Social Guides for the Socially Awkward: Information for Friends of the Anxious

This post was actually suggested to me by the excellent @WonderAli on Twitter.  As a sufferer of anxiety, it’s hard to remember that there are people out there who aren’t anxious on a daily basis.  There are people out there who have never had a panic attack, never lain awake at night for hours trying to remember if they locked up the office or not, never avoided going to the grocery store at 5pm…

Even typing that out it feels unbelievable.  But it’s true.  Often those freaks of nature have trouble understanding what it’s like for the rest of us.  They struggle to understand why we feel the way we do and what they can do to help.

This post is for them.

First off, most people with anxiety struggle in silence.

The thing I heard most often in the early years of talking to people about my social anxiety was “Everybody is too busy worrying about themselves to worry about you.”  Often my general anxieties weren’t met with eye rolls or “stop being so overdramatic.”  If people wanted to actually help me feel better, they would say things like “there’s no use worrying about things you can’t control” Or “It’s fine, you’re not going to get fired for forgetting to lock the office once.”

No matter how well meaning you are, your words are not going to help.  In fact, saying things like that not only undermines us, it convinces us that we’re actually as dumb as we feel.

From the brilliant Dr. Andrea Letamendi: “My advice for family members is to understand that a lot of times people do not have a “choice” to be anxious and that telling them to just “get over it” or “stop worrying about it” is not generally good advice as it minimizes the problem but also assumes that the person can simply interrupt the worrying on their own with ease.“

Here’s something to always keep in mind when dealing with people who have pronounced anxiety.

We’re not stupid.

Dude, we KNOW there’s no use worrying about things we can’t control.  We KNOW that a crowded grocery store is essentially harmless.  We KNOW that statistically flying is safer than driving.

ANXIETY IS NOT RATIONAL.  You can’t talk us out of it.  When you undermine our feelings you unconsciously encourage us to hide our anxiety and keep it from you.

So what can you do?

A) Acknowledge that you feel helpless and that it frustrates you.  You care about us.  You hate seeing us like this.  You want to help, but there’s nothing you can do to fix it.  That upsets you and makes you frustrated.  Acknowledge those feelings and remind yourself that those feelings are NOT OUR FAULT.  We are not to blame for our anxiety, and therefore we are also not to blame for your feelings of helpless frustration.

A lot of times that frustration leaks out at us when you’re trying to help, and it just adds more fuel to the fire.  Now we not only have our own burden of anxiety, but we’re worried about you!  AND we feel guilty for making you feel bad.  And, again, we’re in a position where we feel the need to hide our anxiety.

B)  These words are very, very important:  “What do you need?”

For me, physical contact helps.  Hold my hand, give me a hug…something like that.  It lets me know I’m not alone and instantly knocks my anxiety down a couple of notches.

However, a good friend of mine is not a fan of being touched in general, definitely not when he’s feeling anxious. So what works for me wouldn’t necessarily work for him.

Talk to those you care about who are anxious.  Ask them what you can do to help them.

There are, however, some things that I believe are universally helpful.

C) DEEP BREATHING.  Lordy, lordy but that helps.

Keep in mind, anxiety is not just mental.  It is PHYSICAL, too.  We have a visceral fight or flight reaction in our bodies.  We get flooded with adrenaline, our heart rate increases, we sweat…it’s not pleasant.

We feel like that guy on the left.

We feel like that guy on the left.

Deep breathing lowers our heart rate and begins to alleviate some of those physical symptoms.  When I’m anxious or having a panic attack, I’ll often take a deep breath and then blow it out as though I’m blowing into a straw.

If someone you care about is feeling anxious, remind them to take a deep breath.  Breathe with them.

D) Distractions.

Make us laugh.  Point out something interesting.  Tell us a story.  Being momentarily distracted can really help.  I used to try and do the alphabet backwards in my head to get out of panic attacks.  Now I can do the alphabet backwards in my sleep, so it doesn’t really help. But there for a while it was awesome!


In the end, whether you help alleviate our anxiety or not, being there for us with no judgment is a truly wonderful thing.

