Help me not mentally flagellate myself
July 28, 2012 5:34 AM   Subscribe

As a shy, awkward introvert who is frankly not good with people, how can I shut down my own negative self-talk when I'm in the midst of social situations--namely, a big two-day-long event happening this weekend? Are there any easily remembered mantras or things I can tell myself so that I'm not focusing the whole time on my own shortcomings?

I'm about to embark on a two-day social event with lots of mingling and sitting at tables conversing for hours on end. As an introvert, this sort of thing leaves me dazed. I plan to slip away whenever possible to recharge, but obviously I am going to have to stretch beyond my comfort zone here.

My conversation skills are hampered by the fact that I also have auditory processing disorder, meaning I have a really, really hard time understanding what people are saying in noisy enviroments. I also start to space out the moment I get the least bit fatigued, which happens quickly in extremely social settings. It's like a fog comes over me and I struggle to even focus on conversation, let alone participate. Making eye contact feels very intense when I'm tired, so I struggle to keep it up. And then I feel like people are wondering what is up with the space cadet, why is she just sitting there like a bump on a log, she must hate us, etc.

Indeed, I spend a lot of time projecting and going through all sorts of congitive distortions (yes, I've had a lot of therapy) and would like to shut that down. People have commented on my quietness before, meaning it's not all in my head, which makes it difficult to not assume that some people are thinking the worst about me when I sit there mentally floating along.

I guess I was wondering if you've had similar problems, were there any thoughts or phrases you could mentally recite to yourself that would help you snap out of dwelling on your own shortcomings while you're in the thick of it? Or have you experienced "brain fog" and been successful in snapping out of it?

I'm sorry if this is rambling--still tired from last night's socializing.
posted by indognito to Human Relations (35 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Every few hours, go for a walk, outside, by yourself. Refreshing!
posted by oceanjesse at 5:36 AM on July 28, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, oceanjesse--I definitely plan to do that! It makes it difficult to go back and not just keep walking, however.

Rereading over my question, I wanted to clarify that the crux of it is, how can I remain positive and outwardly focused despite my various struggles?
posted by indognito at 5:44 AM on July 28, 2012

What is the nature of the event? Is this a work-related conference? An extended wedding? I ask because I am very much the same way, though without the official diagnoses, and it would help me to have an idea of why I was there and what I needed to accomplish. I don't think there's any way I would ever enjoy it, but a mental checklist is a useful thing to focus on.
posted by jon1270 at 5:52 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I guess you could remind yourself of why you are there (assuming you want to be there).
posted by oceanjesse at 5:52 AM on July 28, 2012

Just pretend you're acting.
posted by tel3path at 6:02 AM on July 28, 2012

...sorry hit Send too soon.

The name is Bond. James Bond.

As long as you don't accidentally say it, that should work.
posted by tel3path at 6:03 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Act. Exactly as tel3path says. Act like someone else who is great at this social stuff--someone who is incapable of understanding social anxiety.
Act nicely and strike up a conversation with people other than this setting for example, with the check-out person in the supermarket, with the old lady while you're waiting at the pedestrian crossing. These small encounters will snowball and give you the confidence you need.
Also, at this conference there will be other people who will be wallflowers. Go up to them, introduce yourself and act confident, ask questions, listen, build a relationship. That will also give you the confidence to go up to people you really need to interact with for networking or whatever.
posted by Lucubrator at 6:15 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Who will be there with you? Will there be any friends or understanding companions that you're comfortable around, who know about your hearing troubles or your need to recharge, for example? If there is even one familiar face, perhaps you can ask if it's okay to rely on them a little bit. When you start to feel really dazed and zoned out but you don't feel like it would be okay to leave the venue (or if you were to leave you wouldn't be able to convince yourself to return) you could ask to sit next to them and have them sort of field for you. "Oh, indognito is just soaking in the atmosphere," they can say to any passersby, while you get your second wind. I can sort of switch the extroversion on and off, but have mostly introverted friends (they are the most relaxing) and have been asked to play this role in the past; I consider it kind of an honor.

