Jun 28, 2023 | Mental Health

Happy group of friends laughing and eating outdoors

Small Talk and Anxiety


Last week we talked about summer, and with the change of the season often comes more social gatherings. For those who live with anxiety, being in a group of people, especially those you don’t know, can trigger feelings and emotions that make social gatherings particularly challenging. There is a fear associated with worrying about saying the right thing, overanalyzing what you have said, anticipation of the dreaded awkward silence, and being judged. When anxious, your brain can become distracted, which makes it even harder to put thoughts and words together. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when heading into a setting that makes you feel less than Zen. So, today, let’s discuss a few tips to help you tackle small talk. 

Be prepared 

While it may seem silly to those without anxiety, it is a good idea to come into social situations with some preparation. Prior to an event, where you know you will be engaging in conversation, make a list of topics or interests you enjoy discussing. This can help you feel less anxious if you have some things in mind to start a conversation and will help you get the ball rolling. Consider chatting about current events, hobbies, and books or movies. 

Put your ears to work 

Alleviate the pressure of speaking, by practicing active listening. Rather than fixating on what to say next, or how you can contribute to the conversation, take a step back and listen intently. In paying attention to what others are saying, you can ask questions, and be better equipped to respond genuinely. The benefit to active listening, especially for those with anxiety, is that it helps build rapport with others, and allows for the conversation to flow naturally. 

Join a group 

Living with anxiety often means facing things that make you feel anxious. So, you might want to consider joining a group, or class that focuses on something you are interested in. When you surround yourself with likeminded individuals, who share similar interests, making small talk and engaging in conversation starts to develop more easily. It is also a fantastic way to get more practice in social situations, and hopefully can help ease your nerves the next time you are invited to a social event. 

Utilize non-verbal communication 

We often focus so much on verbal communication, that we forget the impact of non-verbal communication in social situations. Non-verbal communication can include smiling, eye contact, or nodding and is a great way to look approachable. In doing this, you invite someone else to approach you and start the conversation, taking the pressure off you to do so. It is also effective during conversation, as you don’t always have to use verbal communication to show you are listening and interested in what the speaker is saying.  

Find people you know 

Seeking out the people you know in a social gathering is a helpful way to make you feel less anxious. Ease yourself into conversations by engaging with friends or family that you know, and then segway into interacting with those you don’t know. Having a friendly face close by can help those with anxiety feel more at ease, and gives them time to feel more comfortable, relaxed, and confident. You can also piggyback off other conversations with those you know to help facilitate one with someone you aren’t familiar with.  

If you find yourself in a situation where you will be speaking, whether it be in a professional or personal setting, and you start feeling anxious or overwhelmed try this simple exercise: name five things you can see, name four things you can feel, name three things you can hear, name two things you can smell, and name one thing you can taste. This method can help you focus on the present moment and distract your brain from what is making you anxious. 

Small talk and engaging in conversation takes practice and time. So, remember to be kind to yourself, ease yourself into social situations and try not to get discouraged. If you find that your anxiety is impacting your ability to partake in activities and everyday interactions, you may want to speak to a professional who can help you better navigate your needs. 

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