How Do I Talk to People When I Have Social Anxiety Disorder?

Tips for Having a Good Conversation

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Knowing how to talk to people when you have social anxiety disorder (SAD) can be difficult. Even after receiving treatment, you may find that you are behind your peers when it comes to social skills.

A 2008 study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders sought to determine whether individuals with SAD just think that they do worse at social and performance situations than their peers—or if they actually show deficits in these areas.

What they found was that unlike when giving a speech, for which people with SAD underestimated their skill, conversations actually elicited social performance deficits. What does this mean? If you give a speech, you've probably done better than you actually thought. However, if you're struggling to make conversation, you may actually be lacking important skills to do so.

Many people with SAD have avoiding talking with other people most of their life. Therefore, even when you have control of your anxiety, you may still not be sure how to behave in social situations.

With time and new experiences, social situations can gradually get easier. However, there are also tips and tricks that you can use to speed up your learning curve and build social skills. Below is a list of things that you can do to improve your conversation ability.

1. Don't just talk—do an activity together.

If you find that you are uncomfortable having conversations with others, try talking while doing an activity together.

Laverty recalls always being more comfortable talking with her father while doing yard work together. She notes that "adding activity to conversation helps things flow and gives you something to talk about."

So the next time you find yourself at a loss for words with someone, suggest an activity that you can do together.

Take a walk together, attend an exercise class, play a sport or board game, or go shopping. Doing these activities will help to stimulate conversation and keep your mind focused on interacting with the other person.

2. Practice good nonverbal communication.

People with SAD tend to have problems in several areas: maintaining eye contact; speaking too softly, too quickly, or in an unsure tone; standing too far away, smiling too much or too little, slouching or keeping your arms crossed, and keeping your head down.

While you certainly aren't trying to project this image, all of the above behaviors are telling other people that you want to be left alone—or worse, that you have something to hide or are not knowledgeable about a topic. 

Below are a couple of articles to help you work through these issues. As you work on them, consider asking a friend for feedback on how you appear or watch yourself on videotape.

How to Maintain Eye Contact

A Quick Guide to Understanding and Improving Body Language

3. Work on conversation skills.

Conversing is as much a skill as riding a bike—the more you do it the better you will get. However, to get started, you will need to have some basic skills in your back pocket. The following articles will help you have a leg up when starting to talk to others.

How to Leave a Conversation When You Have Social Anxiety

16 Tips to Cope with Awkward Conversations

How Social Skills Training Can Help with SAD

These tips will help you become more comfortable speaking with others. However, for those with severe anxiety symptoms, it is important to first receive adequate treatment for your social anxiety. Without proper treatment, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or medication, social skills strategies aren’t likely to be effective.

Sources:

Anxiety BC. Effective Communication - Improving your Social Skills. Accessed May 9, 2017.

Voncken MJ, Bogels SM. Social performance deficits in social anxiety disorder: reality during conversation and biased perception during speech. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. 2008; 1384-1392.

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