On days when I can't turn the extroversion on, but I have to force myself to be around people anyway, it really helps me to put special care into my appearance. It's kind of funny, but the days I look my best are generally the days I least want to leave the house. But if I take extra care in how I look before I leave, I can feel more comfortable being around people even when I don't want to be. The whole act of putting on nice clothes and makeup and doing my hair is like putting on armor. And, if I am wearing something of interest, it makes really easy smalltalk. A brooch with a story I've told a million times before, or a pair of interesting shoes, or a brightly colored dress - these are all things that I can fall back on, and do the reflexive compliment conversation.

That's where someone compliments my appearance, I thank them and tell the appropriate story "oh, you'd never believe I got it on sale!" or "this was my grandmother's!" or "I was so excited I found something that fit!" and then immediately bounce it back to them with a reciprocal compliment to their appearance or something less superficial. This then allows them to do most of the talking, and as a bonus I am almost always certain it is pretty irrelevant how I respond, as long as it's vaguely positive. Then, I wrap it up with "sorry, I have to go find my friend/talk to someone over there/visit the lady's room/find a barrel of champagne to get through the rest of the evening, it was great talking to you!" and walk away.

If I showed up looking plain or feeling unkempt, I wouldn't have any of these things to rely on. It's a pain in the butt, and every time I sort of kick myself in the feminist bone, but it really does work for me. I am also then less afraid to be in any pictures that might be taken.
posted by Mizu at 6:16 AM on July 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm an introvert as well, and what helps me push past my anxiety is repeating (in my head - that part is important!) a mantra from mefite Elly Vortex: And not a single fuck was given that day. Repeating it helps me chip away at any feelings of self-doubt or awkwardness that might prevent me from socializing with folks - which helps me stay outwardly focused.

Good luck!
posted by wheek wheek wheek at 6:28 AM on July 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

You know what's a great social skill? Getting other people to do the talking. With the right person you can say five words and have a good conversation.
posted by JPD at 6:39 AM on July 28, 2012 [10 favorites]

I usually think about how, when I talk to other people, I don't really notice a lot of the minutiae of how they look or how they act. This doubly true for people I don't really know and don't see a lot. They I remind myself that they almost certainly feel the same way.

I get nervous when I see people that I've met and talked to before but don't remember their name or any details about them from the conversation we had. I have to remind myself that the same thing happens to them and I don't feel so bad about it.

This translated to the actual conversation too. As long as I look like I'm interested and listening, it doesn't really matter if I can't hear them very well. They won't remember any details about me so why should I feel bad if I'm not really listening to them?

As long as you can act like you're an engaged listener, you'll be fine. Most people love to talk about themselves so don't have to worry much if you don't do a lot of talking. Most of the questions people will ask you are just so you can have a turn talking about yourself. Mention something and then ask them a question that gets them talking about themselves (or their friends/family if that's what they like to talk about) and you'll be everyone's friend.

Booze also helps me but YMMV.
posted by VTX at 6:41 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I’m going to focus on the self-flagellating part of your comment because it’s something I have experience with. I used to struggle with negative thoughts about myself in social interactions but the thoughts are a lot less persistent now. I have not been to a therapist for it, but over the past year I have been in many situations like the one you described and I have found a few things that help me:

1. Like VTX just said, realize that everyone else is making the same “mistakes” as you, all around you. I’m putting mistakes in quotes because I’m not sure what behaviors you do that set off your own self-flagellating. The most confident and smart woman I know frequently goes and takes little breaks outside during conferences. In addition, she can sometimes say incredibly awkward things, leave weird pauses between sentences, totally zone out while talking (any number of things I would normally beat myself up about) and… you know what? No one cares or thinks twice about any of it. Why? Because everyone does that stuff and no one is perfect. It sounds obvious, I guess, but it took me a long time to realize that. The difference between them and you (or us) in this case, is that they aren’t beating themselves up about it.

2. When I’m in situations like you describe, I have to do lots of prep beforehand. I leave myself a long time to get ready and make sure I look well put together. I listen to upbeat songs, recall moments where I’ve had great conversations with friends, and sometimes I find that watching a TED talk helps me conjure up a little confidence and self-assuredness.

