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How to Beat Social Anxiety

Real Simple readers share their tried-and-true tips for dealing with six of the most common anxiety-inducing situations, then psychologists and communications coaches weigh in with more advice.

By Liz Welch
Table set for one Cig Harvey

Giving a Speech

A Reader Suggests:
Daisy Cortez*, 39, a marketing executive in Miami finds someone in the audience to focus on. “In the first week of a new job, my boss asked me to make a speech, which immediately made me nervous,” she says. “To make matters worse, I’ve been a terrible blusher my whole life. I’ve tried tricks, like pretending I’m diving into a pool of cold water or visualizing my blood draining down to my toes, but neither has helped. Then I realized that I rarely blush in front of friends. Before my speech, I chatted with a woman who was very friendly. As I made my way to the podium, I was nervous, but then I spotted this woman in the audience and she smiled, which calmed me down instantly. At that moment, I realized I was speaking to kind people who wanted me to succeed.”

 Experts Add: 
  • Couple the first line of your speech with some kind of physical gesture. “Gesture toward the person who introduced you or sweep an arm out to the audience,” says corporate coach Joyce Newman, founder of the Newman Group, an executive media-training company in New York City. “It will help channel your nervous energy.”
  • If the anxiety persists, don’t try to put it at the back of your mind, says Jerilyn Ross, a psychotherapist and the president of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, in Silver Spring, Maryland. It may seem counterintuitive, but “suppressing those feelings only makes them worse,” says Ross. “Instead, acknowledge them by thinking, OK, it’s happening, and they’ll go away more quickly."


Eating Alone at a Restaurant

A Reader Suggests:
Tracy Breyfogle, 37, a production assistant from Wilmington, North Carolina brings a book. “I extended a business trip and found myself alone for a weekend in Boston. That Friday night, I suddenly felt self-conscious,” she says. “Everyone seemed to be coupled or in a group. I saw a packed restaurant and hesitated, worrying what people would think when they saw that I was alone, but I knew I’d be mad at myself if I didn’t go for it. I sat at the bar and ordered a glass of wine. As I scanned the room, I realized that no one was looking at me. I had my journal with me and decided to write an entry. (If anyone did spot me, I thought they might think I’m a best-selling novelist!) Now I even eat alone at some of my favorite restaurants in my hometown. If I’m feeling introspective, I ask for a quiet table and bring a book. If I’m feeling bold, I sit at the bar and strike up a conversation.”

 Experts Add: 
  • Remember, as Tracy realized, “most people aren’t focusing on you,” says Barbara Markway, a psychologist and the author of Painfully Shy (Thomas Dunne Books, $15). “People spend less time scrutinizing others than they do worrying about themselves.
  • Bringing a book or a magazine is a good idea because it “gives you a physical activity to do, which automatically shifts the focus from fretting to writing or reading,” says Markway.
  • Finally, practice. “Go to a coffee shop or a diner and sit by yourself for an hour each week,” suggests Florence Falk, a psychoanalyst and the author of On My Own (Three Rivers Press, $14). “Once you’re used to being alone, you’ll start to enjoy it.”

 *Some names have been changed. 


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