Exposure to Social Situations

Now that you have a good understanding of what to do for exposure practices, let’s look at the various types of social situations you can practice. Many of these situations may seem too difficult for you, but over time, as you grow and push your limits, you will be able to handle these seemingly impossible situations with ease.

If any of these situations seem too easy for you, don’t waste your time with them. You want to focus on the social situations that you find difficult, but not too challenging.

Practices Involving Public Speaking

The best way to start getting more comfortable with public speaking is to start asking or answering questions at school or in meetings at work. Most of us are either in school or have a job, so find a way to take advantage of opportunities that arise in your day to day life.

When you’re in class, make it your goal to ask or answer 1 question. Use Mel Robbins 5 second trick to stop yourself from hesitating when asking a question.

Again, you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone to overcome your social anxiety. The more you do these acts, the easier they get because you learn not to fear them. It’s only when you constantly resist doing them that they become these big monsters in your mind.

The same applies if you have a job. Seek out opportunities at work to speak in group settings. I know it’s not easy to do, but make it a goal to ask 1 question or make one suggestion at a meeting. If meetings are not an option, then give a presentation or give a training class to fellow co-workers.

If the opportunity isn’t there at work, then there are plenty of other ways to get some public speaking practices in.

You can go to a public lecture, join Toastmasters International, of make an impromptu speech at a party, dinner, or a wedding. You can give a talk at school for career day, read a book passage in front of others, or take a drama class. There are tons of opportunities out there, you just have to take advantage of them.

If all of these seem too daunting because you feel like you don’t have the skills required for public speaking, then sign up for a public speaking class. Read up on the subject and find out all you can about it. If you take the class, you will give several speeches to hone your skills. If you mess up, that’s fine, that’s why you’re in a class – to improve!

Recommended reading: Fear of Public Speaking, Think Fast, Talk Smart

Practices Involving Small Talk And Casual Conversation

For those of us who have trouble making small talk, we have to try and take advantage of the many opportunities throughout the day.

Small talk can seem awkward sometimes, but if you have a reason to strike up a conversation (at least initially), it doesn’t come across as weird. For example, instead of just saying hi randomly to a stranger and then the conversation ending, you can ask for the time or for directions.

The more you practice small talk, the easier it will become. With that in mind, try and strike up conversations in line with customers, or with cashiers, or in an elevator, bus stop, etc. As mentioned earlier, vary the locations, types of people, and so on.

Since these are usually short interactions, try and get in as many as you can. Keep in mind that some people may not want to talk, but don’t let that discourage you. It’s nothing against you, so don’t take it personally.

If you want to meet more people and make more small talk, get a dog! Everyone loves dogs (they are super social animals)! When you are out and about walking your new bud, people will come up to you and talk to you and/or your dog. You can talk about your dog at first and then ask some other questions like where they are from or what they do for work. Make eye contact and smile at people and they may even initiate a conversation with you! Walking your dog daily is great for your health too – win/win.

To get more practice with small talk, you can invite friends over more often (sports, movie marathon, dinner, etc.), go to a coffee shop with friends, initiate conversations with classmates, co-workers, store staff members, parents of other children, etc. There are so many opportunities.

When making small talk, do not ask questions that only require a yes or a no response (closed questions). Ask open questions that will elicit a more in depth response – questions that start with why or what.

Other opportunities: express personal opinions without offending others (friendly and understanding their perspective), join on going conversations, give and receive compliments (say thanks, don’t discount compliments).

Practices Involving Meeting New Friends

Some people with social anxiety have a very difficult time meeting new people, making new friends, and networking. This section ties in with making small talk because small talk leads to making new friends and networking! Kind of obvious I suppose. So, you know how to make small talk, now what?

Try and talk to your neighbors (introduce yourself, ask how long they have lived there), join a club, go to a social event (work holiday party, book signing, class reunion, etc.), meet people via social media, invite people you are acquainted with out for lunch, and ask your friends to introduce you to new people.

Practices Involving Possible Conflicts With Others

If you are like me, you really shy away from conflict. Conflict is so difficult because most of us don’t want to piss someone else off. People who are socially anxious usually want everyone to like them, so this is an area that most of us avoid. When doing these practices, make sure the risks are minimal and that you are respectful.

If you have difficulty with conflict, you could probably benefit from some lessons on assertiveness. Do not confuse assertiveness with anger. Being assertive is about being bold, decisive, confident, and firm. Anger, on the other hand, is likely to escalate the situation.

