Social Anxiety
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How to Overcome Anxiety Around Strangers

Daniel Sher, MA, Clin Psychology
How to Overcome Anxiety Around Strangers

We’re told at a very young age not to talk to strangers because they might be dangerous. Of course, as you get older you realize that everyone is a stranger to someone, and if you're not talking to the new people around you, then you're not going to meet anyone.

That's why it's so important to overcome stranger anxiety once you’re old enough to judge for yourself whether or not the social interactions you’re inviting are going to be safe. This is a very important disclaimer, however: for people that are 18 or younger, you want to be very careful about approaching strangers. Make sure that you assess the situation properly at first; and if you’re not entirely sure, then rather don’t take the risk. 

Your Anxiety Levels

One of the things to keep in mind about overcoming this type of anxiety is that the way you feel daily does affect how you feel about strangers. 

For this article, when we say "strangers," we merely mean new people – not necessarily those that are dangerous or coming up to you on the street. Some anxiety around strangers is a good thing because anxiety is what keeps you from putting yourself at risk in front of those you don't know and who might otherwise have ill-intentions. 

But of course, when you're at a fun social event with people that you trust, you want to be able to overcome that anxiety so that you can meet people, talk to them and start friendships or relationships. The following are some ideas that can help you overcome stranger anxiety.

  1. Talk to Everyone Even if you have problems talking to people at social functions, you probably meet people on a regular basis that are strangers that you can talk to – you simply don't consider it talking a stranger. For example, when you go to a coffee shop and the clerk takes your order, or when you are introduced to a new employee at work. Get used to talking to them as best you can, to train yourself to talk to those you don't know. Make sure you speak up and try your best to speak with confidence. Remember, however, that this pointer only applies for safe social situations - like a friend’s dinner party. If you’re out on the street, you want to be wary of strangers who may potentially pose some risk: although they’re probably not out to hurt you, it’s always good to be cautious. 
  2. Fake It For some, this may prove too difficult. But if possible, try to fake confidence and act like you would if you were a confident person. In a way, you're mocking what confident people act like, except doing it in a polite and non-cynical way. It will feel unnatural at first, but your mind will eventually adapt to the behavior, and you'll be able to genuinely use that confidence.
  3. Attack Specific Fears What is it that you're afraid of when you talk to strangers? Try to combat those fears directly, separately. For example, if you fear embarrassment, then work on learning to be okay with embarrassment for a while before you worry about how to integrate that into social situations.
  4. Desensitization You should also practice desensitization. This is a bit more difficult with social anxiety, but you can start by first closing your eyes and visualizing yourself in social situations as realistically as possible. Even imagine yourself messing up once in a while. It'll cause anxiety, but eventually, you'll get used to that anxiety. From there, watch videos of social situations on repeat until you're used to what it's like to see that situation around you. Once again, try to visualize yourself talking to others, making mistakes, and moving on. Eventually, you should be at least a little more used to these types of situations.
  5. Wingman/Wingwoman Traditionally the wingman or woman introduces you to people you may want to date. However, before you do that, you should see if a close friend of yours can simply help you start getting to know new people of any gender so that you get used to talking to new people. Having someone do the hard part for you (the introduction) will make it a bit easier, and then from there, you can learn to talk to people on your own.

These simple tips can help you overcome some of your stranger anxiety in little time, and although it won't cure it completely, it will give you a better opportunity to get used to those types of situations.

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