3. When I find myself in a moment where I’d normally start thinking negative thoughts (self-flagellating), I instead think “well, that was weird” and then move on to whatever is happening in the present moment. I try to frame the moment as me noticing a weird thing that happened, accepting it, and then moving on. In your case, when you’re feeling down on yourself and thinking “god, I’m so tired, [insert whatever self-flagellating thought you go to here]” it might help to physically look around the room. Realize that many people will be feeling just as tired and dazed as you are. It’s to be expected.

I recall some past metafilter question where someone asked something similar (not sure of it offhand) and one of the commenters responded that “it sounds like you’re dealing less with anxiety and more with obsessive thoughts.” Reading that really helped me when I was trying to combat my own negative thoughts. When I thought of it as anxiety I felt kind of stuck and resigned to my own fate as an anxious person. Describing those thoughts as obsessive/obtrusive was spot on for me. It helped me recognize that my negative thinking is a pattern that I can reroute to more positive and accepting thoughts.
posted by saltwater at 6:46 AM on July 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

What has helped me is trying to pay attention to other people instead of myself. Listen carefully to them, take in what they say and try to respond with sensible questions or comments. That way the burden is on them, not on you, and they're actually grateful for your attention.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 6:58 AM on July 28, 2012

I've always found that the best way to keep those thoughts at bay is the really listen with all my attention to what other people are saying. Engaged listening skills can be practiced, and a conference is a great place to do it. When someone is talking, really consider what they're saying. Is there subtext? Is it clear there is more to this story? When it seems to be your turn to talk, instead of saying "mmm hmmm," ask a question: "Have you ever done X before?" "Why did you decide to go in that direction?" "How did you feel when that was over?" "What did you do next?"

Even if you have an auditory processing disorder, practicing concentration on what one person is saying to the exclusion of all other noise will be a benefit to you. Your fatigue will go down if you take the person you're listening to as one single person, not a person among a room full of other people. If eye contact conks you out, look at the "third eye" in between the eyebrows, no one will know. Also, if this is indeed a conference, don't underestimate the value of taking notes if there is a presentation to the whole room. It sends a message to your tablemates that you're serious about why you're there, cuts off small talk during the presentation that may exhaust you (and is also rude), and lets you refer back to them in a discussion later, giving you ammo to be a better listener.

A good "snap out of it" mantra is one that redirects, not one that makes a joke of your perceived shortcomings. Some good ones for you for this event are: "I'm a listener." "What did I learn?"
posted by juniperesque at 7:12 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm hearing impaired, but it's not immediately obvious to a lot of people - and I also get very tired in noisy situations. What works for me is a short, snappy script that immediately explains why I'm fading or acting in a way that people might not expect. In the kind of event you describe, it would be, "Sorry, I'm hard of hearing, and all the noise wears me out. Can you speak up/take this conversation to a quieter place/ make sure to look at me?" It doesn't have to be a big thing, just a "heads up" comment. I err on the side of vague, so in your case I might just say "I have trouble hearing" or something similar, which is all the information anyone needs.

Let folks know what is up, and what they can do to help. I worry too that people think I don't like them, or that they think my behavior has something to do with them when really it is about how I am processing all the noise. It can be awkward to bring up a way in which you are unlike other people, but I think it's better to be different in a way that people can understand and compensate for (because you told them what is up) rather than different in a way that people don't understand and don't know what to do with (because they know you are acting a bit different, but don't know the cause or what to do about it.)

The anxiety itself is draining. If you can reduce the anxiety by laying it all out there, then maybe you will have more energy to focus on auditory processing. Also, if you take breaks outside, or in a quieter setting, invite someone to come with you! Then you get the break but aren't just wandering around alone feeling like an outcast, instead it turns into an opportunity for a more personal connection.

Good luck!
posted by newg at 7:12 AM on July 28, 2012

I'm sorry if this is rambling--still tired from last night's socializing.

I'm so there with you on your difficulties with spacing out and negative inner dialogue and silence etc...

