Anxiety comes about in stressful situations and often those situations involve being around other people. Being able to hold a decent conversation can seem impossible and there are times when the conversation itself can trigger anxiety. Here are some of my tips to help make conversing when anxious, that little bit easier.
Tip #1 - Compliment the person
This may not help your anxiety directly, but it does work indirectly. Complimenting someone often leaves them feeling at ease and that will radiate over to you. If the person you are talking to is relaxed, then your brain will start to consider the possibility that there isn’t a threat.
It also takes focus to find something to compliment. You want it to be heartfelt so that means you will need to look at how they are dressed, their hair, their humour, or their achievements. Setting a clear goal in your head will distract you from the anxiety. Also, helping someone else feel good about themselves actually helps you to feel better in yourself.
Complimenting someone doesn’t have to be a big thing, but for example, when approaching your friend, you could tell them they look nice today, or they are looking well. It’s a nice way to break the initial tension of starting a conversation as well as providing the opportunity to start up a conversation immediately.
Tip #2 - Ask questions
People usually love talking about themselves or the things that are going on in their life. We all have the need to express our thoughts so by asking people questions, you are opening that door for them and taking off the pressure from yourself. These could be questions about a common interest or what’s going on in their lives. Opinions are also great to discuss as long as you are aware you may not agree. Remember, these tips are more for reducing anxiety rather than purely conversation tactics.
It’s also important to keep in mind that some questions may be intrusive. If you notice the other person giving very short answers, then try to move on or give an answer to your own question in order to avoid confrontation but also keep your mind occupied away from the triggers.
Tip #3 - Comment on the surroundings
When feeling anxious, it can be hard to keep a conversation flowing, and often our mind is void of any coherent thoughts. If you’ve run out of things to talk about, try to observe something in your surroundings. It’s a practical mindfulness technique where you focus your thoughts on something in your surroundings or even the surroundings entirely. For example, you may see a tree and then you focus on all of its unique features, or the sounds coming from it when the wind flows through its leaves, or the birds looking for friends. But commenting on things is taking this exercise a step further. Obviously, you won’t want to go into as much detail as the mindfulness exercise as that can create an awkward, stilted conversation. But instead, you may want to comment on the weather or certain buildings. Perhaps you notice a flyer and strike up a conversation about what it’s promoting. The opportunities are endless, you just need to spot them, and that in itself is an almost perfect distraction from anxiety.
Tip #4 - Try to move around
Exercising is great for relieving the symptoms caused by anxiety. Often when conversing with someone, you won't have the option of exercising. Instead, you could suggest walking and talking (something which I had to do a lot of). You can also try progressive muscle relaxation if you’re seated during the conversation. Fidgeting is a great way to distract from anxiety as well as its symptoms. It's just a case of finding a way to fidget in a way that doesn't draw too much attention to yourself. That may mean shifting your weight in your seat, moving your hands around, jiggling your leg, etc. Sometimes people pick up on it, but even if they do, they will just see it as fidgeting but hopefully, it’ll make the anxiety you experience easier to manage.
Tip #5 - Breathe
The most important thing to remember is to breathe. Sounds obvious but often when anxious, people hold their breath and that just makes the anxiety worse. Here’s a video on breathing exercises: https://youtu.be/wts9NHfghK8
It’s important to practice them beforehand so that during conversations, you can use them effortlessly. The breathing square is likely to be the most practical as there are squares all around us and it doesn’t have to distract you too much.
Remember, practice makes perfect. The more practice you have with conversations, the less anxiety you will feel over time. Not every experience will be positive but these tips should help make it easier.