My hands trembled, sweat patches bloomed under my arms and my heart pounded so loud that I thought the women around me could hear it.
I’d just walked into Marie Forleo’s conference.
I rushed over to the table to grab my name tag, hoping that someone might talk to me by then.
After putting the lanyard with my name tag around my neck, I glanced around the room.
Women chatted in groups. There wasn’t anywhere to sit down because the first night included a lot of movement. I stood there, hoping someone would approach me.
My throat dried up. My stomach twisted.
After a few seconds that felt like some of the longest seconds of my life, I pulled out my phone and pretended that I was doing something important.
My social anxiety turned my face a bright tomato red.
I’d just gotten there and I was already embarrassed because I didn’t know anyone and everyone seemed to have friends with them.
At this point in my life, I felt waaaaaaay too awkward to walk up to a group of women already in conversation and introduce myself.
Once the activities got started, I was fine. But the social hour leading up to them felt like torture.
The next day when I walked in, I wandered to the front and sat in the second row on the left. I introduced myself to the women who sat around me and even asked a group of women if I could eat lunch with them (after giving myself a pep talk in the bathroom).
I learned so much at the conference, met some amazing entrepreneurs–including meeting Marie in person for the first time, and enjoyed every single speech.
But the thing that stands out when I think back to that conference was how anxious I was the entire time and how uncomfortable I felt during every break.
The next year when I attended her conference, I was so much more relaxed because Mayi, my super awesome best friend, was there, too. I knew I’d have someone to chat with in between speeches and someone to eat lunch with each day.
You might not realize that I suffer from social anxiety, because I’ve taught CreativeLive courses and spoken at The Etsy Success Symposium, I do live videos, and I interact with people on social media.
When I tell people that I have social anxiety, they often think I’m either making it up or I’m being dramatic.
I can get along with a group of people I’ve just met. I can interact with my husband’s colleagues. I can walk into a party alone.
But none of those things are comfortable for me.
When I was in school, I barely raised my hand even if I knew that I had the right answer. I was terrified of looking stupid.
It’s something that I dislike about myself and would change if I could. (I have gotten better over time and with practice.)
The reason I’m telling you this is because I know some of you also suffer from social anxiety.
I get multiple questions every month that say something like, “Can I run a successful online business if I have social anxiety?”
The answer is YES.
Here are my top tips for you if you also have social anxiety:
1. Take advantage of online networking.
Online business was made for those of us who suffer from social anxiety.
You can take an entire day to decide how you’re going to respond to someone’s Facebook comment. You can edit your reply on Twitter until it’s just right. You can write up an email response, take a brisk walk around the block and then edit and send it.
You can’t do this kind of thing in person. It would be super awkward if someone was like, “Ummm…give me ten minutes to think about what you just said and respond.”
Be social online. Don’t hide behind your computer screen in your bunny slippers. Take part in online discussions and respond to people on social media. This will also give you more practice for when you’re asked similar questions in person.
2. Do more of what works.
I say this about everything, but you want to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t and this applies to the social aspects of your business.
If you connect with lots of your followers through Instagram stories but you tend to freeze and stumble along on Instagram live, do Instagram stories each day and don’t worry about Instagram live.
3. Do the things you feel comfortable doing.
Even with social anxiety, there are certain social things I really enjoy doing. I love doing live Q&As. I enjoy reading blog comments and responding when I have time. I fancy sending people messages when I enjoy or connect with their Instagram stories.
What social pieces do you enjoy? Spend more time on them.
4. Practice relaxation techniques.
When you find your social anxiety rising, take five breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Count them. Take as deep of breaths as you feel comfortable (which will depend on what situation you’re in).
Concentrating fully on your breathing will help you get out of your head and away from the angry guy (aka, inner critic) shouting, “See how much you suck? These people will never like you. They can probably see your panty lines and that little bulge of fat rolling over your jeans. They’ll never want to be your friend.”
Step away for a moment to do this breathing exercise if needed.
