thinking about the upcoming situation that makes you nervous, you choose to think about the way it felt when you were on the beach during your last vacation. You'll remember what the waves sounded like as they lapped around your ankles, what the saltwater smelled like, and how the warm sun felt on your skin. Then you will picture something like the sun setting over the horizon, and with this relaxing image, you will start to settle down. This works because instead of trying to get you not to worry about something, it gets you to purposefully focus your mind on something that's healthier for you to think about.
Talk Where You Feel The Most Comfortable
While it's important to help get over your fears of talking with someone you don't know, you can start by communicating where and with whom you feel most comfortable. Email a work request. If you don't receive an answer, then follow up in person or via phone. The more you do something, the more comfortable you will be. Talking more within your comfort zone will help ease you into getting over your phobia by making you feel like you are doing it on your terms.
Track Your Successes
Tracking the success that you're having is a good way to build confidence and encourage you to keep trying new things. Every time you're able to do something in a social situation that you had wanted to avoid, add it to your list of successes. You can even journal about the activity. When you are struggling in the future, you can look back on these for strength.
Keeping a journal can help you sort through your thoughts, help you identify patterns, track your successes, and allow you to recognize when you start to fall into old habits. All of this can be helpful in overcoming social phobia or anxiety.
When you have a social phobia it's easy to let yourself go and focus on how you are feeling rather than making sure you are staying healthy. Practice a bit of self-care, such as eating healthy, taking a warm bath, exercising regularly, and other activities that nurture and promote your physical and mental health.
Join a Support Group
Join a support group that connects you with other individuals who are struggling with similar challenges and gives you a safe space to start working through your phobia and anxiety. One example is Toastmasters International, which is a well-known support group for public speaking and can be a good place to meet new people and make new friends.
Be Kind To Yourself
The most important thing you can do throughout this entire process is to be kind to yourself. If you had a bad day, it doesn't mean that you're a failure; it only means that you need to focus on the present and to continue practicing the techniques you are using to overcome your social phobia and anxiety.
BetterHelp Can Help You Overcome Your Social Phobia
If you have tried implementing the techniques listed above and still find that you are struggling with social phobia, enlisting the help of a licensed counselor can help give you some new perspective. It can also help you find techniques that work for you.
One of the key characteristics of social phobia is a fear of going outside and interacting with others. This is what makes online counseling options like BetterHelp so great. With BetterHelp you can talk to a licensed counselor via messaging, chat, phone, or video - whichever is most convenient and comfortable for you - from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Working with a counselor as soon as you notice you are starting to struggle in social situations can help make the recovery process easier. Through BetterHelp a counselor will help you find the tools and techniques that are best suited for you and your particular needs. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.
"Dr. Boring-Bray has been instrumental in my recovery from avoidance and social anxiety. She is both supportive and informative. She has helped me navigate my emotions to have a better understanding and control of them. Anything is possible with a strong therapist and hard work."
"It's amazing how beneficial therapy is. The EMDR sessions with Keith have enabled me to reclaim my power and control over my own life. As a result of my work with Keith I went from too scared and anxious to leave the house with crippling panic, to being able to enjoy walks with my husband in the park, garden and we have even traveled by plane, and train. I've been able to leave some toxic relationships that weren't serving me, and now feel equipped to not only face life but to enjoy the richness and fullness of it. I highly recommend Keith as a counselor and the EMDR sessions."
Even if you have been feeling overwhelmed by social situations for some time now, it doesn't have to stay that way. A truly fulfilling life, in which social phobia doesn't hold you back, is possible-all you need are the right tools. Take the first step today.