Many people feel uncomfortable when they are meeting new people for the first time. Fear of saying the wrong thing and not being liked, looking weird or dumb, fear of not “fitting in”. Some people just may notice it briefly and then begin conversations in a seemingly effortless way. It looks so natural and easy for them, and they look like they actually enjoy it!

But not you- you dread it.

You perceive threat. The stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline activate and now you begin to sweat, have an upset stomach, headache, feel dizzy, weak or jittery. Not a great way to feel or be- and on top of that you have to come up with things to talk about!

Your brain screams noooooooo!!!

You look away, avoid eye contact, find the nearest exit and escape.

Having to be with and possibly socialize with people can be so scary! Why is this?

Blame evolution.

As we evolved as human beings, we became dependent on each other as a species to survive. We needed each other to learn how to hunt and gather food, how to work as a community, how to propagate. Social skills were very important- meant the difference between living and dying.
So, we have to accept that we still have a part of the brain that places great importance on getting along with others and forming groups that help ensure our survival. For some of us, that part of our brain today is on hyper-alert, fearing separation and yearning for unity. And it thinks it is protecting us but actually sometimes it works against us.

Maybe from past experiences where we were cast out of a group, we perceived that we “needed” to say the right things to become accepted. What did our brain then learn? That we need to say or do something “right” to be accepted. So, it became focused on saying the “right things.” Then that pressure was so intense it rationalized that it would be easier to just avoid talking so that we don’t say the wrong things. Consequentially, now we avoid situations where it is expected that we talk to each other.

Every time you avoid a social situation because it feels like too much pressure, you are teaching the brain that to be safe you need to avoid people. It reinforces the avoidance and then you are more and more isolated, which feels uncomfortable, or sad.

What would help?

Not avoiding people. Practicing verbal and non-verbal ways to connect with people- even briefly. What you find is that the people who you think are scary are not as scary as you originally thought. You may actually interact with them just fine for a few minutes, and then maybe a few hours. It is exposure to others that gives you the skills that you need to get more comfortable with being and interacting with others.

You can take this slowly, little at a time. And can even start non-verbally.

A brief smile and bit of eye contact one time with one person daily can build into eventual conversations. Or approaching a group and doing a lot of listening can be the first step. The more exposures, the easier they become. You can even start by just listening, noticing what you notice and contributing a little at a time. You may find that you have more in common with others than you thought. And if that didn’t happen, you can and will get through it.

It’s about feeling awkward and doing it anyway- over and over again, so that the sting gets diminished and eventually subsides. We have all felt awkward at times. We have all felt embarrassed or ashamed with others. It is one of the things that unities us.

As difficult as it is, when you interact with others you are helping your brain feel safer among others. And if your brain tells you things that are critical to you, talk back to it. Your anxious thoughts are often wrong and have no basis in reality. Remind yourself that you are ok.

Stressful, yes it can be. But you can tolerate it.

You’ve got this.

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