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

Attending a Function Alone

A Reader Suggests:
Laurie Sandell, 36, a writer from Brooklyn
tries to role-play. “As a journalist, I go to a lot of events on my own, but I still have those moments of dread: What if I don’t know anyone there? Why did I wear this dress?” she says. “When I get to an event and want to hide in the corner, I pretend I’m conducting an anthropological experiment. Instead of assuming people are watching me and wondering, Why is she here alone? I scan the room to see what everyone else is doing. If I see someone sitting alone, I approach that person and ask simple questions, like ‘How do you know the host?’ Nine times out of 10 that person feels just as uncomfortable as I do and is relieved that I broke the ice first.”


 
 Experts Add: 
  • “Before you arrive, think of a half-dozen things you can talk about,” says Don Gabor, a communications coach and the author of How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends (Fireside, $13). Books and movies are always relatable topics.
  • If there’s an emotional subject you want to avoid (for instance, you’ve just separated), rehearse stock answers to common questions, like “Where’s your other half?” so you aren’t left stumbling.
  • As you scan the room, adopt this as your mantra: They’re as nervous as I am. “People are so grateful when you introduce yourself,” says corporate coach Joyce Newman.
  • To avoid a “Now what?” silence after an introduction, follow with an easy compliment, such as “What a beautiful dress.”

 

Cold-Calling

A Reader Suggests:
Liz Subin, 40, a homemaker in Essex, Vermont
psychs herself up. “When a conservancy group I admire asked me to do some fund-raising for them, I thought it would be easy,” she says. “I’m a confident person, but cold-calling stripped me of that fast. The first no was like a punch in the stomach. By the fifth, I felt like a failure. But rather than quitting, I tapped into my passion for the group, and that motivated me to find a way to get through those calls. To rev myself up, I’d go for a run, work in the garden, or bake. I’d also rehearse my fund-raising pitch. Treating myself to a cup of tea after every 10 calls also helped.”



 Experts Add: 
  • Know the odds. “It usually takes 20 cold calls to net even one sale. So every single rejection is not cause for increasing alarm,” says Craig Harrison, a California-based corporate coach who teaches a class called Take the Chill out of Cold Calls.
  • Stretching, cleaning, or singing your favorite song before you make the call releases tension, as does smiling. “Research shows that smiling makes you sound more relaxed,” says Harrison.
  • Keep your pitch short―about 16 seconds―so you don’t waffle, which will only compound your nerves, Harrison says.
  • A bulleted script can also boost confidence. But in the end the key is to treat the call like any other.
 
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