When it comes to meeting new people, social anxiety instills in its sufferers a sense of dread. Having to meet new people can sound alarms and ignite warning fires in the minds and bodies of those living with social anxiety (Extroverts Can Experience Social Anxiety, Too). In response to the fires, fire walls within the brain pop up, sealing off areas like rational thought and peaceful feelings so that all attention is funneled to the fire. The fire is a signal of danger—of stranger danger—and it makes us dread meeting new people. What we often don’t realize is that we are in charge of the alarm, the fire, even social anxiety itself. You don’t have to forever dread meeting new people.
Why Social Anxiety Causes a Dread of Meeting New People
For those who don’t live with social anxiety, getting to know someone new can be adventurous and exciting. At the very least, it’s tolerable and not awful. This isn’t the case for someone experiencing social anxiety. Those alarm bells and warning fires are actual activity in the brain that are both cause and effect of all anxiety, including social anxiety. Multiple areas of the brain are involved in all types of anxiety, as are structures like glands and chemical elements such as hormones and neurotransmitters.
All of this brain activity contributes to the deep sense of dread experienced by people with social anxiety upon meeting new people. Anxious thoughts and emotions run around wildly when the alarms sound; indeed, social anxiety is linked to multiple worries and fears:
- Facing judgement from a bunch of new people, as if existing contacts weren’t enough
- Stumbling into new ways of screwing up, in front of a new audience
- Overthinking and overanalyzing yet again, a hypervigilant checking—am I acting right? Wrong?
- Agonizing because it’s only a matter of time before they figure me out
Tips to Reduce Social Anxiety When Meeting New People
Avoiding situations in which we have to meet new people would certainly do away with the dread that comes with these social interactions. However, this dread wouldn’t be replaced by anything positive, and our lives would become severely restricted.
Social anxiety doesn’t doom people to a boxed-in life filled with no one new. Try these tips to eliminate the dread that comes with meeting others.
- Limit your time in whatever situation has you mingling with strangers. The knowledge that you’re not stuck indefinitely puts you in charge, calms anxiety, and increases tolerance for any discomfort.
- Control, if possible, the way you interact. Do you prefer one-on-one interactions that are less chaotic or larger groups that take you out of the spotlight?
- Determine the way they judge you. Social anxiety is largely about the fear of being judged. Show them what they’re going to judge, and present yourself in a way that has them forming positive judgements. Stand tall, choose what you wear, choose a few topics you enjoy talking about ahead of time. Even if you still feel anxious, having this control will reduce the sense of dread.
Meeting new people can be agonizing for someone with social anxiety. It ignites the worries that are always there and the fears about others and about the self that flare up with each new interaction. With purpose and persistence, though, you can quiet the alarms of anxiety, extinguish the fires, and approach new people with reduced social anxiety and less dread.