Why do I get nervous when talking to someone? If you frequently feel nervous when chatting to people, socializing and making new friends can be extremely challenging, speaking up at work can be daunting, and going for interviews can be a nightmare.
In some cases, your nervousness may stem from a lack of confidence in your abilities in a given situation. For example, being ill-prepared for a presentation at an important meeting.
Perhaps you’re meeting your partner’s parents for the first time, and you really want to make a good impression. Or maybe the global pandemic has made you all too familiar with staying at home, and you’ve felt like you’ve lost your social skills.
We all feel a little nervous from time to time, especially in high-pressure situations such as job interviews or meeting new people.
However, some of us find ourselves extremely nervous in situations where other people seem to fare just fine. It seems unfair – many of us who get more nervous than others sometimes find ourselves wishing we could be calmer, more relaxed, and more confident.
If you get nervous when talking to people, whether in a social or a professional setting, this article is for you. We’ll explore why people get nervous around others, and what you can do to increase your confidence, be more assertive, and shake those nerves.
Bear in mind that nervousness around others may be a sign of social anxiety disorder. If you’re struggling, then read on. We’ll explore the nature of social anxiety and discuss the benefits of seeking treatment and support from a mental health professional. We’ll also offer some self-help tips to help you manage your anxiety and reduce its impact on your happiness and well-being.
Why do I feel nervous in front of other people?
People get nervous in front of others for a variety of reasons. Can you remember your first ever date? Or your first day at high school? How about a job interview? Was there a time when you had to leave a party because you couldn’t find your voice?
If you’re like most people, then these experiences likely made you feel a little nervous inside, as though you had butterflies in your stomach, sweaty hands, and a rapid heartbeat. You may have even felt a little nauseous!
Nervousness is a natural response to new experiences and unfamiliar situations. It keeps us alert and may even be caused by excitement. However, this nervousness usually passes shortly after it arises. We realize that our fears are just fears, and often there is really nothing to worry about.
Sometimes, people experience bouts of nervousness for a brief period of time, such as a few weeks or a month or two. Still, it passes. Such cases usually boil down to stressful life circumstances such as high demands at work, the start or end of a relationship, the loss of someone we love, or any other major life change.
Others have different experiences. Some of us struggle with a mental health issue called social anxiety disorder, a type of anxiety disorder that gets triggered by social situations. People struggle with social anxiety to varying degrees.
For some, their anxiety gets triggered in large crowds or even a medium-sized crowd of new people in which they feel pressure to talk, share, laugh, and socialize. Others feel deep discomfort and nervousness in one-to-one conversations. For some, social anxiety is so severe that talking to anyone outside of one’s immediate social circle (close friends, family) can trigger a panic attack.
In the first half of the rest of this article, we’ll explore some tips and techniques to help you stop feeling nervous when you’re talking to people. It may take some practice and conscious effort to get the hang of these tips, but if you apply them well, you’ll soon experience yourself a lot more social and engaged with others than you previously believed possible.
In the second half of this article, we’ll take a closer look at social anxiety disorder and offer some practical tips to help you manage and overcome it.
How to stop being nervous when you talk to people
Stop caring so much about being judged
Much of the time, the nervousness we feel when talking to someone stems from the belief that they will judge us negatively. We worry that we’ll come off as boring, offensive, or stupid, so we stress ourselves out trying to think of the perfect thing to say or way to be.
If we expect a negative view from the other person about our personality, we focus too much on that expectation and fail to pay mindful attention to what’s really happening. We anticipate saying something ‘wrong’ or ‘inappropriate,’ which takes us out of the present moment. It makes us focus on an anticipated future in which the worst will happen.
To stop being so nervous when talking to someone, or at least reduce your nerves, try to let go of the fear of being judged. It can be hard to do at first, but it becomes easier with practice. Try to find ground in your own self-worth and inherent right to be here, and express yourself honestly and authentically.
Again, this can be hard at first, especially if you’ve formed a habit of pushing down your authentic self in favor of a mask that pleases others or helps you avoid awkwardness.
Get comfortable with silence
Discomfort with silence makes many people scramble for something to say. When they finally find something to say, it might be trite, irrelevant, or come off as a desperate attempt to just say anything at all and break the awkward atmosphere.
Silence in a conversation is not a bad thing. It gives all parties time to reflect on what has been said, to integrate with what they’ve learned, and check in with how they’re feeling.
To be more comfortable with silence, you simply need to practice it. Understand that people don’t expect you always to have something to say or come up with an interesting story. If they do, they’re placing an unrealistic expectation on you, and you don’t have to succumb to it. It may be that they’re the ones who are uncomfortable with silence, and that’s not your issue.
Next time you find yourself in a conversation in which silence has arrived, take a moment to allow it. Try to feel confident and calm with the silence. Accept it as though there is absolutely nothing wrong. During it, check in with your breathing, with your thoughts, and with your physical sensations. The world isn’t going to end if you don’t speak immediately.
