How to Manage Social anxiety in a crowd

It’s just too scary, right?

You walk into a crowded room and see those fancy people. They're standing around flaunting their social skills.  They're making small talk, meeting new people, and building relationships.

Everyone loves them.

People watch from a distance and think to themselves, "I wish I was like that."

I bet it’s crossed your mind too.

After all, being social and able to talk to new people is the fastest way to new relationships.  How else do you let people into who you are or share your life with others?

But, walking into a crowded room and striking up a conversation with a stranger?

Way too scary.

I mean, is the risk worth the rewards?

What about all those what ifs?  What if I say the wrong thing?  What if I make a fool of myself?  What if I'm not the person I think I am, or worse, I'm the negative person I think they think I am?

Then, there's the possibility of embarrassment.  I could trip and fall in front of everyone.    Did I get all that spinach out of my teeth?  What if I start sweating?

Then, even if you make it through all that, how do you start the conversation?

It just doesn't seem worth it... but it is.

Developing social confidence and managing your social anxiety in a crowd is possible. It's also worth your time.

Here’s why…

We Learn From Practice

Overcoming social anxiety is a journey.  It takes time and deliberate practice. We have to work through challenging feelings, preconceived notions, and long-held emotions. It takes a lot of practice.

That's why we have to walk into that room and try to start those conversations.  So we can practice everything we've learned.

But, don't jump the gun.   Make sure you're ready and prepared.

Here's how to prepare yourself for dealing with that crowd.

You Are Not Alone

First, it's important to recognize there is nothing wrong with you.  Everyone feels a little uncomfortable in crowds and confined spaces.

Look around any mall during the Holiday season.  It’s wild.  The lines are long, people are everywhere, and everyone is in a hurry.

Even the most even-keeled person finds this kind of activity stressful.  It makes you hyper-vigilant and untrusting of your fellow shoppers.

Sometimes, dealing with a crowd feels dangerous and causes you to feel anxious.

But remember, everyone around you is feeling the same way.  You’re not alone.  So, be willing to offer a kind word, hold a door open for someone, or simply smile at the person next to you.  Those actions will help others feel a little more comfortable, and help you feel a little better too.

If they don't smile back or speak.  It's OK.  You already know how they're feeling.  They were just too anxious to respond.

You Are Always in Control

Second, when you're in a crowd or confined space, there are always things that are out of your control.  But don't place your focus there.  

Pay attention to the things you can control.

You're in charge of your steps and where you go.  You decide who you talk to and who you don't.  

Your personal space is yours and you decide who gets close to you.  What you say, who you say it to, and how you say it, is all under your control.  The time you arrive and the time you leave is your decision too.

Need to take a break? Nobody can stop you.  Want to leave this group and try to join the next group? A simple "please excuse me," is all you need to say if you want to be polite (but I don't recommend being rude).

You are always in control of you.

6 Strategies for Managing Yourself in a Crowd

Now that you know you're in control and not the only one anxious, here are some helpful tips for managing your social anxiety in a crowd:

1. Breathe Deeply

In stressful situations, one of the best strategies to use is deep breathing.  Breathing is a natural way to lower your heart rate and decrease adrenaline.  It also increases the amount of oxygen that flows to your brain, which helps you think clearly.

One of my struggles with having to speak in front of crowds was my mind would often go blank.  So I thought I could remedy that by writing down what I want to say.  But, even that didn't always work.  I was just too nervous.

So, I starting making sure I took several deep breaths leading up to my time to speak.  It didn't always eliminate my nerves, but it did help me relax enough to make it through with a clear mind.

Before you walk into a crowded room, take a couple deep breaths, remind yourself you can handle this and you're in control.  Then, walk in with confidence.  Head up, shoulders back, putting one foot in front of the other.

2. Take Note of Your Thoughts

Try to pay attention to the thoughts you’re having.  Are they geared toward escaping the situation?  Are you becoming more aware of the number of people around you?  Are you thinking you're not going to be able to talk to anyone?

Our thoughts can be tough to control.  At first, it’s always best to observe them. Andy Puddicombe, the founder of Headspace, describes the practice of observing thoughts:

Picture yourself sitting on the side of a highway with cars driving by.  Think of each car as a separate thought and observe it as it passes by.  The key here is to allow the thoughts to pass by and not to reach out and grab hold to any one thought.

Once you observe your thoughts, ask yourself if any of them are true. Look for facts, not just feelings.  Our perceptions drive our social anxiety. We tend to think about what could happen, but those thoughts are rarely based on any facts. 

Take the time to determine if your thoughts are true. This will help you realize your emotions and feelings may be unwarranted.

3. Use Music to Your Advantage

With the amazing advancement of technology, you’re never far from your favorite music.  If you know you may encounter a crowd or confined space, plan ahead.

