If the mere thought of meeting strangers, starting conversations, or even going into an office fills you with terror, then here are some tips to help conquer your fears, and get you out there forging those all-important friendships
Have you ever walked into a room full of strangers, and instantly wanted to turn on your heels and run? Join the club! Although it’s quite natural to experience these feelings of nervousness, social anxiety disorder is more severe than a simple bout of shyness.
Affecting approximately 15 million adults in America alone, it’s the second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder, making everyday life a struggle for people across the globe. If affected, you may dread daily activities, such as meeting strangers, starting conversations, speaking on the phone, going to work, or just shopping in your local supermarket.
For me, social anxiety started when I was off work with depression. I felt so lost without my career that I was worried I would have nothing of value to say in a group setting, so I avoided social situations altogether.
Along with this fear, I also experienced physical symptoms such as sweating, nausea, and palpitations, but for others it can lead to full-blown panic attacks.
We’re often told that having a successful career isn’t about what you know, but who you know, so getting out and rubbing shoulders with people is a good way to get ahead. But how do you navigate such a scary task when just the thought of being in a crowded room is enough to bring you out in hives? I’m happy to say that with of medication and lifestyle changes, my intense feelings of anxiety have diminished greatly, I’ve successfully started my own business and learned to network along the way. Here are my tips on how to network when you have social anxiety.
1. Start on social media
Thank goodness we live in a digital age, because without the internet I’m not sure I would’ve ever plucked up the courage to network in real life. I began on Twitter by asking if there were any other writers or bloggers in my area, and I found a private Facebook group where we could all chat, share tips, and attend events together. I also used the hashtag feature on Twitter to search for other creative people online, and I actively started commenting on their work. As a result, I’ve collaborated with some writers in America, hosted live chats with people all over the UK, and appeared on podcasts. The best part is that I’ve achieved most of this without even having to leave my house.
2.Find a buddy
Walking into a networking event alone can be nerve-racking for most people, never mind those of us with social anxiety. So having a friendly face to accompany you is the perfect solution to help you feel more at ease. You could take along a friend for support, or alternatively, find other people online who are attending and ask if they’d like to meet up beforehand. I do this quite regularly by searching for the event on Twitter or Instagram, and following anyone who mentions they are going. Then, in the days leading up to the event, I’ll send them a friendly message saying that I’m looking forward to going and would they like to meet up at the front door and say hello.
You’d be surprised at how many other people are relieved to get an invitation like this, as it makes life easier for them too!
3. Create your own tribe
Once you’ve been sociable on Twitter and Instagram for a few months, you’ll get familiar with people who work in your area. If you’re trying to find business, or even just contacts, then it’s a good idea to nurture any friendships you make early on in your networking adventure. Organise regular meet-ups for coffee, drinks or even just brainstorming sessions to get the most out of your new tribe. Don’t forget to refer them to potential customers, and you could even offer mates’ rates if they need your services.
4.Try skill swapping
A good way to forge valuable partnerships with people is to offer a skill-swapping session. Decide on your area of expertise and offer to train someone else on the basics, in exchange for tips on their own speciality. I’ve found this is particularly good for social anxiety because it avoids the need for small talk. I can just get straight into talking about the thing that I’m passionate about, and refer to my notes if I get nervous. I’ve trained people how to use Pinterest, pitch to magazines, and even how to edit videos, and built up a really useful network of genuine friends as a result. We’re always open to sharing tips and even job opportunities with each other, as well as providing a friendly ear when we need to vent!