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“I often feel tense and nervous around people. Because I’m soo uptight, it’s hard for me to enjoy socializing. How can I loosen up?”
It’s common to feel tense around people, especially those you don’t yet know. It can come from underlying stress, anxiety or shyness, from a personality trait, or simply from being uncertain of how to act in social settings. Here’s our advice on how to loosen up.
1. Practice letting go of your need for control
You can’t control others – what they do, think or say. You also can’t control events – only your part of the equation. Expect the unexpected by accepting that things may not go as you planned, and that’s OK.
Have a look at the movie “Life is Beautiful”, an Academy Award-winning Italian film from 1997.
Its’ message is: Each of us decides how we react to life. There’s beauty in releasing responsibility for everything. We’re not expected to control every outcome and it’s not healthy for us to grip on to life so tightly.
If things are not going your way, it can leave you feeling tense or stressed. Practice accepting those feelings and that you are not in charge. Doing this will make it easier to move forward and relax.
2. Let go of unrealistic expectations
The world and all the people in it are imperfect. People let us down, plans go awry, sh$t happens and life goes on. Let others be themselves, warts and all. If you don’t hold them to impossibly high standards, they may pleasantly surprise you. The same holds true for yourself. You don’t need to be perfect.
When you practice empathy and compassion towards others, they will be likely to offer you the same consideration.
3. Embrace mistakes for what they teach us
Making mistakes is part of life. You learn from them, adapt, and do better next time. It’s how we grow. Make a decision to forgive yourself. If you don’t, it can be hard to forgive others. If we can let go of our need for perfection we will be able to loosen up mentally and be less nervous around others.
4. Roll with what happens
If you let people’s annoying habits make you uptight, they are in control of your emotions, not you.
Ask yourself if what’s bothering you right now, will it bug you tomorrow? If not, then who cares? Let’s say that a friend is always late. Can you make them faster or more on time? See if you can reframe the wait. Rather than focusing on how your friend is late, can you enjoy it as a well-needed break?
Absorb what happens, adjust your plan or make peace with it. If you carry other people’s annoyances with you, you’ll wear yourself out and everyone around you.
5. Visualize realistic outcomes
Sometimes we get caught up in best-case-scenarios or worst-case-scenarios. Those are extreme outcomes and thinking about it that way can stress us out. Generally, life is much more moderate – there’s some good, some bad.
For example, you’re going to a party. You might worry that you’ll make a fool out of yourself and people laugh at you. Ask yourself what a more realistic outcome could be. Perhaps it’s having some socially awkward interactions, but overall a good time.
That can help you see that your brain tends to paint the worse-case scenarios, not the most realistic scenarios.
6. Laugh at yourself
Try taking yourself a bit less seriously. You might have shortcomings that you don’t want anyone to notice. Accept that everyone has flaws and that it’s part of being human. If someone notices them, it’s not the end of the world.
If you can laugh at yourself, others will relax around you because you are relaxed. This will help especially if you’re shy or have social anxiety. As we said before, the world is an imperfect place, including you and that’s OK.
7. Remind yourself there are 2 sides to the story
Perhaps you called your friend twice and they still haven’t called you back. Or you dropped a bunch of hints to someone you like about how you’re free this weekend, but they blew past all of them. It can be easy to assume that your friend doesn’t care or that you are undateable. Try seeing the story from their side. Maybe they are overworked, over-tired, or something has happened in their life causing them to act like this.
If you can understand what’s going on with someone, you’ll have an easier time accepting the situation. Make it a habit to ask yourself “What might be the other side to the story?”
8. Do silly things on purpose
Don’t plan it, just do it. Be spontaneous! Take the position that as long as it’s safe and harmless to yourself and others, why not? So take a slightly longer lunch, eat out, or go shopping. Go to a VR Room with friends to see what it’s like. If it takes no thought and is just fun – all the better.
Leave your worries and anxieties behind. It will teach you the benefit of not planning and stressing the small stuff. ‘Cause, “It’s all small stuff.”
9. Practice not being offended
One of the most fun things you can do with friends is banter back and forth. It’s also hugely bonding because it shows you know each other well enough to push an emotional button, yet neither of you is truly trying to hurt the other.
Banter shows a level of trust and comfort that is fun and freeing. Say that someone teases you about something silly or inconsequential, and you feel a bit offended. Ask yourself, did they mean to offend you or was it all in fun? If it was indeed not meant to hurt, being able to laugh at yourself will show a lot of confidence and humility.
10. Bend the rules
If we did everything we were expected to do every minute of every day, we’d all be completely stressed out.
Learn that bending the rules (when it doesn’t harm anyone or anything) is OK. If you can, then others can too. Take driving for instance. Almost no one follows the rules of the road perfectly. That’s a lot of road rage if you let it all get under your skin.
