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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


Interviewing for a Job

A Reader Suggests:
Lauren Smith, 40, an officer of a philanthropic nonprofit organization in San Francisco

writes, researches, and rehearses. “I was nervous about interviewing for a job, since the position was a huge step up for me in title and responsibility,” she says. “Plus, I had no idea what the appropriate salary was, and the thought of discussing money made me nauseated. To help me unknot my stomach, I made a list of all my experience and capabilities, which reminded me how much I was bringing to the job. Then I found a survey of nonprofit-director salaries online and called a friend to practice my pitch. On the day of the interview, I wore my favorite skirt, which always makes me feel good. When the question of salary came up, I felt my adrenaline rise but took a deep breath and suggested a number that I knew was respectable based on my research. I was offered the position on the spot.”

 Experts Add: 
  • Write a letter to your potential employer, but don’t send it, says corporate coach Craig Harrison. Instead, read it aloud before the interview. “Keep your voice low and steady―this helps keep your heart from racing by forcing you to focus on your breathing.” As Lauren found, writing down thoughts is helpful. “It replaces anxiety with self-assurance and reinforces why you’re right for the job,” says Harrison.
  • Ask questions during the interview. “It takes the focus off you, which will make you less nervous,” says Linda Waters, a corporate coach and the founder of Back to Business, a Boston-based company dedicated to helping women return to the workforce.
  • Invest in an outfit that makes you feel good. If you don’t have a magic skirt like Lauren does, buy or even borrow something that works. “Studies have shown that you’re most confident when you like your appearance,” says Waters.


Asking Someone on a Date

A Reader Suggests:
Elizabeth Green, 56, of New Haven, Connecticut
doesn’t dive in headfirst. “My husband passed away in 2005. We had been married for 26 years, so the dating scene had changed dramatically,” she says. “The thought of asking someone out made me nervous. It seemed too forward or desperate, but I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life alone. So I picked a man I already knew and got up the nerve to ask him out. Practicing on someone I thought would say yes (and did) gave me courage. Then a friend told me about someone she had met on who might be my type. I took a deep breath, said out loud, ‘What do I have to lose?’ and sent him an e-mail suggesting we meet for a drink. Using e-mail took all the anxiety out of the situation because I was in control (and he couldn’t see that my hands were shaking). He responded positively that same day. Before I left my house that evening, I talked to my daughter and told her that I was looking to enjoy myself, not to find a new husband. Reminding myself of that calmed me down. Then I listened to Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen.’ It got me pumped up!”

 Experts Add: 
  • Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” “It puts the situation in perspective, allowing you to destress a bit,” says Rachel Sarah, author of Single Mom Seeking (Seal Press, $15). “No matter what the outcome, you’ll feel a boost of confidence for having asked someone out.”
  • Come up with a game plan. “Start with an e-mail, then work up to a phone conversation,” says Sarah. “Doing what’s most comfortable for you will make you more at ease.”
  • And, finally, redefine your expectations: If you lower the stakes, then your anxiety levels decline dramatically.
Read More About:Stress

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