Finally, I’m going to close with this awesome, awesome graphic.  I’ve had it for so long, and seen it so many different places, I can’t remember where it came from.  It’s titled Care For Introverts, but I feel like a lot of it is useful for people with anxiety, too.

Care for Introverts


For more information, Dr. Letamendi recommends the following books:

Handbooks for family members are usually written for the parent of a youth with anxiety (to help them with their therapy homework, to support them, coach them, etc).

Like this

However, I usually provide adult patients with this


Social Guides for the Socially Awkward Part 4: Networking!

Networking.  A special kind of nightmare.  Not only are you going out in public, you’re going to an event.  Not just any event, an event full of colleagues whom you respect and/or whom you desire to respect you.  It’s not the kind of event where you can just hang by the cookie tray, leave after an hour, and feel like you accomplished something just by going.

Nope.  The whole reason for going to this event is to meet and/or converse with people.

The good news is that a lot of these events involve people you already know from work.  Even if you don’t like the people you work with, familiar faces will help your anxiety.

The tips I put forth in my first post all still apply.  Feel free to go back and reference those.

Here are a few essential tips that come in handy for successfully navigating a networking event:

1.  Handshakes.  Very important.  Firm, not tight.  Eye contact (remember, you can cheat with the forehead), a SMILE, and a polite platitude. “It’s so nice to finally meet you.”  “I really admire your work, sir.”  “The presentation you gave last month was really great.”  Open every new meeting with a smile and a polite platitude.

2.  Introductions.  Sometimes you are in the position to introduce two people.  A proper introduction really makes a huge difference.  Introduce each person with a tidbit about them, or with pointing out a similarity between the two people.

A) “This is Jane, who heads up our department’s graphics projects.  Jane, this is Christopher, first assistant to the CEO.”  Now they know a little bit about each other, and conversation will start much more easily.

Even better, if possible, is option B) “Jane, this is Christopher in the CEO’s department.  He’s the one that got me into the New 52.  Chris, Jane is a hard core Marvel fan.”  Or, “Chris, this is Jane from the Graphics department, she went to college in Wisconsin.  Jane, Chris grew up near Madison.”  Now they immediately have something to converse about.

A good introduction can be an immediate and smooth way to instigate a nice conversation among co-workers.

3.  Research who will be there.  Who is it important for you to talk to?  Find out something about them.  Even better if it’s something you share. “I hear you’re a Knicks fan, too.” Or if it’s something you don’t share “Bill was saying you go rock climbing regularly. I’ve always wanted to try that. Is it difficult for a beginner?”

I know it feels false, but you are making an effort to connect with someone at an event organized specifically so people can make connections to each other.  It would be like going to a Singles Event and feeling bad for asking for someone’s phone number.  It is WHY you are THERE. Don’t feel bad about it.

Is it stalkery to research ice breakers ahead of time?  Maybe, but do it anyway.  It’s hard enough for people with anxiety to socialize at all, when you add the extra pressure of specifically going somewhere to talk to new people…any tool you can arrive with to make that process easier is essential.


Just pretend someone told you. A co-worker named Google. Source:

BE GENUINE. Don’t pretend to be a Knicks fan when you know nothing about basketball.  Why pretend you know something about basketball when you can ask that person to tell you how they got into the game?  Now you’ve got them talking about something they love, and you haven’t had to lie or pretend anything that is untrue.

Go in armed with information, and it will make the entire process so much easier.  On top of which, if you go in knowing who you want to meet, then you can concentrate on meeting them and then, once you do, getting the hell out of there.

Now, one more thing.  This is one of the few times I will recommend a Designated Wingman.  The types of events where networking happens almost always disguise themselves as parties.  Husbands, wives, significant others, and sometimes older children are invited to these things.

Now, we all know the world is not an ideal place.  We don’t all have awesome Wingmen standing in reserve to toot our horn for us and chat up our boss’s super boring surfer boyfriend.  That’s ok. The above tips will help you tremendously. However, if you DO have a Wingman candidate…read on!

Choose your Wingman with care.  Being a Networking Wingman is a skill, make no mistake.  I won’t lie, I’m an excellent Networking Wingman. While I find it impossible to toot my own horn, I’m more than happy to toot the horns of others.