Some of these practices may come across as a bit harsh because you may inconvenience a few people, but you need this to help you overcome your inability to face conflict. Sure, you might bother a couple people, but once you do, you will see that it’s not the end of the world and you won’t fear conflict and being assertive so much. So, here are some examples:

  • Return an item to a store
  • When a traffic light turns green, wait a couple seconds before driving.
  • When you are up to order (in line), take extra time to order or keep asking questions about the coffee, sandwiches, etc.
  • Learn to say no when you don’t want something. Be assertive.
  • Ask someone to stop smoking
  • Send food back at a restaurant
  • Take a longer than normal amount of time at the ATM

Practices Involving Being The Center Of Attention

Don’t like being the center of attention, being observed by others, or looking foolish in public?

  • Speak louder than normal at the store
  • Say something incorrect
  • Drop something or knock something over
  • Wear something crazy or inside out
  • Play in a party game
  • Talk about yourself

Practices Involving Eating Or Drinking With Others

Do you get nervous eating in front of other because you don’t want to look messy, have shaky hands, feel flushed from hot foods, or look unattractive?

  • Eat at someone else’s house
  • Invite people over to dinner
  • Eat lunch with co workers
  • Eat a snack at work in front of others
  • Hold a beverage at a party – don’t hide your hands
  • Eat with others at a restaurant
  • Eat in any public place where people can see you

Make sure the areas are well lit so you are not engaging in avoidance behaviors.

Practices Involving Writing In Front Of Others

Some people have a fear of writing in front of others. When they write, their hands shake like crazy and they fear that people will judge them harshly for it. If this is you, try writing in front of others when the opportunity presents itself.

  • Write in a public place
  • Fill out forms in front of others
  • Make your hand shake on purpose when you’re doing this to prove to yourself that it isn’t a big deal.

Practices Involving Job Interviews

Job interviews can be very anxiety inducing for anyone, but for people with social anxiety, it can be extremely difficult. If you want to get some practice, there are a few things you can do.

Practice interviews with a family member or friend and then get their feedback after the mock interview.

Apply for a volunteer position like a charity, school, or hospital. There is no risk in applying for a volunteer position because it is a non paying position, but it will still give you the experience and practice of having a real job interview. If you don’t like it, you can always turn it down.

Learn more about job interviews! Be prepared – read up on the subject, know what to expect, and do some research on the position and company you are applying for. Feeling knowledgeable about it will improve your confidence.

Apply for positions that aren’t that appealing. Again, it is low risk, but you will still get the practice and experience of a real job interview. Apply for as many places as you can so you can get tons of experience.

Once you have read up on the subject and get some practice, apply for a job that does interest you.

Another trick to keep your mind off of yourself during an interview (which will cause you to feel very anxious) is to go into an interview with the mind-set that you are interviewing the company to determine if you want to work for them. You are working for the company and giving them your valuable time – you should make sure that the company and their vision is something you want to be a part of.

Practices Involving Being In Public

Some people feel uncomfortable around people in public places even though there is no direct social contact. If you feel uncomfortable in public places (especially crowded places), try these practices:

Basically, go anywhere in public! Go to a mall, concert, park, supermarket, sporting event, club, or anywhere else that is busy. When you walk down the street or in the mall, make good eye contact (don’t look at the floor!).

Get out there and join a gym and exercise in front of others. Just do something to get yourself into a busy environment and then stay long enough to feel comfortable and practice frequently.

Practices Involving Speaking To Authority Figures

Speaking to your boss or someone else of authority (cop, teacher, lawyer, doctor, etc.) can often feel intimidating. It is no surprise that many of us feel very anxious around these types of people, but there is a way to overcome this mind-set. Instead of avoiding them, find ways to make contact with them more often.

Have meetings with your boss if possible to discuss your work performance or general work processes, etc. If you’re in school, you can ask your teacher for help on a tough problem.

Consider asking doctors, lawyers, bank managers, etc. the tough questions. Don’t just accept what they say, challenge them a bit. Ask them specific questions that you may have. Keep pressing until you get an answer.

For example, whenever you go see your doctor, don’t be afraid to ask him/her about any medical issues you are having. Don’t allow them to blow you off.

For all these exercises, make sure you express your personal opinions if that’s a point of contention for you.

Next: Challenging your worst fears

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