Are you able to look forward to social gatherings with friends, family or work colleagues or does a lack of confidence spoil these occasions for you?  It can be disheartening to receive that party invitation only to begin worrying almost immediately about how you will cope.

Whether you worry about how you look or you are anxious about talking to new people, there are actions you can take to combat your social anxiety.

Begin by making a journal note of all the social situations that worry you.  What are you frightened of?  What is the worst thing that could happen and why?  Is there a particular person that seems to make you feel worse when you are around them? How do you normally deal with your social anxiety?  These notes will help you to consider those areas for development.

Slowly does it..

Confidence is built gradually, by stepping out of your comfort zone little by little and by recognising your progress.  Consider what small action you might take each day or week that would develop your social confidence.  You could plan to ask a question in the daily meeting at work and rehearse this beforehand.  You might choose to strike up a short conversation with a neighbour and again plan what you might say.  People generally enjoy talking about themselves and their lives so think about any questions you could ask colleagues that would show an interest in them and begin a conversation in that way.  By focusing on other people we think less about ourselves.  By gradually experimenting in this way you will become more comfortable in social situations.  If you show an interest in others, they in turn will begin to show an interest in you and you will relax a little.

Let go of the nerves….

Prepare for any social situation by doing a little ‘mindfulness’.  You can download an app on your phone of things to listen to that will help you to zone out and relax.  If you listen to a relaxation tape, have a massage or do some mindfulness, this will help you to feel calmer and to tackle your challenges more easily.

Celebrate your gains…

Take a moment to congratulate yourself on making an effort to leave the comfort zone.  Whether it was making that difficult call,  inviting a colleague out for a drink or speaking up more confidently at work – remind yourself of the achievement.  This is vital if you are to grow your confidence!  Negative self talk prevents us from moving forward so it is very important to give yourself a pat on the back at times.  So even if you found it challenging, or it didn’t quite work out as you had planned, remind yourself…you did it! And it will be easier to do again next time.

And now to sparkle…

After you have worked on stretching your comfort zone for a while and you are beginning to recognise some of your skills and talents, then it is time to sparkle!  Now please do not panic – you may be imagining I am talking about a ‘big entrance’ at a social event, you in a long gown or tuxedo, walking down a sweeping staircase into the centre of a glamourous party?  But there are other ways to sparkle.  Why not invite a colleague for a coffee and cake or a game of pool at the pub or invite a group of parents from the playground for a coffee and catch-up?  Coffee and cake does not require you to socialise for a long period and you can feel prepared by thinking of some of the topics that others might like to talk about beforehand.   Book a table the week before, and dress comfortably but in clothes that you really like and match your personality.  Think of a few cheerful conversation starters…take a deep breath and go for it!  Aim to reveal your true personality and to relax the best you can – this is the secret of sparkling!  When you appear relaxed and cheerful your sparkle will show and those around you will begin to relax and enjoy themselves too.  You may be nervous beforehand but you will feel proud of yourself afterwards.