Updated: Nov 22, 2019
Just a refresher: I was diagnosed with a Social Anxiety Disorder at 16. The awkwardness of being around people didn't just control where I went and how I felt; it left me crippled and insecure, and held me back from living freely. If you didn't catch my post last week on the 5 social situations I find most awkward, have a quick read of Part 1.
I now carry a confidence that I wish teenage-me had known. It's taken me years to learn how to hold my own in a social setting, and how to actually enjoy being surrounded by people. I'm not entirely there yet, and I still let awkward situations and challenging social scenarios rob me of my peace. But with each new mistake and embarrassing hiccough, I'm finding better ways to cope.
Here are 5 ways I’ve learnt to handle awkward social situations:
1. ‘Fake it ’til you make it, baby.’
It's all in your body language. I can't count the times I've had to stop and do a little body-language check. How am I standing? What are my arms doing? Where am I looking? When we feel nervous, we tend to cave in on ourselves. Hunched shoulders. Crossed legs. Curled toes. Tightly clenched arms. Biting our tongue. It’s taken me years to realise what a difference changing those things makes. Now, when I’m out - I stand with my legs apart. I roll my shoulders back and look people in the eye. I cling tightly to my purse, but I don’t wring my hands. And you know what? It works. I laugh loudly, and use big hand gestures. I smile widely. And eventually, all that pretend confidence - it becomes real.
2. Laughter is the best way to recover.
There is no better way to mend a social blunder than to find humour in it. Be the first to laugh at yourself, and to put others at ease. Besides, being awkward can be kind of adorable. Yes, people are attracted to your confidence. But they're also attracted to your vulnerability. If you can't feign confidence, why not just admit your nerves? Have a giggle (boys, I recommend you forgo the giggle and settle for a chuckle). You'll find that any delusions of fear seem feeble and a lot less scary when you're willing to laugh at them.
3. No one is going to be upset at you for making an effort.
How many times have you thought, 'I’d LOVE to give that person a compliment, but they’ll think I’m weird.' Or, ‘They look lonely standing there, perhaps I should say hello? Actually, they’ll find that strange.’ How ridiculous is that? We let others suffer in awkwardness because we can't find the courage to overcome our own social fears. How many times have you wished that a kind stranger would save you from an awkward situation, or give you a lovely compliment? Be that kind stranger.
4. People don’t actually care about your awkward slip-ups.
They say that people are thinking about themselves 90% of the time. I'm not a whiz at maths, but chances are that if you've just done something odd, everyone around you was too preoccupied with themselves to notice. And if they did notice, so what? You've given them something to smile about. We all need to start assuming the best of people. We need to trust that most of the time, people aren't actually judging us. And those that are - they are probably the ones most painstakingly aware of their own social faults.
5. Looking backwards helps shape your perspective.
I once did something incredibly stupid. I'm talking undeniably mortifying. A boy asked me out over an email, and in a classic I'm-too-awkward-to-know-how-to-respond move, I tried to forward that email on to my best friend. I wrote a long spiel about the confusing situation, and how I felt about the boy. And I sent it straight back to him. It was a truly awful realisation, and it turned my stomach into knots.
We're not supposed to dwell on the past. I get that. But I think that reflecting on awkward scenarios actually helps us to put things in perspective. With time, even the worst of our social faux pas won't matter. They may be cripplingly embarrassing in the moment, but I promise that eventually, they will make for some very funny anecdotes. Who doesn't love a good 'guess-how-I-once-embarrassed-myself' story? Remembering awkward 'days gone by' reminds us that, in the scheme of things, embarrassing conversations and that time you tripped in heels were actually very trivial occurrences.
And if that's not a comforting thought - I don't know what is.
We're all different. But at our core, we all struggle with the same fundamental awkwardnesses. So what do you do when you're trapped in a long pause, you've spilled a glass of water, or gone in for a hug and received a neck-kiss instead? Do you use any of these five coping mechanisms?
If you have any thoughts, awkward stories, or would like to share with me how you've learnt to deal with anxious social situations, please get in touch! It would be such a joy to hear from you.
Until next time,