Do you deal with social anxiety? This girl does. She asks:
How do you deal with social anxiety? I get so nervous around people sometimes and always feel awkward. I’ve been praying about it, but it’s still bad. I want to witness to others, but I practically have a panic attack when I do!
So for her—and anyone who can relate—here are ten helpful ways I’ve personally found to push past social anxiety.
You have to push past social anxiety to love others well.
First, though, a disclaimer: If you’re an introvert, you don’t need to become an extrovert! Think of the following list of suggestions as a few tools for you to take or leave. No one is asking you to get a whole new personality and become the most gregarious person at the party. What we are seeking is to love and welcome others as we have been loved and welcomed by God through Christ.
Hopefully one or more of these suggestions will be helpful to that end.
1. Don’t hide behind your phone. Put it away when you’re with other people. It will help others feel more cared for and will help you engage them more easily. I’m guessing you’re actually better than you know at engaging people when the phone isn’t vying for your attention. You’ve got this!
2. Know that your approval comes not from people but from God. If you are looking to people to tell you what you’re worth, you will fear them instead of love them. Remember that we are all equal, each made in God’s image. If you have surrendered your life to Christ, you now have God’s full approval. And you have been given a mission to love Him with all your heart and to love others as you love yourself. You have to push past social anxiety to love others well.
3. Don’t be afraid to be awkward. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said or done awkward things. But here’s the deal: It’s not a sin to be awkward. It is, however, a violation of God’s law not to love others. In order not to stay perpetually awkward, give yourself permission to be awkward for a while. And if you hurt someone in the process, be sure to seek forgiveness.
4. Ask questions. If you can’t think of questions to ask on the spot, it’s not cheating to have some prepared. For example, when I see someone new at church, I’ll often ask, “How long have you been attending?” followed by “How did you hear about us?” Then I can think of other spontaneous questions to ask them once the conversation is rolling.
5. Listen well. Now that you’ve asked a good question, your job is done, right? Wrong! Don’t let your mind wander. Listen well to how they answer your question. Don’t worry about thinking through your response or your next question—just listen well.
6. If you really want to go the extra mile, jot down notes after you talk to them while the conversation is still fresh in your mind. I often take notes on my phone when I meet someone new whom I think I might bump into again. My notes consist of their name plus an identifying characteristic and maybe something interesting I learned about them. That way, I can always go back and reference my notes later if (okay, when!) I forget their name.
7. Pray. Even though I usually feel like leaving the building right after service on Sundays, I’ve gotten into the habit of asking God, “Who do you want me to talk to today?” I then look for someone to introduce myself to or to say “hi” to. We’re almost always the last to vacate the premises!
8. Practice. Stretch yourself. Try sticking around on Sunday until you’ve found someone to talk to. Practice striking up a conversation with the cashier at the mall. Try smiling at the strangers you pass on the street or in the halls at school. See and engage people wherever you go, just like Jesus did while He lived on earth.
9. Remember that others are insecure, too, and don’t take it personally if they don’t seem interested in talking back. You don’t have to be everyone’s friend, but you should seek to consistently be friendly. Don’t only talk to the friends you’re comfortable with. Seek out new faces, and do your best to make them feel welcome.
10. Focus on becoming a “there you are” person. There are a few blog posts you read and never forget. This one by Jani Ortlund is one of them for me. I hope it’s as helpful to you as it was to me!
What did I forget? Any other tips you’ve found helpful for pushing past social anxiety? Why do you think it’s so important to work on it?