4 Solutions for When You Feel Socially Awkward
Everybody’s human, and thus everybody has some particular moment or scenario that can let the butterflies loose in their stomach. For some, it’s crowded public places like a bar or concert venue. Others dread speaking in front of large audiences. Feeling socially awkward—the sense that we’re out of place, not fully in tune with what’s happening, or simply not normal—can be a crippling experience, to be sure. We miss many opportunities when we’re not comfortable around others: we don’t build connections and are unable to learn from others around us. It’s perfectly fine that some of us are more introverted than others, but in some cases the worst effects of feeling socially awkward just require some strategies, like these.
1. Get to know the situation
Feeling socially awkward usually arises from being nervous or uncomfortable in a given situation. Most of us have an easy time being with our closest friends, only to find that around strangers we’re not ourselves. Our comfort level with our surroundings is largely based on one thing: how familiar we are with where we are.
Before you do anything else when it comes to feeling socially awkward, you need to reflect on and identify which kinds of situations you do well in and which are more difficult for you. Once you know, you’re ready to act. If you feel uncomfortable in class or at a student group meeting, one thing you can try is arriving early to feel more at ease as time passes. Think about it: you won’t feel the pressure of walking into a crowded room if you’re there early enough to introduce yourself to others as they arrive. But more importantly, make your attendance at these kinds of functions a strict habit: we can call this the “Rule of Regular Status.” Nobody feels more at home at a coffee shop or bar than the Regular, that guy who is tight with the owner and who knows everyone’s name. The more your body and mind are accustomed to where you are, the easier it becomes to feel like yourself.
An easy way to get started is to act like you own the place, and visualize yourself as the most comfortable person in the room. How would you walk, talk, sit, and listen? Fake it til you make it, as they say.
2. Give yourself breathing room
Nothing is worse for feeling uncomfortable in a situation than adding lots of unnecessary stress to the mix. Before venturing out to start your day, make an agenda for yourself so you’re ready for what’s ahead. Focus on completing one task at a time. Avoid planning activities back-to-back if it’ll make you feel rushed. As with Tip #1, arrive early to difficult environments and your stress level, and sense of feeling socially awkward, will greatly decrease.
3. Challenge yourself
The former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt gave some sound advice with her famous saying: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” A big part of getting past your sense of being socially awkward is by growing out of it. By challenging yourself to do something new, taking on difficult situations, and setting new expectations for yourself, you’ll only grow bolder with each task. So much depends only on visualizing yourself as someone who can take on and achieve new challenges, and so by starting small and working your way up, this image of yourself will become clearer and clearer. This doesn’t mean you should try to be someone you’re not; rather, prove to yourself that you are in fact the person you want to be.
4. Be real
There’s one final point that remains. Feeling socially awkward often arises from a self-consciousness of how we appear to others. In fact, this concern with our image is in great need a reality check. The truth is that most people don’t really care about what you look like, how you act, or the impression you’re giving, unless of course you’re offensive or hurtful. But getting back to the point, our feelings of being socially awkward can feed off of incorrect assumptions about what other people are thinking about us.
Assumptions like “nobody will like me” or “everyone thinks I’m weird” are built on sweeping generalizations about other people, when the reality is that people are complicated, different, and usually too involved in their own thoughts and feelings to heavily scrutinize how you look or how you behave the way you might imagine they do. Instead of fearing others, we can do ourselves a favor by recognizing our assumptions about others are usually wrong, and that this recognition gives us the freedom to be ourselves. Think of it this way: there was a point in time when you didn’t know your best friend. Clearly there are rewards to moving past the initial awkward parts, but be patient with yourself, too. Building relationships takes time and effort—you won’t automatically feel at home in every situation, and that doesn’t make you weird. Work on it a little bit every day and you’ll soon see the difference.