But that last sentence of your comment is telling (and also something I'm familiar with...)

Sometimes the best remedies are the most obvious. My space cadet qualities manifest themselves when I'm not getting enough regular full nights of sleep. And I mean five days a week, at least 7 to 8 hours a night. And drinking either reserved only for the weekends and contained to no more than 3 or 4.

And the other thing is eating at regular times. It's not about how much I find, as very little will do, just have something nutritious.

Also have something to keep your blood sugar up around mid-afternoon. Some nuts or fruit is best and some fresh air outside alone, take some time to drift off into the fog when your by yourself. It's not a bad thing at all and I think a sign your mind is re-booting itself and doing some high-level cognitating...

Also, bathroom breaks. Just take em...and collect yourself. Fuck'em if they think you have a bladder problem.
posted by Skygazer at 7:41 AM on July 28, 2012

Also key is pre-preparation (a list, some research, notes to self, ideas to put out there, interesting twists on the event, project whatever) is also going to go a long way towards engaging yourself and your mind and your emotions and having a "horse in the race" as it have to take a risk and put something in there. Literally like being at the horse track. It's much more fun if you've got something to lose.

Also a notebook or pad, to help follow what's being said (and by whom), and to write down ideas in the moment, or even just to write to your self to remind yourself to breath evenly and to relax...

It's not always necessary to speak at a meeting I find if I follow it up with an email that summarizes to the group my take-aways, assumptions, concerns, ideas, project risks or whatever.

If it's a casual thing wear a funny bit of clothing or some noticeable weird jewelry and you've got your talking thing right there for the evening.

You might've heard about guys who sometimes wear loud or goofy ties to work so people won't focus so much on how hungover they are...
posted by Skygazer at 7:58 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tell people you have auditory processing problems. Ask them to look directly at you when they speak to you. Most people with auditory processing problems supplement their hearing with lip reading, whether they realize it or not. Enhancing your understanding of what gets said should reduce missed social cues and that should reduce the stress of dealing with people, at least a little.
posted by Michele in California at 8:28 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much everyone. I'm taking a break to read through your answers and these are very helpful.
posted by indognito at 9:39 AM on July 28, 2012

I am currently attending a 2-day long weekend with lots of socializing, at an event that happens annually with a large group of employees and their families. As the "spouse" of the attendee, I know very few people here, and attending used to cause me some stress. What generally helped me was thinking along the lines of what the young rope-rider said, specifically reminding myself that even if I said something awkward (or kept too silent), either no one even noticed it, or bothered to think about it beyond 30 seconds after (I think most people are either focused on themselves or are genuinely compassionate about social behavior at large events. Or too drunk to notice.)

Now that I am much more comfortable attending the event, (which occurred by my getting older, having kids to be preoccupied with and watch over, etc), I now am able to notice a great range in the social behavior and apparent social comfort of the employees and spouses here: some are outgoing & social, sure, but many are shy, reserved, stressed, or bored.While I notice that, my thought is always along the lines of, "oh, Karen's husband looks like he doesn't want to be here. He probably is more of a one-on-one person and isn't into crowds. I remember when this weekend was totally unfun for me, too." I observe and have those thoughts with compassion and a feeling of kinship. Observing other people having a less-than-perfect social persona can also be reassuring--takes the pressure off.

So, one thought you can have is to imagine that you and I are at the same event (maybe we are, after all!), and know that I'm thinking, "oh, there's indognito. I hope I get to sit next to him/her at dinner because she/he seems quiet and nice and I won't have to have a marathon conversation with him/her."
posted by dreamphone at 10:21 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and meant to specifically address the cognitive distortions: 1) everyone notices that I am introverted (response: not everyone notices - most don't): 2) I am being judged harshly (response: most who notice will judge neutrally or favorably); 3) everyone else is super-social and comfortable here (response: they aren't).
posted by dreamphone at 10:30 AM on July 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Don't give yourself pep talks; give yourself the pep talk you would give you best friend. If your best most beloved friend came to you and said "I'm pretty sure everyone hates me and is staring at me wishing I'd just go away'" you'd say "Honey, that is obviously not true, here's a list of reasons why," but if you're feeling the same thing yourself you'll invent reasons to justify what you're feeling. You deserve the same treatment that you'd give your best friend.