Load your phone with your favorite relaxing or motivational songs.  Then listen to the music before you have to deal with any crowd.

Not sure what songs you should play? Check out this list of great motivational songs.

Whatever your favorite song is, listen to it when you have to be brave, and I bet you'll surprise yourself.

4. Create an Alter Ego

Remember when you used to play make-believe?

I used to pretend I was Superman and “fly” off the top of the fence in my backyard. I’d pretend I was an all-star basketball player about to hit a game-winning shot in the 7th game of the NBA Finals. 

When I was learning to cook as a young teenager, I would pretend I was Emeril Lagasse. I'd throw seasoning all over the kitchen yelling out "BAM!"

In other words, I spent a lot of time pretending to be other people and I bet you did too.

Pretending to be someone else had a way of making you feel invincible, didn’t it?  You never felt fear because you were never in danger, it was only the person you were pretending to be. 

Well, regardless of being a little older, nobody said you couldn’t pretend anymore.  We can use this strategy to our advantage by creating an alter ego.

The simplest way to create an alter ego is to imagine yourself without fear.  If you weren’t afraid of anything, didn’t have any doubts, or worries, how would you act?  What would you do? Who would you talk to?  How would you respond to your problems and struggles?

Take some time and think about who that person would be and how they would act in your given situation.  Give your alter ego a name different from your own.  Then, whenever you feel yourself getting worried or anxious, pretend to be that person. You’ll find it much easier to navigate those moments because it will feel like you’re just pretending.

5. Establish A Plan

You want to have a plan when you’re going into situations you know will trigger your social anxiety.  Do your best to set yourself up for success.  Here's a general plan that you can modify to your liking:

Learn Everything You Can About the Event

If you're attending a conference, meeting, or social event, learn what you can about the event.  It's always good to know what you're walking into and what is expected of you as an attendee.  This information may also be helpful in conversations.

Find out What You Can About the People Attending the Event

Sometimes people will share they are attending a specific event on social media. Some events will use a special hashtag or create a private Facebook group for attendees. It may be good to browse through these Hashtags and groups to find out what you can about other attendees.  

Don't be creepy, your goal isn't to write a biography about the person.  Your goal is to find commonalities you share. These may be things you can discuss if you meet up at the conference.

Obviously, you can't do this for every person all the time.  But, it's helpful to kind of know the people you'll be spending your time with.  It will allow you to be confident when you attempt to engage with them.

Attend With a Friend

One of the best ways to manage your social anxiety in a crowd is to bring an ally with you.  Having a friend who knows you well and will support you is a huge confidence booster.

Talk to your friend beforehand about your goals for the event. Let them know what things you're worried about and let them help you solidify your plan.

Set a Goal

I've found that a lot of people attend conferences or gatherings without a goal.  They go because they were invited or feel like it will improve their career.  While this may be true, it's always good to set yourself a personal goal.  

Your goal could be as simple as talking to 3 people or practicing 5 conversation starters.  Your goal could even be to have fun no matter what.

Whatever event you may be attending, set a personal goal and try to reach it.

Take a Break

Sometimes, you need to take a break and that's OK.  

Don't feel obligated to stay in a conversation or environment if you feel you need some time to yourself.  Perhaps you feel like you can't breathe. Maybe you feel overloaded from how successful everything is going.  Or, it hasn't been going how you want and you need to regroup.  

Take a break.  

Head for the bathroom or a secluded area.  Review your plan, give yourself a pep-talk, whatever you might need.  Then head back in with a renewed focus or goal.

6. Be Patient

Even if you follow all these steps, they won't guarantee immediate success. But, exercising your patience and persistence will help you tilt the scales in your favor.

A helpful way to be patient is to speak positively to yourself.  Tell yourself you are safe and alright.  Remember, this situation is momentary and try to make the best of it.  Tell yourself you are in control and you will get through this.

Positive talk sounds cliché, but there is no denying it works. Reminding yourself of positive messages will help you keep a positive outlook. 

Why not give it a try?

Next Steps

There are many ways to manage social anxiety in a crowd.  I bet you have some of your own strategies too.

In the comments below, share any other tips or tools you use or recommend to help someone better manage their social anxiety in a crowd.


This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Great advice Aaron. I live with social anxiety and it affects me to some degree every single day. I am going to print this page out and keep it with me for inspiration. Thank you!

    1. Great! I'm so glad you found this useful and I hope it helps your though those tough days.

  2. Some really great tips. It's something I still have to manage, but I've become better at it (so much better than I ever used to be!) Taking a breather and a break is still important for me. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for reading. Taking a breather break is a big one for me too. One of those little things that ends up being really helpful in the long run.

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