Sunday, October 20, 2013

Learn how to be social and overcome social anxiety!!

Asperger’s people generally have a lot of trouble with social anxiety and many don't like to make eye contact.  About 10 years ago, I got my first managerial job and it required me to be more of a people person.  Eye contact was SOOO painful for me!  And random chit chat?  WHY??  Why should I pretend to care about your cat??  Ugh!!

Anyway, I had to learn how to be more comfortable with eye contact and random chit-chat or I was gonna lose this job. Here is my strategy for how to "practice" being social by progression.  I still have some days where I’m bad at this, but more good days than bad and so I have given this strategy to many young adult Aspies with great success. I hope it helps you!!

For each of these do as much as you can handle and have time for: 5, 10, 20 minutes.  The key is to do these practice behaviors consistently (at least once a week) until you get better. It took me about a year to be able to look people in the eyes and say hi, and another year to get comfortable initiating chit-chat with strangers.  In the beginning, I  also said a lot of dumb stuff (oops) and had people looking at me crazy.  You get better over time- so don’t give up!

1. Walk around Walmart/Target/etc and practice looking people in the eye as you walk past them.  Drive to a nearby town if you don't want friends/coworkers/peers to see you.

2.  Walk around Walmart/Target/etc and both look people in the eye and smile as you walk past them

3.  Same thing, just add saying "Hi"

4.  Once you're comfortable with the above, walk around any store (again, if you’re scared out of your mind do this in another town or a place where people don’t know you!!) and approach people looking for something in the shelves.  Before you approach them, have a conversation topic handy that gives a good reason for you interrupting them. 

For example:  You’re in the spice aisle, and there’s a lady looking around.  She doesn’t look like she’s in a rush, so you pick up a spice blend and ask her, “Excuse me, have you tried this before?”  You could also ask if she’s tried this brand before.  If it’s a tall guy, you could ask him to get something from a high shelf for you (even if you don’t really need it- the clerk can help you put it back later or, if it’s not perishable, you can just leave it at the checkout).    Don’t just pick the first person you see for this!!  Pick someone who is more likely to give you a good experience by looking for those who seem peaceful and happy and not in a rush. If they look angry or agitated, or if their kids are screaming, don’t practice on them.  They’ll probably just be mean to you, and that would hurt.

**The key here is to practice talking to random people.  This can be very painful!  It was for me!!  Just spend 5, 10, 20 minutes a session and it will work wonders for you!

5.  Once you are comfortable talking to someone “in context” (that is, it would seem reasonable for you to ask for help or advice in context of shopping) now it’s time to be random. Yep.  You’re going to practice making random conversation with anyone around you: in the elevator, in line at the checkout, waiting for the metro, wherever you and someone else are “stuck together” for a few minutes.

I know, I know, you probably feel like this is going to be a waste of your time!  It’s not and here’s why:  Over the years I’ve become pretty good at doing this.  Not only has it helped me professionally (that is, I get better jobs now) but it’s also helped me get along with people who can help me in my daily life.  See, before I learned to make chit-chat with people it seemed like everyone was so mean to me. If I went into a store and asked for help, seemed like they didn’t want to help me.  If I went to a new church, none of the young adults would talk to me.  I didn’t understand why because I’m such a nice, caring person.  Well, I don’t understand WHY but I do know that being able to make this kind of chit-chat with random strangers totally changes them into people who WANT to help you.  I’ve learned a lot about cool things chit-chatting with strangers in line at the grocery store. I’ve gotten freebies from chit-chatting with waiters and other service agents.  Finally, the BIGGEST benefit with all of this for me is it’s made it easier for me to make friends and engage in romantic relationships.  I used to stress out so bad I would look for any reason not to go out with a guy (and then beat myself up about no guys wanting me!!).  This reason alone is well worth the pain and anxiety of working through these steps.

Like I said above, I still have my bad days. I have days where I can’t make eye contact with anyone in the store, but those days are rare. 

If this has helped you, please comment and let me know!



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