I'm going to sound completely insane admitting this, but I have an anxiety disorder and I've been off the charts lately, really having a hard time with just basic work&social interaction. I've started imagining that I have a little sloth buddy who gives me the pep talks that I'm not able to give myself because I hate myself so much at some moments. Little sloth buddy says "Just sloooooooooooooowwwww doooooooowwwwwn and take deep breaths, it is super easy for me because I am a very lazy sloth but you can learn it too." Little sloth buddy tells me I'm really interesting and smart and funny and he's sorry I'm having such a rough time right now but it always gets better, doesn't it? And I get distracted from my awful spiral of negative self-talk by the fact I'm picturing an adorable sloth sitting on my hip with his long arms wrapped around me, which ridiculous and somehow comforting at the same time.

Now, I love baby sloths and I'm also obviously out of my goddamn mind, but you can do the same thing. Maybe you can have conversations with your real-life-best-friend in your head, maybe a character in a book, or your dog, or a therapist, or whatever. But if I'm having trouble treating myself nicely/fairly, it really helps to remove myself a little bit and imagine the words coming from someone else's mouth.

TL; DR Talk to yourself the way you'd talk to you best friend; if you're struggling with that, invent an imaginary friend to talk to you that way
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:31 AM on July 28, 2012 [12 favorites]

My dad, who is a psychologist, has a technique for dealing with negative self-talk. He calls it whack-a-mole. Whenever you hear the internal voice telling you're no good, just whack it until it shuts up. "You can't do this--" WHACK. "But you're no --" WHACK. "You can't --" WHACK. "You --" WHACK. "Y--" WHACK. WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK. From personal experience it works and is rather satisfying.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:07 PM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

When talking to someone that could potentially make me nervous, I recall that I too am someone that could potentially make them nervous. That is to say, what you're going through is something that everyone goes through to some degree. Confidence - especially in the early stages of building it - is part performance. And everyone who has ever lived has at some point been nervous that they would be rejected.

So, one of my personal mantras to keep a social situation from freaking me out is to regard the person I'm talking to as potentially scared and vulnerable as I am and think, "Dude, you're lucky to even know me."
posted by EatTheWeek at 12:11 PM on July 28, 2012

You can start by ceasing the negative self-talk that prefaces your question. This might be longer term work for you, but stop thinking of yourself as a "shy, awkward introvert who is frankly not good with people". It doesn't matter if that's what you are. Stop thinking of yourself in that way. It's not that you are not good with people, it's merely that you haven't yet developed the skillsSocial skills are like any other skills; they can be learned, practiced, strengthened.

tel3path's answer gets at this in a way. Pretend you're someone else, someone who is good with people. Social situations are as much about performance as they about being yourself, and you get to choose who you are anyway.

That's not to say that you shouldn't take a walk occasionally to decompress.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 12:13 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Remind yourself that every person in the room - every single one - has self-doubts of some kind. Everyone has an inner track with some language that they would rather not hear.

Fake it till you make it. Act gently confident. Make eye contact, smile. Be friendly, get the other people to talk about themselves. And yes, take occasional breaks to regain energy.

These two days will go by fast, and may turn out to be quite pleasant. All the best to you, indognito !!
posted by seawallrunner at 12:30 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

And then I feel like people are wondering what is up with the space cadet, why is she just sitting there like a bump on a log, she must hate us, etc.

If you do find yourself being quiet and spacey, perhaps you can switch from James Bond into a spacey Tibetan monk who doesn't understand English terribly well (and might get overwhelmed by crowds), but feels benignly disposed towards everyone.
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:04 PM on July 28, 2012

Maybe this isn't quite the sort of tip you were looking for--but what helps me is coffee. Lots of it. It is an upper and by God you will talk. Worst that will happen is coming across as a little strung out on coffee...which may be an option when coming across as a little strung out on beer is NOT an option.