There’s nothing like the comfort of silence that’s comfortable. – Nick Hexum
When you do find something you want to say, don’t rush. Speak in a calm manner and with confidence. Your approach to the return of the verbal part of your conversation will indicate to your conversation partner that you are comfortable with silence, which also lets them know that silence is okay.
Understand that other people get nervous in conversation too
Your nervousness might get worse if you believe that the other person in the conversation is calm, confident, and self-assured. You might compare yourself to them, and why you’re not as calm and collected.
You might feel less nervous if you remember that we are all human, which means we’re all vulnerable and at least a little insecure. Instead of assuming that you’re the only one with insecurities, bear in mind that others may be just as insecure and may be just as worried about not having something to say.
Understanding social anxiety
Social anxiety disorder is a common type of anxiety disorder. Other types include generalized anxiety, specific phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and PTSD.
There are differences in the symptoms of these anxiety disorders, but there are also many similarities. Worry and rumination, sweaty palms, shaking, a tight voice, and a racing heartbeat are just some of these similarities.
What are the signs of social anxiety disorder?
People with social anxiety struggle with a range of symptoms that make living with the condition a challenge. ‘Social anxiety disorder’ (SAD) includes the essential feature of marked fear or anxiety of one or more social situations during which the individual may or may not be under scrutiny by others,’ explains Gregory M Rose of the University Hospital and Medical Center, Florida. ‘Exposure to such a social situation almost always provokes fear or anxiety in the affected individual, and the individual experiences concern that they will be judged negatively.’
Rose also explains that social anxiety is characterized by ‘excessive fear of embarrassment, humiliation, or rejection when exposed to possible negative evaluation by others when engaged in a public performance or social interactions.’
According to Rose’s research, as well as many other studies and research publications, and the symptoms outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition, the most common symptoms of a social anxiety disorder include:
- Fearing judgment and scrutiny by others
- Fear of public speaking
- Believing that others can read your mind and see how anxious and worried you are
- Avoiding social situations and other anxiety triggers
- Feeling deeply self-conscious in a group of people or even around one person
- Misuse of substances as a means of masking or escaping from nervousness or anxiety
- Misuse of substances as a means of escaping from feelings of guilt and shame after engaging in avoidant behavior, or self-criticism for the way you are
- Shallow breathing, sweaty palms, racing heartbeat, dilated pupils
If you’re struggling with social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, know you’re not the only one. Social phobia is one of the most common anxiety disorders and mental health conditions in general in the US, with almost 7 million Americans struggling daily.
Though the condition can be debilitating, the good news is that effective, evidence-based treatment is available. Typically, a combination of self-help, psychotherapy, and medication helps people manage their symptoms and learn to apply healthy coping mechanisms when fear, anxiety, and stress become overwhelming.
Some people manage to get by with just self-help, others with self-help and therapy, and others with a combination of the previous two with medical support.
What can I do if I have social anxiety?
Social anxiety can significantly impact the quality of life of those struggling, so much so that it can make it hard to stay motivated and hopeful for the future.
Some people suffer a decline in their work performance, strained relationships, and even depression when social anxiety persists. As such, if Social anxiety disorder is impacting your daily life, it’s important to seek professional help.
A licensed therapist or counselor can help you identify and address the root cause of your anxiety through an evidence-based method such as cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy. Depending on the severity of your experience, they may suggest you speak to a doctor or GP and ask about anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) medication.
There are some different classes of anxiolytic medication. Some are more suitable than others for your unique physical and psychological makeup, so it’s vitally important to consult a medical professional before taking any kind of medication.
Self-help tips for social anxiety
Other than therapy, many people find anxiety relief through mind-body-based practices such as meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. These techniques have their roots in ancient traditions but can be practiced by anyone of any background, culture, or religion.
Mind-body practices are a type of holistic approach to healing from many physical and mental health issues. They focus on the link between the mind and the body – to the state of one affects the state of the other, and how aligning both benefits our overall health.
Exercise and diet are also powerful tools in reducing the severity of anxiety disorders, including social anxiety. Exercise elicits the release of endorphins in the brain, feel-good chemicals associated with happiness, well-being, and the chemicals associated with the ‘runner’s high.’
Diet helps keep your mental well-being in check, thanks to the relationship between healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome and their role in serotonin production.
Nervousness is a natural human feeling and is not a sign of weakness or a personal flaw. Most of us feel nervous from time to time and feel confident and self-assured at others.
Overcoming nervousness usually requires that we take a step back to breathe, check in with ourselves, and let go of the fear of judgment or failure.
When nervousness in conversation can sometimes stem from social anxiety and overcoming it can be a little trickier. However, it is possible to reduce the severity of your social anxiety through the tips we have mentioned above as well as professional and self-help strategies.