I don’t know about you, but I used to feel like a foreigner when trying to be social.
If I was around people I didn’t know, I would feel like a “stranger in a strange land.” I looked perfectly calm, but inside I was clenched up in a thousand ways. I felt like everyone could sense I wasn’t natural in my environment.
This made me feel isolated, and the more I retreated into myself, the more I could feel the tension building. Self-doubt, negative thoughts, irrational shame, and a heavy sense of detachment drove me further away from the people around me.
I would think, “I don’t belong here. No one wants to hear what I have to say.” And at its worst, I’d say to myself, “I’m not even a real person.” It was a slippery slope.
I would come to realize later I was going in the wrong direction. I needed to be charging forward, not shrinking backward. The feelings that were building up were the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The solution to this problem doesn’t feel like the solution when you’re in the moment. You think it’s the opposite of what you should do, and you cringe at the thought of it. But here’s the truth: You don’t find salvation from social anxiety in your mind. You find it out in the world.
Bridging the Gap
If you’ve ever gotten to this point, then you know what it’s like to feel trapped. But trapped where? You’re not bound to anything. No one’s stopping you from speaking.
I’m talking about being “in your head.”
You’re trying to control, manage, and facilitate the input you’re getting from the environment, but all that overthinking is only making you feel vulnerable and confused.
Your head is the place you retreat to when your environment becomes too oppressive. And the more time you spend in there, the more oppressive, overwhelming, and hostile, the world outside is going to feel.
In your head, fear can distort your reality and self-perception. Being introverted is one thing, but being in your head is something different, especially when you’re using it as a place to hide. The more you think, the more cut-off you feel. It’s like digging your own grave.
First, you need to realize you’re the cause of this isolation. You’re suffocating yourself by running from what’s around you, and you need air. To get air, you need to creep out of your head one step at a time.
First an Inch, Then a Mile
Stepping out of your head won’t feel like a step. It’ll feel like a leap. But it’s a leap you have to make if you want this to stop.
This doesn’t mean you have to start screaming and hopping around before you can feel socially comfortable (unless that’s your thing). Baby steps come first.
The point of all this is to shake you loose and warm you up for being social. These small actions alleviate the pressure you’re feeling, and they allow for cracks of light to poke through the darkness in your mind. You’ll probably have to do several of these before you start feeling better.
Here are some ways to get the ball rolling. For context, let’s say you’re at a party:
- Give a Compliment
Say something sincere. It can’t hurt.
- Ask a Meaningful Question
Again, it has to be sincere. This prompts people to talk about themselves, which can lead to other opportunities to make comments and connect, in addition to them doing some of the social legwork.
- Hop in an Activity
Volunteer to join in an activity that’s going on. You don’t even have to talk while you do it. You can just do it. The idea is to participate, so you can give yourself a chance to start saying things organically.
- Chime In
Be willing to be seen. That’s the scariest part of all this. But giving your honest opinion in a conversation can be empowering, and it can bring you closer to others if they resonate with what you have to say.
The Benefits of Not Being In Your Head
I keep having to relearn this lesson myself, but there are tangible benefits to these little leaps.
Each jump into being social alleviates the oppressive feeling. Your environment seems less hostile the more you connect with people in these micro ways.
You start to feel freer, more understood, and more comfortable. The bleak thoughts you were having before can start to dissipate, almost like they were an illusion the entire time.
This doesn’t mean everyone is going to be nice to you. But even a jolt of rudeness can wake you up from your headspace. Think of it as diving into cold water. It’s tough at first, but then you adjust to it.
This is what I try to remember:
Expressing yourself in any capacity is therapeutic.
Especially when it connects you to others.
According to an article titled, The Connection Prescription: Using the Power of Social Interactions and the Deep Desire for Connectedness to Empower Health and Wellness by The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, being social works miracles:
…it is evident that social connection has substantial impacts in many categories of health from weight management, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression. Some psychiatrists go so far as comparing social connection to vitamins: “just as we need vitamin C each day, we also need a dose of the human moment — positive contact with other people.”
You can feel this when you step out of your head and immerse yourself in another person. You realize you were never a stranger in a strange land. You were just a person among people. You might be different than them, but that doesn’t mean they’re above you, or that you’re unworthy to be in their presence. Other people don’t determine what you’re worth, or how you should feel.
Getting out of your head takes repetition and finessing, but once you start, you can feel momentum taking hold. You might even catch yourself laughing, being charming, and genuinely having a good time. This momentum is where the magic is.
Once you’re out, you feel a kind of floatiness. And slowly, you start opening up to more people. We all need to take leaps like this if we’re going to have any hope of connecting with each other.
The long-term goal is to get to a state of being where you don’t feel oppressed by any environment. You dictate the vibe, instead of the vibe dictating you. But one step at a time, right?
The more you stay isolated in your mind, the more the fear consumes you. And this doesn’t just affect a person trying to be social. It affects anyone who’s keeping their pain to themselves. Speak. Admit. Participate.
It makes a difference.