Some people thrive in social circles and enjoy the energy they receive from being around others, while other people require much more mental preparation for social events, regardless of how “small” or “not a big deal” they may seem to others.

The Social Anxiety Institute describes social anxiety as “the fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated, and, as a result, leads to avoidance.”

There are both general and specific forms of social anxiety. This article addresses general social anxiety, which is characteristic of those who are more relaxed when alone than in social situations.

Social anxiety disorder is much more common now. According to US epidemiological studies, it is the third largest psychological disorder in the country, following depression and alcoholism.

People with social anxiety experience severe emotional distress involving social situations such as: being introduced to people, being teased, being the center of attention, being watched doing something, meeting important figures, participating in conversation that is going around a room (or table), and making impromptu speeches.

Different people experience social anxiety differently, but the common feeling is one of intense fear or nervousness. This may come in the form of heart racing, sweaty palms, blushing, excessive sweating, dry mouth, trembling, difficulty swallowing, muscle twitching, and difficulty formulating or enunciating words.

The best way to treat any psychological disorder once realizing it, is to seek professional help. However, these tips may take you one step closer to comfort in social situations.

Birds of a feather, flock together

Go out with others you know are similar to you when it comes to social circles. Having someone who understands may calm your nerves, even a little bit. That way, you will not have to explain the sudden urge to leave an event, or get some air. You could help introduce each other to people and coax each other with words that won’t come, when necessary. A friend who understands is the best friend to have in these cases. You can uplift each other during down times, feed off each other’s energy, and call it a day if the energy gives out.

Plan ahead

Make a mental note of some emergency lines and topics you can use. For example, always have a few lines to say about yourself. This is usually the first thing that comes up in casual groups where people are unfamiliar with each other. You can also help yourself by creating a list of FAQs you usually get asked in social settings and mentally practice answering them. Planning ahead will leave you feeling more confident, and less tense.

Steer

Much like driving, you can steer conversation in various directions. If you start feeling uncomfortable, try steering the conversation towards topics that interest you or ones in your area of expertise. Doing so will put you at ease. Also try telling stories related to the topic. These usually grab everyone’s interest and add lightness to the occasion.

Attend purposeful events

So maybe the party atmosphere isn’t your thing. In such an atmosphere it can be uncomfortable deciding what to do next. Do you stand around and chat? You might hate small talk… and then how would you know when the conversation ends? What should you do when it ends? Just walk away slowly? Say goodbye (even though you may run into them again)? Do you dance? And with who? You may not want to invade anyone’s space or be put on the spot. Do you grab food? Do you play it safe and go to the bathroom for no reason? For the socially anxious person, these are all nerve wrecking decisions to be made at social gatherings.

Perhaps a change of setting is the solution. It may help turn feelings of anxiousness into productivity if you participate in group events featuring purposeful activities. Things like yoga, rock climbing, gokarting, paintballing, or museum visits are good alternative options.

Since these social events are centered around a specific activity, you will know just what to do, and if not, you can easily follow others’ lead. Doing these activities in a group means all eyes will not be on you at any point because you will all be focusing on the task together, which may prove less stressful for you.

Remember, you are not alone

More than likely, your feelings of anxiety may be shared among others in the group. Don’t beat yourself up over simple things. We are all human, meaning we are all imperfect. We all stutter at times, we have all done an embarrassing thing, we have all tripped or dropped something. We have all blanked out on our words. Just brush it off and keep going. Social anxiety does not allow many people to think this rationally when they are actually in the situation, but remind yourself of these things once in a while.

Everything is easier said than done, of course, but these tips should propel you towards more comfort, and eventually, confidence, in social settings.