This is circumstance-specific, so I'm not sure if you can adapt it, but I am in an office right now where the vast majority of the folks are about 10 years younger than me. I do not care at all what they think (aside from cold hard work stuff, of course) because I am in a different stage of life and do not need their acceptance, good opinion, etc. (I don't even need them to think I look good, which leads to some work ensembles that are a little out there even by my standards, but OK.) Some of them are, in fact, a lot cooler than me, but I don't care about that either because I am on such a different track.

This makes it easy to be mellow and friendly with them.

So. Have you ever been in a situation where the others' opinion was irrelevant even by the standards of a born self-flagellator? Mandatory dinner not just with cousins, but much younger cousins? You're in a new relationship and you're at the open house of a cooler friend where all of his/her equally cool friends are griping about being single? Office party and you just got another offer and you're leaving soon? Wedding of a different religion where none of the guests have any interest in you whatsoever? Good grief, if I have had this experience, then there is NO quiet, shy type that has not.

Think of such an experience and get into that headspace if you can. Like, WTF do you care if your 2 John Bircher cousins are wearing expensive clothes and totally ignoring you?
posted by skbw at 1:15 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am also totally deaf in one ear and have about 70% hearing in the other. Just the other night I was out with an old, dear friend and a huge number of her doubtless meritorious but asshole-appearing friends from another life stage. Could not fucking hear anything they were saying, so I took the opportunity to dig the band. If there is no band, try looking at the gardens, the bookshelf, etc..

If this is a work situation where you can't check out like that, then I recommend a white lie--tell people that you're hard of hearing and if y'all could do me this favor of relocating to the couches over there. They don't want to know from the auditory processing disorder, unfortunately, but hard of hearing they can probably accept. If they move, though, then be prepared to force yourself to contribute (see coffee advice above).
posted by skbw at 1:21 PM on July 28, 2012

It helps me a lot to write down my specific distortions and combat them. That is, the usual list of positive affirmations isn't that helpful to me, in large part because they don't feel all that true.

I prefer to embrace reality during the course of the affirmation, basically. They're usually really long and a wee bit sarcastic.
It may be true that I can't hear most of what they're saying, but I can give them signals that show I care about what they're saying even if I can't respond with specificity, and that's of benefit to both of us socially.

I am really unsure of exactly what's happening right now, but I don't have to show it; I can smile and nod with the best of them.

I am not really capable of showing my brilliance and awesomeness in this setting, but that's not actually what most people here want from me anyway. I can make eye contact, nod when they pause, and focus on keeping my breathing steady and my posture open and welcoming.

I may be less capable of handling this environment than I want to be, but I don't have to be perfect, and there are things here that make it worth sticking it out anyway.
To "snap out" of spacing out, I generally have to do physical checks, the way I do during a panic attack - I touch each of my fingers to something that ought to stimulate the nerve endings a bit (when I panic my hands and feet go numb), I wiggle my toes, I gently clench and release various muscles that are easily hidden, etc. Unfortunately, I don't notice that I'm drifting till it's been happening for a while, and it's always an indication that I need to drastically reduce the amount of sensory input I'm getting, or at the very least change it (get a cold drink, etc.) DBTers would tell you to try and focus on your breathing - I personally find that quite hypnotizing and unhelpful, YMMV.

I also REALLY strongly suggest that you pay attention to your limits. You don't have to actually talk with people for 48 hours, or even for 16 hours, over these two days. Find quiet places, take long moments for yourself, make sure to bring things with you that you enjoy using (books, iPod, whatever.) Devote a lot of efforts to your physical comfort whenever you're not "on stage." It really really really helps.

