If I asked you to explain what anxiety feels like... like what the actual physical feelings were in your body when you are experiencing anxiety... what would you say?
Body shakes, sweaty hands, tense feeling in your stomach, unable to focus on anything else.
Are you sure you aren't in love? Ha Ha!
Yes you could be around the object of your desire... which would make sense... but you could also be in a state of fight/flight/freeze where you feel like there is imminent danger that you have to deal with.
Those feelings are your body's way of preparing for action and survival.
In other words... it's a natural feeling or experience.
The problem is that sometimes we feel it too often and in situations when we shouldn't so it prevents us from doing what we should be doing.
A thousand years ago... when we lived in small groups... mostly family... the only real strangers we saw were enemy warriors who wanted to kill us... or people from other tribes that we wanted to kill... so that fear of strangers is rooted deep in our brains. But today... for the most part... there aren't really that many people wanting to kill us... but many people still have that reaction to strangers.
It doesn't help that our parents helped put that fear in us either...
"Don't talk to strangers", "Stranger Danger", which ya... could be a possibility... but a small one. People are usually too busy with their own lives to be concocting a plan to kidnap you. I'm not saying it doesn't happen... it's just highly unlikely.
So how do you eliminate this fear from your life? Because it causes some to be paralyzed around people and avoid contact with them... and contact with other people is exactly what you need to push past it... especially if it is affecting your ability to connect with others romantically or for friendships or a job.
Using the sweating and shaking and weirdness in your stomach (which are common signs of fear... and excitement) as an indicator that you should avoid a situation with people is EXACTLY the wrong thing to use to make the decision.
It is at this very moment that your body is doing it's "go to response" to a social situation... and that doesn't make it the right thing to do. Your body is merely in a heightened state of excitement and you are interpreting it as fear with the next step being defined as "AVOID" in big red flashing lights and deafening sirens... and then interpreting that as "I am shy" or "I have social anxiety" when really... all you have is a very experienced response to a particular situation.
But what I just wrote doesn't make the situation any easier so... keep reading...
One thing that is going to help you is to start thinking of people as strangers.
I would suggest that you walk into a room of strange people and think to yourself as you look at them "friends".
This will eliminate some of the nervousness you feel... and it's just a simple mindset shift. After all... any of the friends you have made in your life started out as strangers didn't they?
The next step is to act... and that means getting comfortable interrupting people and starting conversations with them. Most people I've met who identify as "shy" or as having "social anxiety" are also afraid to be forceful.
After years of getting good at avoiding social situations... which when you avoid, you feel better immediately... avoiding new social situations further strengthens your avoidance response the next time you encounter that situation.
The other side of that coin is that you are now at multiple disadvantages over people who are able to start relationships more easily.
They have been getting better at social interactions as long as you have been avoiding them. They have literally thousands of experiences meeting people and you have thousands of experiences where you listened to those feelings in your body and chose to avoid. This reinforces the mental space where you believe that you aren't good at making friends... when really you are probably just not good at overcoming that feeling of panic that you have around others.
They have had thousands of experiences at making people laugh... you have had thousands of experiences at avoiding eye contact, or starting a conversation with the person sitting beside you in class or with the cashier at the coffee shop. They get good reactions from others because they have learned how to interact with others... and get enjoyment out of it while you have learned how to avoid.
I'm not victim blaming... and neither should you... but you should be aware of the mechanisms going on in your head to keep you in that head space.
When you are in a powerful mindset... or happy... you are braver and do more of the things that you want to do. When you are in any kind of bad head space, you are crippled and cannot take action. And when you believe negative things about yourself, it's usually harder to make the necessary changes because you are just stuck in that place of self defeat.
But if this is something you want to change... you have to change. Change how you think and change how you act. Your default response when around people is what you have to change. Your response has always been the problem and reprogramming yourself isn't going to be easy.
A social person's default response to strangers is to start a conversation with them... you have to do what social people do and overcoming that panic and awkwardness that you feel is going to be the biggest hurdle. And there is a lot of work to do... you have to learn to make appropriate eye contact without looking like a serial killer, how to smile, how to engage someone and be interesting how to shake someone's hand, how to interrupt a conversation, how to make people laugh, how much physical contact is comfortable, how close to stand, how to ask questions and make statements, when to talk about yourself and when to listen, how tell good stories, how to remember names, to be enthusiastic, and welcoming and fun!
You also have to change your thinking about your own abilities to meet people and stay committed to the process even when it feels like it isn't working. You are going to have to change your routines, and habits, and use your voice more often.
As you start to meet people and realize that it's hard but you can do it... that all these people are friends instead of strangers that you need to be on guard against, you will see improvement. But... like studying for an exam... the longer you study, the better your mark will be... provided you are studying the right stuff! Studying chapter 12 when your test is on chapter 13 is gonna fail you.
Yes.. the list is overwhelming... but it's doable! You are capable.