Dear Harlan: How do I deal with anxiety when meeting new people? I get anxious when I’m around people I don’t know.
Dear Anxious: Give yourself permission to feel it. Don’t fight the feelings. Acknowledge when you feel anxious. Tell yourself, “This is anxiety; I feel it.” Then breathe in and out and let it fall behind you. Let these uncomfortable feelings pass through you. Don’t allow them to overtake you. Imagine sitting on the bank of a river and seeing anxiety passing by you. You can jump on the boat and ride it down the rapids, or you can acknowledge it and let it pass by. Fighting your feelings is the same as jumping onto the boat and going down Anxiety Falls. We have a tendency to let our feelings overtake us. But we are in charge. Yes. You. I know I make this sound so simple, but once you get in the habit of letting your feelings pass through you, it gets easier. Once you acknowledge the feeling of anxiety, you can focus more on being interested in people instead of trying to be interesting. Everyone has a story. Everyone has something to share. Come up with a few questions to ask in new situations. Practice asking these questions. Practice listening and responding. Remind yourself that not everyone and everything will always respond to you the way you want. This is called the Universal Rejection Truth. Accept the truth. This is how you can be more present. This is how you can give yourself permission to go with the flow. Don’t force nature to follow your rules. It’s a fight no one can win. And, of course, find a therapist or counselor to lean on as you work through these feelings.