As an “adult” (using the term loosely here) I am constantly questioning if I’m doing certain things right. Manners and social interactions are on the top of that list. I’ve always been relatively socially awkward and have a hard time thinking of things to say, so I’m never sure if I’m being polite enough. I definitely make it a point not to be rude, but I’m generally at a loss for words when it comes to making small talk, taking compliments, greeting people, etc.
As an introvert, I have been this way as long as I can remember. In my early to mid twenties I would just have a cocktail or two at social events to feel more comfortable talking to people. As I am getting older, my social events tend to be more “grown-up” and catching a buzz is generally frowned upon, so I’ve had to learn new ways to ease my anxiety.
A couple techniques that have worked for me are to relax, reframe my thoughts, and remember to stay in the moment.
To stay calm when I’m starting to feel a little panicky, I make sure to focus on my breathing, and take nice deep breaths. Sometimes I will count backwards from ten to one if I’m feeling especially tense. Other relaxation techniques can be to visualize a calming picture, focus on something specific from your surroundings, or repeat a phrase in your head.
My mind tends to go straight to the worst case scenario in these situations, and I’ll find myself worrying about what people are going to think of me. I often think (mostly) irrational thoughts, like “What if people think I’m stupid?” “What if I say something stupid?” and “What if people don’t like me?” The truth is, everyone has thoughts like this from time to time, but you have to push them out of your mind and think the opposite instead. “What if I say something that really resonates with someone?” or “What if I really connect with someone here?”
Making sure to stay focused on the moment and not to dwell on the what-ifs is a tremendous life saver for me in social situations. I try to take a few minutes and notice everything that I can using all of my senses. Whatever sights, sounds, smells, or sensations are around I take them in and push everything else out of my mind for a minute. This helps me remember to focus on what’s actually happening here and now, instead of what could happen.
I certainly haven’t mastered the art of conversation through these techniques, but it has helped me from going into full-blown panic mode when dealing with real, grown-up adults.
Taking compliments has never been a very graceful thing for me, either. If someone tells me they like my hair or my dress, I turn into a deer in headlights and find myself stammering out some kind of awkward thank-you-but-I-don’t-agree statement. My (occasionally) wise husband gave me advice for this one, and it hasn’t failed me yet. To gracefully take a compliment, simply say, “Thank you.” If you have a genuine compliment to give back, give it. If not, thank you is the most acceptable reply. It took me quite a long time to learn this, and it’s literally so easy a child could do it.
As a mother of two young kids, I want to make sure I set a good example for them, and teach them skills that I didn’t learn until well after I should have. I try to teach them to be polite, they say please and thank you, excuse me, etc. That’s the easy part. The hard part will be teaching them coping skills to deal with various life stressors that they can utilize into adulthood. I think I’m doing a pretty good job, so far, I just have to keep myself in check and make sure to be a good role model for them.