Put others first.
When you focus on other people in a social situation, you’ll feel less nervous (think about being at a performance—you’re not nervous in the audience because you’re not focused on yourself). “If you’re out at a party or gathering, look for others in the room who are standing alone or looking lost and introduce yourself,” suggests Walker. “You are never the only person in the room who is shy, timid or uncomfortable.” Reach out and both of you will feel less alone.
Ask thoughtful questions.
People love to talk about themselves, so ask them questions. Remember to keep the questions open-ended, almost like you’re interviewing them and hoping for a great quote or anecdote. For example, instead of asking what they do, ask what they love most about their work. Then pay attention to the answer—this one only works if you’re a good listener, too.
Hold a warm drink.
Sounds kooky, but Miller notes research shows that when people hold a warm drink as opposed to something cold, they believe that others are more approachable and kind (briefly holding a cold drink results in the opposite reaction). So grab a cappuccino or a hot toddy when you walk into the party.
Prepare for awkward situations.
If there’s a specific scenario that makes you nervous—say, a party where you only know the host or a work lunch with someone you’ve never met—you can set yourself up for a positive interaction by practicing “if-then” scenarios. “If you decide ahead of time how you’ll react to something, you have more control,” says Miller. For example, you might think, “When I run into someone who intimidates me, instead of looking away I will look directly at them and smile.”
By making this contract with yourself ahead of time, you’re visualizing an outcome and dictating how you’ll automatically behave. That confident smile will become a habit in no time.
Eat something salty.
Good news, chip lovers! Research suggests that elevated sodium levels can inhibit stress hormones. The researchers call this “the watering hole effect,” because if you’re thirsty, you have to overcome fear of approaching a public drinking spot. And—no lie—the salt-consuming rats in this experiment were more interactive and less anxious around each other than the control group.
Find your mood-lifter.
People who are in a positive frame of mind and who are more emotionally “flourishing” tend to become more curious and outgoing than people who are in a defensive or depressed mood. Some common ways to improve your emotional state include exercise, meditation, journaling or listening to music you love. Miller suggests finding what works for you and practicing that shortly before you head into a social situation. You know that person who walks into the room bubbling with confidence and good vibes? You can be her.
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