How can I be less anxious around new people?

I have developed bad social anxiety within the last year, and I just can't stand to be around people. I recently got a new girlfriend, and she is extremely close to her large family and wants me to be around them all of the time. My last visit with them, I was quiet and uncomfortable, and she got mad.

Kaileen McMickle, MS, LPC
Kaileen McMickle, MS, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor

I think what you are describing is pretty common.  Even people without social anxiety have a hard time talking to their partner's family--it can feel overwhelming.

One thing about social anxiety is that it creates avoidance behavior.  You may be avoiding conversation so you don't embarrass yourself or say something wrong, or maybe even feel like people don't like you.  The truth is that those are just simply fears.  You may overanalyze how people react when you put yourself out there, but we aren't that great at reading what people are actually thinking based on body language (unless we really know the person).  

The challenge here is to avoid that avoidant behavior--talk to people.  You don't have to talk to everybody all at once.  Just find a person you feel safe(ish) with, someone that seems pretty nice and open.  It's ok to have anxiety about talking to people, and it's even ok if they know you are anxious.  Social anxiety can cause us to think too much about how we respond, which can make conversations seem choppy and unnatural.  Pay attention to the way you respond to people you have less or no anxiety talking with--what does this look like for you?  You can try to bring some of that to your conversations with her family.  Or with anyone, really.

Another thing to know is that it's normal to change our conversational style to fit who we are talking with.  What that doesn't mean is being a completely different person--it's still totally OK to be you.  It's just like applying a different filter based on the situation.  Some of that will work itself out the more you practice and the more you put yourself out there.  It's tough to know what the boundaries are of expression sometimes, so be patient with yourself.  We all make many "mistakes" socially, but that's necessary to learn about ourselves.  Give yourself that chance!

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide.   If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.

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