Ask Erin: How to Handle Anxiety in Conversations

Erin assists with social anxiety and gives tips on how to step back and manage.


Dear Erin, How do I handle anxiety when talking to people?


Dear, Anxious Converser,

Depending on the situation, anxiety can be expected when interacting with the people around you. Talking to someone you like or someone you want to get to know better can bring on stress, as can being in a confrontational situation with a teacher, parent, or friend. It can feel strange though when you get anxious talking to a close friend or someone you’ve known all your life. This is due to a little part of your brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is the center of all emotions and emotional behavior. It responds to every situation you are in and is also referred to as your fight or flight response. When anxiety arises, it comes from this part of the brain responding to the situation. But nowadays, the amygdala has begun to think that almost everything is a threat and putting your body on high alert when it doesn’t need to be. 

Talking to someone isn’t a threat, but your brain thinks of it that way. It believes that the conversation you’re in could harm you and skyrockets your anxiety levels as a sign to get out of that situation. This can lead to something called a social anxiety disorder. Having anxiety on occasion is common, but when it gets to the point of not being able to talk to someone due to the thought of saying something wrong or using the wrong tone, it becomes an anxiety disorder. This does not mean to self-diagnose yourself with a mental illness, but to look into getting diagnosed if you feel this way frequently. Common symptoms are heat flashes, sweating, feeling a tightness in your chest, stomach aches, and feeling tense and shaky.

If you begin to feel this way during a conversation, it’s very important to steady your breath and begin to rationalize your thoughts. Why do you feel this way? Do you know what triggered it? Can you leave the conversation, and if you can’t, how can you change the topic? Once you realize it’s your brain going into overdrive and making you feel this way, it’s easier to come down. That does not mean anxiety is “all in your head” though. Anxiety is the natural response to a stressful situation or threat. It’s your job to help your brain determine what is a threat and what isn’t. 

Take deep breaths and if it gets bad, see a counselor or talk to a parent about getting help. Our counselors at CHS are more than happy to assist you with your needs and issues. Don’t be afraid to reach out, we have all felt it at one point in our lives.