Have you ever left a gathering regretting everything you said, the tone you used, and each joke you made? Have you ever found yourself lying awake at night ruminating over a conversation you had months or years ago, wishing you could have said or done something differently? If this sounds like you, you may be experiencing social anxiety.
We all know the feeling of social anxiety to some extent. Whether it’s the idea of confronting a friend about something awkward, running into an ex, speaking in front of a group, or ordering food at a restaurant, social anxiety will affect us all at one time or another. However, some of us experience more extreme symptoms, and some find that specific situations stress us out more than others.
Whether you’ve been struggling with your confidence for years or are trying to get your confidence back after being in a toxic environment, we will share 8 top tips that will help you feel better prepared and ready to tackle social situations with more confidence.
How to Be Confident: 8 Top Tips
1. Put Your Body Language First
Whether we realize it or not, we harmonize with other people’s body language. For example, when our boss approaches us with folded arms and a stern expression, we may anticipate a telling-off. Similarly, if our friend sits beside us with drooping shoulders, a furrowed brow, and their mouth set in a thin line, we may expect them to have bad news. If you want to appear more self-confident, even if you don’t feel it, your body language can signal that you are confident.
Here are a few things you can do:
- Sit up tall and take up space: don’t slump your shoulders or cross your arms, as this will give the impression that you’re trying to become less visible.
- Make eye contact: while this can feel excruciating to someone with social anxiety, eye contact is one of the most significant indicators of being socially confident. You don’t have to stare into someone’s eyes but glance at them often. If you need to, you can look at the point between their eyebrows, and they will think you are looking right into their eyes.
- Move deliberately: this may sound odd, but if you’re anxious, your body’s likely filled with the stress hormone cortisol, which can cause you to feel jittery (because it primes your body for fight or flight). Confident people also tend to act and move deliberately because they’re sure of their decisions. So if, for example, you’re anxious in the workplace, take your time sipping your coffee, don’t walk or sit down too quickly, and be aware of how fast you’re talking. Before long, it’ll become part of your muscle memory, and you may begin to relax.
Now for the good news. Studies have found that modifying your body language tricks your brain into thinking that you feel more confident than you are. This boost in confidence helps you feel genuinely more confident and exhibit a more confident body language. It’s a positive feedback loop – you need to have the self-awareness to change your behavior at the moment.
2. Remember Other People Are Nervous Too
Around 12% of American adults struggle with a social anxiety disorder at some point. Take some solace in the idea that others find some social situations just as stressful as you do – if you’re at a social gathering, some of the other people there also feel awkward! Also, remember that everyone is usually so focused on themselves that they won’t remember the fact that you stumbled over your words or forgot what you were going to say halfway through a sentence – keep going and try to laugh it off rather than focusing on it in your head.
3. Ask Questions
People love to talk about themselves and will do so at any opportunity. It makes you seem like a good conversationalist, but it may also provide some time for you to think about what you’ll speak about next. When you ask others about their lives, families, jobs, and interests, you learn more about them and often discover what you have in common with them. This active participation makes the following conversation easier. Before you know it, you’ve got an acquaintance! Try to learn about something they’re passionate about and keep them talking about that – they’ll love you for it.
4. Don’t Avoid Social Situations & Celebrate Your Social Interactions
If your self-confidence is low and the idea of working the room at a party or work event makes you want to hide under the covers, start small. Start with low-risk interactions like making eye contact with a barista or waiter, saying hello to a colleague, or asking questions about the restaurant’s food. Slowly build on these interactions, increasing the number of times each week you make eye contact with that barista, say hello to that colleague, and so on.
Keep a journal or document on your phone where you list all the times you were proud of your interactions – yes, even if you just ordered a coffee and didn’t feel awkward about it! Then, you can look back at these accomplishments before a more intense social situation and boost your confidence because you know you can do it!
5. Seek Out People You Click With
Talking to someone you have absolutely nothing in common with – or even conflicting views – will always be difficult. If you find yourself surrounded by people with whom you have nothing in common, try to learn more about them. Look for commonalities.
Look for classes, hobby groups, and community meetups to find like-minded people; you might find that conversation becomes more manageable than you’d thought. Online counts, too – many people with social anxiety find it just as hard to initiate a digital discussion as they do a real one.
6. Find A Confidence Wingman
If you need someone to help you get into the social swing of things, find a friend or colleague who is naturally extroverted and ask them to tag along with you. They’ll be able to break the ice for you (even your ice – we often find it easier to talk to strangers when we’ve been talking to someone we’re comfortable with) and keep conversations moving along effortlessly.
You can also use this technique to “warm up” before going into a social situation where you need to go alone, such as a presentation, interview, or appointment. Call someone close to you, talk their ear off for 5-10 minutes, and then walk into that anxiety-inducing situation. You’ll have warmed up, be ready to speak more effortlessly, and likely have gotten some initial anxiety out.
7. Social Situations Make Us Less Anxious
You may be surprised to learn this, but studies have shown that social situations lower our overall stress levels. With the invention of the internet, more of us can go days without actually talking to someone face-to-face, but on average, we all have around 12 social interactions a day. Social interactions are unavoidable, so by trying to avoid them as much as possible, you’re only going to increase your anxiety when you’re forced into a social situation.
Next time you’re going into a social situation, whether talking to your best friend or a total stranger, think to yourself, “this interaction will decrease my overall stress level.” Knowing you’re getting something out of the interaction will help you focus on what felt good about the exchange when you walk away from it.
8. Be Kind to Yourself
This tip is the final but most essential point. Social anxiety can make small, everyday interactions feel terrifying. If you walk away from a meaningless interaction with someone you’ll never see again, telling yourself how stupid you sounded and what a fool you must have looked, you need to stop.
Our brains like to trick us into thinking that berating ourselves will scare us into being better at something – but how will we ever trust other people in social situations if we can’t trust ourselves to be kind? So when you hear that internal critic rising, say in your head or aloud, “STOP.” Try to think about something else, sing a song, or listen to something that engages you, like a podcast. Replace those negative thoughts with kinder ones.
We all have imposter syndrome here and there. However, a lack of confidence in social situations usually comes from a lack of self-esteem and loving yourself, so as you work to feel confident, work on yourself. To build self-esteem, take risks, and feel self-assured. Focus on self-care and love.