Examples Of Ways To Gradually Face Various Social Fears

In another article in this section I explained why it's important to directly face any social fears you have. For some more minor fears, just knowing you have to get out there may be all you need, and you can go out and start pushing your comfort zone on your own fairly easily. For social situations that cause more intense anxiety simply taking a deep breath and going forward doesn't tend to work, and the solution is to face your fears gradually. In that article I gave one example of how someone could slowly and manageably get more used to talking to strangers at parties. This article will give examples of ways to gradually confront many other types of social fears.

The progressions I'll give are just rough suggestions about how someone could systematically work through a fear. They don't have to be followed exactly, and everyone should make their own custom hierarchy of Least Scary to Most Scary steps. You know your issues better than I do, so don't be afraid to come up with a plan to face your fears that's unique to you. You can skip certain suggestions, or invent new ones.

Some steps you'll see in many of the examples

In a lot of the examples I'll give the following as easy, safe first steps to ease into a feared activity:

Of course, I'm not saying you have to seek professional support to work through your social fears. This won't be necessary for every situation. However, if you do have access to these supports already, and are comfortable seeking help in this way, they can be a useful option.

Here are the example fear-facing progressions, in no particular order. Again, refer to the article on gradually facing your fears for guidelines about applying this overall approach.

Feeling awkward about starting conversations with people you don't know

This is a very common one. The types of strangers you may feel hesitant to talk to, or the circumstances you do it under, can vary.

Feeling nervous about inviting people to hang out with you

Feeling awkward about keeping in touch with people

General discomfort with speaking up in groups

There are a number of progression hierarchies going on here that you can work your way through.

As always, if the opportunity presents itself you could arrange to role play group conversations.

Feeling uncomfortable with self-disclosure

Feeling uncomfortable with sharing your opinions

Similar to having issues with self-disclosure, some people feel awkward about piping up and giving their thoughts and opinions in social situations.

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Discomfort with joking around and generally putting your sense of humor out there

There are two sets of fear progressions here. The first is about the types of jokes you tell.

The next progression is in the types of people who joke around with. In short, start with people you feel at ease kidding around with. Move up to the ones that put you more on edge. For example, you may be fine trying to be funny around your family, but feel awkward making jokes around a group of really outgoing, witty classmates. You may also find your fear of making jokes goes hand in hand with a fear of speaking up in groups.

Anxiety around speaking and being the center of attention in class

Feeling nervous in night clubs

Being afraid to dance in front of people

Feeling nervous about talking on the phone

There are a number of phone-related fears someone may have, like having to leave a message, being called and caught off guard, or having to make cold sales calls. The example here will cover generally getting more comfortable speaking on the phone.

Discomfort with making eye contact

I talk about this more in the article on learning to make more eye contact. Here's a summary of what I wrote about easing into it gradually:

Feeling hesitant about being assertive

This is something that's hard to deliberately practice since it's not every day that other people will infringe on your rights and provide a situation where you'll need to assert yourself. In general though you can read up on assertiveness techniques and practice them out loud to yourself, or with a counselor, social skills group, etc. When opportunities to assert yourself do come up, you don't have to tackle them all immediately. You can start with situations you feel you can handle (e.g., a rude customer, a stranger cutting in front of you in line). Perhaps what really scares you is dealing with your demanding, demeaning boss, but you can't see yourself doing that right away. In the meantime you can role play how to approach that particular scenario.

Fear of public speaking

Here are some ways to get used to public speaking in general. Long term, the best way to get over this fear is to just rack up experience doing it:

Some ways to slowly ramp up to a specific presentation you have to do, say for work or school:

A fear of a particular embarrassing outcome

When someone is afraid of a situation, what they may really fear is a certain embarrassing worst-case scenario. They may not like going to restaurants because they're worried they'll get nervous to the point where they'll throw up and humiliate themselves. Sometimes it can help to directly face this worst case, and come to realize you could handle it if your fear did come to pass.

For example, someone with a fear of throwing up in public could start by going out where no one knows them and make a game of pretending they're feeling nauseous. They could then progress to play acting that they're suddenly running to the bathroom, or pausing to vomit in a trash can. They could be chatting to a clerk in a mall, then pretend that they have to excuse themselves because they're feeling sick. The whole time they can watch for other people's reactions. Often by doing all this they'll realize no one really cares if they see another person who's feeling pukey, and their fear loses its grip on them.