And yeah, acting helps. Indognito in the role of someone who is brilliant and socially confident and awesome and stuff. Or Brad Pitt, or whatever. For a long time I got through social situations by pretending I was an anthropologist from Star Trek, sent to figure out what the crap really happened in the late 20th/early 21st century. I blended in really well, you see, owing to the Temporal Prime Directive - but it was totally understandable that I missed a bunch of social cues and such.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 2:10 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh man, I am super familiar with this. My ability to follow conversations and make eye contact just goes right out the window when I'm tired or stressed. Things I find help:
  1. Find a straightforward job that needs doing, and do it. Depending on the sort of event, that might mean like "Oh hey I can wash some of those dishes" or "Oh hey I can keep an eye on your kids while you're setting that tent up" or "Oh hey I can help you collate those handouts for the next session" or whatever. Tasks are easier for me to concentrate on than people, and doing something helpful makes me feel like I'm still involved and valuable even though I'm not talking.
  2. If you sit down by yourself, a little distance away from the group, and put on body language that says "I am happy and relaxed," people will generally leave you alone or interact with you in low-stress ways like smiling or nodding or saying "hi." If you do the same thing with body language that says "I am tense and miserable," people will keep pestering you and asking you stressful questions because they want to make sure you're okay. Leaning back with your eyes shut and a big smile on your face is a sort of natural "do not disturb" sign.
  3. Introverts have different conversational rules than extroverts. It's easy to spend your whole time at one of these events trying to play by the extrovert rules. But you don't have to! It's totally permissible to find another introvert and strike up an introvert-style conversation — by which I mean, you know, sit down and smile and say hi and then pull out a book or some knitting or whatever and just enjoy sitting next to each other, maybe make a little remark every once in a while, that sort of thing. It can take a bit of a leap of faith to convince yourself that you won't be, like, shunned or beaten or struck by lightning if you fail to play by the extrovert rules. But think about it: you're an introvert, and you'd love it if someone just sat quietly down next to you and didn't pressure you to talk more than you wanted, right? So try and trust that other introverts will enjoy that too.
Also, on a totally practical level: stay hydrated; eat more food than you think you need to, especially fruit and vegetable type stuff; don't drink alcohol. If I'm on the edge between "sociable" and "totally spaced out," a drink will tip me right over into "spaced out."
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:31 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

People have commented on my quietness before, meaning it's not all in my head, which makes it difficult to not assume that some people are thinking the worst about me when I sit there mentally floating along.
Just because they've noticed doesn't mean they're upset about it, or hate you for it, or wish you'd go away, or anything like that. A lot of the time, "Gee you're being awfully quiet" really means "Please reassure me that I haven't done anything wrong."

All you need to say is "Yeah, but it's still good to be here with you guys. I'm just not a big talker I guess." Gives the other guy permission to leave you alone, instead of feeling obligated to try to entertain you or draw you out or whatever.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:33 PM on July 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

One thing you could try if you find that you have a lot of negative self-talk going on is to start your day by typing all that negative self talk out.

I have found it quite useful in just clearing up all that garbage talk that goes around and around my head when I'm stressed out - it's a bit like a purge - and it puts it all in a (password-protected) file that gets it out of my head and then I can go off and get my brain to focus on all the actually important stuff - and it makes way for more positive thoughts about how things will go.
posted by heyjude at 9:14 PM on July 28, 2012

This is a little out of left-field but it works for me:

I normally wear dark, neutral colours but a little while ago I received a red t-shirt as a gift. The last few times I've wanted to be more extroverted and outgoing I've chosen to wear the red t-shirt. Looking 'louder' and more confident helps me to be louder and more confident and when I'm in that mood the negative self talk fades away. YMMV
posted by neilb449 at 1:12 AM on July 29, 2012

Yes, mantras do work! But they are all about training. There are no words that will magically calm you down in a stressful situation just because you said them.

What you do is train - in a relaxed and concentrated setting, every day repeat a simple phrase or prayer. Pay attention to the vibrations of your voice, when you're stressed your voice comes from the throat. As you gradually progress and relax, you'll feel the vibration coming from physically lower parts of your body, the chest, when you're really relaxed even all the way from the diaphragm.

There's nothing magical or mystical about this, it's simple physics and your inner muscles relaxing.

You'll end up "anchoring" a relaxed mental state to the act of saying these words, it's simple muscle memory. Then when you're in a stressful situation, simply muttering the mantra under your breath will make your body "remember" the relaxed state.

Train for one week, ten minutes a day, and you'll begin to see an effect!
posted by Tom-B at 12:49 PM on July 29, 2012

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