You aren’t your brother’s keeper, so don’t stress their choices. If someone does something that isn’t how it “should be” done, remind yourself that everyone, including you, bends the rules sometimes and that’s just human.
11. Know when to take a break
There’s no weakness in knowing you need to take a break. Stay home on a Wednesday, sleep in or go to the museum instead of the office.
If you’re a Type A personality and worry that slowing down will kill your deadline or productivity, know that resting will give you a clearer head and more energy, not less.
12. Get regular sleep
Sleep deprivation makes us stingy and less forgiving of ours and others’ mistakes. It can also lead to us becoming run down or sick.
Try going to bed and getting up at around the same time every day. Limit your caffeine intake to mornings only, so it doesn’t interrupt your bedtime wind down. If you have a clear head and feel good you can take on more and will be less likely to stress or let little things bug you.
If you only have a bit of time in the day but are getting run down, power naps of 15-20 minutes are amazing rechargers.
13. Take a walk in nature
Nature has a way of clearing our mind and calming our anxieties. A 20-minute walk in nature significantly lowers stress levels and can be the difference between a good day and a grind. If you give yourself a break and a change of perspective (literally) you won’t be as bothered by the little annoyances in life. Take care of yourself and you’ll be able to function better.
14. Surround yourself with easy-going people
When you have a chance, interact with people who are relaxed and at ease with themselves and others. Look for people with a laid back sense of humor or who are spontaneous and fun. Let them take the lead and set the tone, and go along with it.
We tend to become more like the people we spend time with. If you want to loosen up more, it can be a good idea to spend time with people who are already at ease.
15. Fully accept the decisions you’ve already made
Sometimes we decide to do things that we second-guess over and over.
As an example, perhaps you were reluctant about going to a party but ended up deciding to go.
You might second-guess that choice throughout the night and think about how you could have enjoyed a movie at home instead. However, that takes the joy away from the moment and causes unnecessary stress.
Accept your decision and make the most out of it, rather than second-guessing your choice.
Physically relaxing your body to relax your mind
1. Commit to exercising
Exercise releases pent up energy and takes your mind off anxiety and worry. It will give you more energy later in the day and can clear your head of mind fog. It decreases stress hormones and makes you feel more calm and confident. Try to do something twice a week for 3 weeks. That will build a routine and you will start to see the benefits both physically and mentally.
Try exercising with a friend or do something you really enjoy like rock climbing or dance. You’ll see a difference in your attitude and stress levels right away. Another benefit is you will look awesome!
2. Get a massage
When we’re stressed we carry tension in our back, neck, shoulders or we’ll get headaches. Getting a massage is like admitting you can’t fix everything and allowing someone else to fix it for you.
People train to do this and learn anatomy to understand how to bring us some relief. Take advantage of all that knowledge and skill at least once a month, if you can afford it. If it’s too expensive, massage training schools offer student massages for a reduced rate.
3. Do yoga
Yoga can sound like nothing more than a trend to some but in essence, yoga is stretching and asking your mind to listen to your body.
When you are trying to pull your limbs and core around a mat, it’s hard to obsess over that last project, client, or bill. It can make you feel relaxed and accomplished. So much of our life is outer-focused. Doing something like yoga, for you alone, can feel great.
Dance can have many physical and mental health benefits. Dancing can improve our heart health, balance and coordination as well as muscle strength. It has also been shown to decrease anxiety and improve our well-being.
There are also social benefits because dancing is often done in a group, friendships form. For couples or friends who dance together, there is an extra layer of bonding that connects them.
Dancing takes your mind off your daily stressors and immerses you in music and movement. It helps you enjoy life more and connects you to the people you dance with.
At its core, meditation is the art of being quiet and listening to our breath and then our thoughts, for a period of time. The goal is to be fully aware of our mind and body and be compassionate towards ourselves as we listen.
- Decreases stress
- Quiets brain chatter
- Improves your focus
- Helps you understand where you have pain
- Connects you better with yourself and others
Have a look at the mindful.org website to get a starter’s guide on this technique.
6. Drink caffeine-free tea
The act of preparing tea can be relaxing. The break is a good chance to find calm in the middle of a busy day. Even more importantly, tea contains substances like L-theanine, which has been shown to reduce stress and tension.
Keep an eye on your caffeine intake. In the afternoon and evening, choose decaf coffee or herbal teas so that your sleep patterns are not affected.
7. Talk to a therapist or doctor
Sometimes there are underlying factors as to why we can’t loosen up. It could be a past trauma or a sign of a stress disorder. If you think this might be the case, it can be a good idea to talk to a therapist or doctor. They can help you find new ways to think about social situations. A doctor can also prescribe medication that can decrease social anxiety.
We recommend BetterHelp for online therapy, since they offer unlimited messaging and a weekly session, and is much cheaper than going to an actual therapist's office. They are also cheaper than Talkspace for what you get. You can learn more about BetterHelp here.