Think of your Wingman as your Horn Tooter.  Choose someone who will look presentable, and knows how important the event is to you.  It doesn’t have to be a significant other.  Hell, it could be your sister.  It doesn’t matter.

Try and pick a better conversationalist than this wingman. Source:

Try and pick a better conversationalist than this wingman. Source:

Wingman Responsibilities:

1.  Chat up the fellow Wingmen.  Let’s say you want to say hi to the CFO of your company, but you’re totally freaked out.  Your Wingman will go up the CFO’s date/spouse and compliment them on their suit/tie/purse/shoes/whatever.  Now you’ve got an opening, because your CFO is right there.  Another example, your boss calls you over to a conversation with a few coworkers about a project.  Your Wingman will chat up the significant others while you all talk business.

You’re probably wondering what the point is.  In these situations the Wingman helps you A) break into conversations and B) look like you belong there even if you feel like you don’t.  I promise, if you start to feel like a fish out of water, seeing your Wingman chatting up with your boss’s wife/husband/teenage kid will help you feel like you have a place.

Conversely, after that party those people will chat about who they met.  If your Wingman chats up the other “extra” people at the networking event, it makes them feel good.  THEY don’t want to feel left out either.  The Wingman handles making them feel comfortable while you talk business.  All of that is a good reflection on you.

2.  Toot that horn, baby!  For example, a few friends of mine happened to get lost with Gail Simone at Geek Girl Con a few years back.  We all ended up wandering around the convention center looking for a way in.  We got to chatting, and we all, of course, told Gail how awesome we thought she was.  Because she’s a sweet person, she asked about what we do.  We all kind of froze up, so I popped out out “Sarah wrote this awesome book called One Con Glory.  It’s really great!”  So Sarah ended up giving Gail a copy of her book!

Sarah, like many of us, is modest.  (Her book is awesome read it) It’s a great quality, but that mixed with some shyness over meeting a fellow writer whom she admired could have mixed into a missed opportunity.  However, I love Sarah and am happy to tell everyone how awesome she is when she gets shy.

Seriously, read it.

Seriously, read it.

Of course, right after that Sarah said “Jessica made a show called Awkward Embraces!” and we ended up tooting each others’ horns like awesome friends do.

Again, not everyone has a good Wingman in their life, and that’s ok.  Truly, even if you go to the event and stand next to the cookies, or just talk to your cubicle-mate the whole time, GOING is always better than not going.  It’s important for people to see your fact, and have a chance to talk to you outside of work.  It really does make a difference. I hope these tips can help you at your next networking event.

Thanks so much for reading!  Leave any comments below, or any tips you have found that work for yourself.  Let’s all help each other!

Next week: Job Interviews!

Social Guides for the Socially Awkward – Dating Part 2

All right.  We talked about the initial introduction in last week’s post.  This week, I’d like to talk about the ACTUAL date part.

First, I’d like to reiterate a few things I touched on in the first post

A few tips for socialization. 

Active listening is harder than you think.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the inner monologue. Pretend those inner voices are that annoying commercial you hate (Old Navy, how I hate you).  Tune it out, and focus on the words being spoken to you.  Tune them in.  It takes thought and concentration to listen to others when you feel anxious and uncomfortable. Focus on it like you’re Clark Kent trying to figure out how his laser eyes work.

Personal space is important.  Just imagine everyone has a bubble around them, and try not to pop it.  If it’s hard to hear, lean in with your ear to the person so they know you are trying to listen.  It’s a universal signal for “TALK LOUDER PLEASE”.  Women especially can feel threatened if a strange man stands too close, so try to keep that in mind.

Don’t stare.  Of course, you may be working up the nerve to talk to someone and that is totally natural.  But try and look in their general direction, and not directly at them while doing so.  While you’re in your head trying to encourage yourself to walk up to them and speak, all they see is the creeper staring at them.

When conversing, try and make eye contact.  This can be difficult for some, so compromise by looking right between their eyes on their forehead.


Try and keep those things in mind.  They are very small things that make a big difference.

OK, for the date itself.  I have a few recommendations.

My favorite is the Group Date.  It sounds unconventional, but I swear to you group dates are the BEST.

