It's no fun feeling awkward in social situations.
Clammy palms. A racing heart. A plunging in your stomach, or even a sense of impending doom. The awkwardness that comes from standing in a room surrounded by the pressure to socialise makes a lot of people run and hide.
Hardly surprising. All those people ready to judge. All those eyes on you. All those people to impress.
But it doesn't have to be that way, really it doesn't. Feeling awkward in social situations is a learned habit, and it's equally possible to learn and experience ease in those same situations.
1. Don't make it about you
As you stand there, your thoughts start to spin and spiral...
How can I get through it? What the hell do I say? And how soon can I leave?
Your thoughts turn inwards, and you become fearful and anxious—the protagonist in a desperately unlikeable situation you can't wait to be free from.
And all those thoughts just make things worse.
The answer, is to focus on someone else. The guy across from you. The person you've just been introduced to. The woman standing by the shrimp. Just one other person in the room.
Give them your attention and focus, and be interested and curious. This is a smart, simple way to get out of those narratives that spiral around in your head, and it's easy to have some questions ready to go in the event that nerves strike.
What's your favourite part of what you do? What's your connection to [insert name here]? What are you working on? Even a simple Hey, how's your day going? works just great.
Be interested, not interesting.
2. Stop trying to be perfect
Standing there looking at everyone around you, it's easy to feel pressure to perform. You gotta come across well. You have to make a wonderful impression. You need to say the perfect thing at the perfect time.
Wanting to be perfect will fuck you up faster than a horny bunny at a hot tub party during rabbit Spring Break, and wanting to appear as perfect as you can is a massive contributing factor in feeling awkward.
It's based on the thought "If I'm perfect, they won't reject me", and sees you running round in circles trying to chase the unattainable. Nobody's perfect, of course, and avoiding rejection is not only a horrible motivation, but is also out of your hands.
When the pressure you're feeling is coming from the desire to be perfect, realise that you'll make better connections by being imperfect, and take that pressure off yourself.
3. Stop hiding your weird
When you're feeling awkward in social situations, it's possible that you're trying really hard to hide who are.
You prioritise having someone else like you over liking yourself and how you're showing up. You make it more important that someone else feels comfortable around you than you being comfortable around you? Or you put more emphasis on fitting in, instead of being who you already are.
Sometimes awkwardness comes from trying to hide your weird, wonderful self, when it's those quirks and nuances and traits that make you unique.
You don't have to become some homogenised, "safe" version of you, so notice when you try to hide your weird and know that you're good as you already are.
4. See where the energy is
Human beings are social animals, and you're hardwired to make connections.
People go about that in different ways. Some prefer large groups, while others prefer one to one, some are more introverted and some are more extroverted.
Truth is, you have the right to be an introvert or an extrovert, and you can feel confident in how you prefer to engage and connect.
If you feel more energised in smaller groups, for example, go towards that. If you feel more open and at ease at informal gatherings, don't bother with those dressy events. Or if you make connections better over a shared activity, do that instead of a stiff networking event.
Figure out the kinds of social engagements that make you feel energised, and which ones don't. Then go towards the energy.
You don't have to be someone you're not.
5. It's not going to kill you
There's that moment, when the feelings of awkwardness and anxiety are sky-high and it feels like you can't make it through. But unless you're attending a meeting for Cannibals Anonymous, the risk of actual bodily death in social situations is pretty, pretty tiny.
So notice when you're dialling up the drama and putting everything on the line in this one, brief moment. Take a step back. You've made it this far. You're not going to die. You're going to be fine.
You're not going to die.
Yes, it might be uncomfortable, and it might feel scary and awkward, but that's okay. Make peace with that and laugh with it, safe in the knowledge that you're big enough to deal with whatever happens.
Let's not forget...
Now, while those strategies can all be employed to help you out, there's one notion that soars above the others.
Social situations are supposed to be fun, right?
So if you can let go of the rules and your expectations and allow yourself to have fun in the moment you find yourself in, you've nailed it.