Being Nervous Around People

One of the things that pretty much defines social anxiety (and to a lesser extent, regular shyness) is the sense of being nervous around people.

If you have Social Anxiety Disorder, this nervousness pretty much follows you around wherever you have to go.  When walking down the street, you may keep your head down or your eyes averted to “prevent” others from seeing you.

When in a cafeteria or some other public place, you might feel like people are “staring” at you, or you might not know where to look/how to act to avoid attention and eye contact.

In a classroom or at work, you feel like people are judging your every move.

When someone’s talking to you even casually, you’re worried about whether you’re saying the “right” words or giving the “correct” responses.

When you’re talking to someone of the opposite sex, you might be preoccupied over what they think of you overall/whether they find you attractive (especially if you find that person attractive yourself).

What are these feelings?  It’s your anxiety playing some crazy tricks on you.  There are a few things to keep in mind, however:

1. People are preoccupied with themselves.  Their own problems, issues, goals and desires are floating around in their mind.  In psychology, this is often referred to as egocentricity, and it’s a pretty good description of how we all act.  People are so caught up in what they’re interested in/worried about, that they’re often NOT thinking about you or judging everything about you when it seems like they are.

For example, have you ever glanced at someone just for no reason…just because he or she happened to fall within your line of vision?  Well, it happens to everyone!  You didn’t think he or she was pure evil, or disgusting, or in some other way totally offensive, right?  No, you were thinking about other things that concern you.  Same thing when people catch sight of you.

It’s also true in conversation.  If a person makes a quick comment to you, or mentions his/her opinion about something, they’re not looking for the “right” response or correct answer most of the time…they’re just shooting the breeze or making small talk.  Chances are they’ll use whatever you say to make another statement about themselves/their opinion.  Conversation is easy once you’re not too focused on being “right”!

2.  Maybe someone will make a quick judgment about you, but it will usually be harmless.
Going back to that example about the person who just “happens” to fall into your line of vision–maybe sometimes you have a passing thought about the person, such as “he’s got some nice shoes,” or “she’s cute,” or “that’s a funny-looking shirt,” but then you forget about that person, right?

Same might happen to you.  If people happen to notice you for a few seconds, they might have a very superficial “opinion” about you that lasts a few seconds, but then it’s over, and they’re back to #1–being preoccupied with themselves.

Make use of these tips by writing them down on an index card and walking with them in your pocket.  If you start to feel nervous out there in the world, take out the card and remind yourself of those two facts.  Even say it out loud.  Take a moment to breathe deeply and calm yourself down, and go about your day with a renewed sense of optimism!

Hope this helps!  Leave me your thoughts in the comments.  For a more complete and permanent solution to being nervous around people, check out Social Dynamix.

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