What’s a group date?  It’s when you and a couple of friends meet up with that person and a couple of their friends and everyone goes and hangs out somewhere.  No pressure!  Tons of other people!  A group date to a place like an arcade or theme park or museum or something like that is perfect.  An activity that everyone can partake in and get to know each other.  Not only do you have moral support leading up to it, but everyone can help carry the evening together.  If it’s a disaster?  You aren’t alone!  If it goes well?  You and that person can hover in a corner chatting, or go off on your own to look at something or whatever.

Um... I googled “Group of partiers” and this happened.  Sorry, not sorry! :-D Source:

Um… I googled “Group of partiers” and this happened. Sorry, not sorry! :-D



Seriously, though. How fun would a group date RPG be! Source:

Seriously, though. How fun would a group date RPG be!

No pressure, moral support, easy out…it’s the ideal way to get to know someone new for an introvert.

However, maybe a group date is not possible.  Or, maybe the group date goes great and you get a one-on-one!  What do you do then?

In that case, I’ll point you to a piece I wrote for Tech Republic last winter: Places to take an introvert on a date.  (

Great ideas for places that introverts can go where they will feel comfortable, be able to really get to know someone, and have space to gather themselves if they get nervous.

Sometimes, however, the asker has a plan that they don’t clue you in on.  Sometimes that works out great, and sometimes not.   Either way, the unplanned happens.  A few tips for dealing with the inevitable surprises and uncomfortable moments.

1.  Deep breaths.  It’s a simple thing, but it makes a difference.

2.  If you’re prone to being really uncomfortable in certain situations, be honest UP FRONT.  Don’t try and pretend you are something you’re not!  This person has to date YOU, not the you that you wish you could be.  Just say “Hey, I’m not great in big crowds, so maybe we can go somewhere quiet on our date.”  Easy peasy.  TRUST ME, they will appreciate your being honest up front.  And if they don’t, they’re a jerk anyway.   If someone isn’t willing to work around your feelings and anxieties, they were never going to be right for you.  It’s better to know that at the start.

3.  Take time if you need it.  Step away to the bathroom and sit in a stall for a few minutes if you need to.  It sounds silly, but sometimes a bathroom stall is the only place you can get away from people and have four walls around you.

Myrtle knows all about it. It’s not pathetic, it’s taking time for yourself. Pop in your earphones, play a little music, and head to your happy place for a few minutes. Source:

Myrtle knows all about it. It’s not pathetic, it’s taking time for yourself. Pop in your earphones, play a little music, and head to your happy place for a few minutes.

4.  If it gets bad – be honest.  Apologize for not being up front about your feelings before the date, and then explain what you need.  If the person is caring at all, they will want to help you feel better, BUT most people who don’t suffer from our anxieties have a lot of trouble understanding it.  Get out of the situation quickly, and explain when you have more time.  Be specific about your needs.  Once you are out of the situation and no longer freaking out, it will be easier to explain yourself.  Keep in mind, this conversation is always easier before the date has been planned, so try and go for #2 if you can.


No matter what happens, you deserve congratulations.  Dating is HARD.  Don’t let anyone tell you different.  But getting out there, making an effort, will be so worth it in the long run.  If nothing else, you’ll conquer your own fears and get out into the world meeting people.  You never know where that will take you.

Try and look at it as a challenging adventure.  I sincerely hope that these tools will help you to experience it as something fun, rather than something to be endured.

Thanks so much for reading.  Comment below with any questions or comments you may have.  Let’s all help each other!

Next week I’ll cover Networking!



Social Guides for the Socially Awkward Part 2: Dating – First Things First

I know I was going to post about Networking this week, but I got to thinking about dating as an introvert with anxiety, started to freak out at the thought of it, then decided to write about that instead.  In more than one post, because it’s a HUGE topic.

Dating: Say it with me friends…




I start having panic feelings just thinking about saying HI to a stranger, not to mention actually setting a date, worrying about said date until it happens, feeling nauseated all day, going on said date, freaking out about whether or not the conversation is flowing well enough, does my laugh sound too obnoxious, I feel a booger in my nose, is it showing? Should I go to the ladies room and blow my nose? Oh god, what did he just say?