Another technique you can try is just focusing on your body. Focus on your toes and feel them solid on the ground. Next the soles of your feet. Then your ankles and your calves and your knees and thighs. Keep going until your breathing has relaxed and you feel more in control.
5. Accept the anxiety.
Instead of trying to fight your anxiety, simply say to yourself (in your head–not out loud), “I feel anxious.”
Studies have shown that you automatically reduce your anxiety by admitting your anxious. When you try to resist it, your anxiety tends to get worse.
6. Focus on the task.
One of the best ways to lower your anxiety is to get out of your head. That’s why I recommended to focus on your breathing above.
Instead of focusing on your breathing, focus on the task or the person you’re talking to.
For instance, let’s say you’re in the middle of a Facebook live and you feel yourself getting anxious. Maybe you stumbled over a few words. Maybe you didn’t know how to answer a question. Maybe a comment surprised you.
Your mind might take over repeating how bad this video is going and how horrible you are at it. Then your anxiety grows and you make more mistakes.
But, if want to get it back on track, you’ve got to shut out that inner critic. Focus completely on the next question someone asks, doing your very best to answer it. Or, take a breath and then focus on the next bullet point you want to cover during this live video.
When you shift your focus from yourself to what you’re doing or the person you’re talking to, you don’t give yourself room for anxiety.
7. Try it before you rule it out.
Every month in Sunday Society, we all do a challenge together and this month’s challenge is to post an Instagram story every day. I’ve given the members prompts to work from and some of the members who have a lot of anxiety around video have said that they enjoy doing Instagram stories because they’re so short.
Through this challenge, they realized that Instagram stories aren’t so scary.
Before you decide that something isn’t for you, try it. Experiment. Play. Try not to be so hard on yourself or require perfection right away.
8. Gather five seconds of courage.
Hitting send on an email. Replying on Instagram. Introducing yourself to someone you don’t know.
These things only take about five seconds of courage. That’s all you need to muster up, so do whatever you need to do to build enough braveness for those five seconds.
9. Push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Everybody has stuff they have to deal with in this world. For you, part of what you have to deal with is your social anxiety. Don’t let it cripple you but also know your absolute limits. For instance, speaking was out of my comfort zone before I tried it.
The first time I spoke in front of a large audience (at the Etsy Success Symposium), I almost chickened out. I couldn’t read my note cards because my eyes were swimming with anxious tears and I felt like I was a millisecond from projectile vomiting on the front row. I pushed past the anxiety and delivered a great speech.
That’s how I realized that I wanted part of my business to entail speaking. If I had never pushed myself out of my comfort zone, I never would’ve taught at CreativeLive or accepted an invitation to speak at a beautiful retreat hosted in a huge house right on the ocean.
On the other hand, one of my absolute limits is going to party where I don’t know anyone. My husband goes to these networking events for young professionals even when he doesn’t know anyone else there. I wouldn’t have fun. I wouldn’t give off a good first impression, because I’d be too dang anxious. I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t do any good networking.
10. Set specific goals when you know you’ll be anxious.
When I know that my social anxiety is going to rear it’s unsightly head, I set very specific goals for myself.
For instance, I always set goals for in person events. The goal might be to introduce myself to the speaker or introduce myself to three new people or give out my business card twice. As long as I meet my goals, I feel good about how the event went.
And, sometimes meeting those goals gives me a boost of confidence to keep going and I might introduce myself to six people instead of three.
11. Give yourself breaks.
If I go to a conference, I know I’m going to need about a week to myself to recover. I’m an introvert and spending that much time around people I don’t know well takes all of my energy.
When I start to feel my energy waning at the event, I can remind myself that in two days I’ll be snuggling my dogs and reading an engrossing thriller. Knowing that I’ll only be networking for a small amount of time usually gives me the pick-me-up I need to keep going.
I hope these tips help those of you struggling with social anxiety. It’s absolutely possible to run a successful business!
Have a tip I didn’t include? Leave it in the comments below.