Nope, nope, nope, nope.  I’d rather sit in the back corner of the coffee shop with my headphones on and my face buried in my laptop while tweeting with the hashtag #ForeverAlone than deal with that kind of nightmare.  Seriously.

However.  I am sure we are all aware that we are not an island and that a functioning relationship can be a wonderful, life enhancing experience.  We should all make an effort, if we do want someone in our lives.  So….  Here we go…with dating.

Telling socially awkward people to relax is useless advice. Hopefully mine is better

Telling socially awkward people to relax is useless advice. Hopefully mine is better

First Things First:

Here’s the thing.  Those of us with social anxiety have such a hard time doing things that are so easy for others that we can sometimes put more weight into things than other people do.  Walking up to that person, the barista you see every day, the fellow dog owner you nod at from across the park…it’s a huge deal for us.  A HUGE DEAL.  We think about it.  We plan it out.  We rehearse what we’re going to say.  Because of that, we can take what we perceive as rejection very, very hard.  All that work, just for them to blow us off.  That kind of let down can put us right back in that #ForeverAlone hashtag for who knows how long.

First off, you can’t take it personally when you try and talk to someone and they don’t react the way you’d hoped. Does it suck? Yes. Is it because you are hideous/repulsive/worthless/stupid?  Probably not.  A million and one factors go into every single interaction with another person and most of them are beyond your control.

When a person you are trying to talk to for the first time acts curt or disinterested or in any other way disappointing to you, remind yourself of all the times you’ve reacted that way to someone else.  Why did you do it?  Were you stressed about an exam? Did you not sleep the night well the night before? Were you pissed off at the person you spoke to RIGHT BEFORE and take it out on someone else?

These things happen all the time.

The second thing you need to do before trying to jump into the dating pond is to change the way you perceive the initial interaction itself.

Every time you go to ask someone out, don’t think of it as the first step to getting a date.  Try and think of it like leveling up.

I’m being totally serious.  You’re not asking someone out…you’re pushing yourself.  You’re going for that extra rep at the gym, you’re climbing three feet higher than you did last week, you’re walking into Bowser’s Castle.

It’s practice.  It’s getting comfortable talking to strangers.  Is it going to be hard?  Yes.  But by accepting that this isn’t about finding a date, but simply about having a nice conversation with someone, you are no longer holding that person you are asking up on a pedestal.  When it takes us three days to three weeks to get up the nerve to say hi to someone cute, the eventual interaction grows and grows in importance in our mind and starts to become vitally important.

That’s too much for any human to live up to.

Here is a Universal Fact about Socializing.  That person you are talking to poops.  They eat asparagus and get stinky pee.  I don’t care how hot they are, how smart they are, how intimidated you are… they fart in bed.  And if they are any fun at all, they have Dutch Ovened a significant other at some point in their lives.

Please do not allow rejection to demoralize you and make you feel like you will be alone forever.

So go talk to someone cute. Just say hi.  Think up an ice breaker, practice it if you want to, and give it a shot.

My tips:

A) Smile.

B) Try to stay outside of their personal space bubble.

C) Keep your opening lines short. “Hi, I’m so and so. I see you here all the time and just wanted to introduce myself.”  Boom.  Done.  Non-threatening.

D) Maybe this is the first time you’ve seen them. Same thing, but ask a question. “My friend’s wife would love that shirt. Where did you get it?” “This is my first time at this comic shop, do you know if they have blah blah?”

Keep it simple to start with.  Open a conversation. It’s possible the person you dreamed of from afar is actually dumb as a box of rocks.  If you lead with asking them on a date before you talk to them, then you could end up stuck on a date with an imbecile. Plus, a conversation gives THEM a chance to get to know YOU and discover that they would like to get to know you better…perhaps on a date.

Things may not go well, or as planned, but at least you did it!  You won’t always wonder what would have happened if you had talked to them. Not only that, but with every small introduction and conversation, you’ll LEARN something and apply it the NEXT time you talk to someone cute.

Eventually, one of them is going to like you.  They may even say yes to a date.  And THEN what are you going to do?

Good Question

I’ll talk about that next week.  Thanks for reading! Please comment with any questions or thoughts of your own.  Let’s all help each other.