Relationships

My Social Anxiety Cure-All

social anxiety libby vanderploeg

I’m at a party when anxiety slips her clammy hands around my neck…

…and hangs there naked, one thousand pounds of dread; a flesh piano on my chest, bloated with shame. We waltz together slowly, as though underwater. My heart, beating double time, is a trapped fly in my chest, ricocheting around my rib cage, trying to escape. I cannot breathe with her there. She has stolen my words, eaten my wit, robbed me of myself.

She arrives when I am on an industry panel, passionately speaking to the tops of people’s heads, their faces buried in their phones.

She is with me at my friend’s karaoke party where everyone is ten years younger than me and singing like they’ve had lessons.

She appears at Pilates, in a room full of gazelles in lavender lycra, and me in my son’s Megadeth T-shirt, the sweats I slept in and toenails so gruesome, they could be classified under Communicable Diseases by Public Health Services.

In real life, I am not shy. I am a chatterbox! A people person! I can be funny, mischievous and occasionally charming. I love meeting new people so much I even look a little bit forward to jury duty.

But I have an Achilles Heel, a button of social anxiety in my core, that when pushed, rings all alarms and whistles. Whenever I’m intimidated by someone, even a little bit, I panic. If I put you on a pedestal or perceive that you don’t like me, there’s a good chance I’ll go Full Dork.

Remember when Liz Lemon met Oprah on an airplane? She spilled all her secrets in a run-on sentence. She sniffed the scent of Oprah’s shampoo. If I had the good fortune of meeting Oprah, I guarantee I would do the same.

A few years ago, I was invited to crash the dessert portion of a dinner party hosted by a colleague of my husband’s, an intimidatingly brilliant and glamorous author. I had just gotten home from a job abroad, wobbly with exhaustion and jet lag but I promised my husband I would go.

Truth be told, I already felt like a second class citizen before we even got there, having not made the cut for dinner. But a faint, anxious siren began howling in my brain when I stepped inside her exquisite apartment. High ceilings, roaring fire, a library with ladders! Her home was the perfect location for the next Nancy Meyers movie, with a kitchen so beautiful, you just wanted to lay down and die in it.

Sitting around the vintage farm table, perfectly weathered, was a group of beautiful, cerebral people, seemingly cast from a pool of alien perfection. The conversation we’d joined was a bit over my head – they were discussing threats to the global economy I remember, something about secular stagnation and the slow growth of industrial blabbity-blah-blah-blah. Having lost me at “economy,” I was reminded of the teacher’s voice from the Charlie Brown specials. It felt like one of those nightmares where you’ve missed the entire semester but now have to take an exam.

My spine began to curl into a lower case “c,” while a protest march took residence in my brain, chanting, Not smart enough! Shitty Not Witty! Flabby Arms Go Home!!! I wanted to chug three glasses of wine, slink under the table and pull the (stunning) Persian rug over my head. I didn’t feel worthy of being there.

But then, out of the negative chatter, I heard another voice, calm and clear, say:

You don’t have to be the smartest in the room.

You don’t have to be the most successful or beautiful.

All you have to be is curious and kind.

No one can fault you for that.

Curious and kind. I don’t know if it was an angel’s voice I heard that night, a guiding spirit of a deceased grandparent or my own Superego, but one thing I know for sure: I 100% received this information, word for word.

Curious and kind? I could do that. I already was that! Best of all, curious and kind was in my control.

I felt the beast slip from my shoulders, allowing me to sit up straight, take in a deep gulp of air, calm my business down.

Jet lag may have stolen my wit, but I was able to breathe, smile, ask questions and truly listen, even becoming aware of other people’s tiny tells of insecurity: I remember one woman kept smoothing her bangs to the side even though they had not moved; a man continually cleared his throat before speaking. My new mantra successfully got me through the evening without the post-requisite staring at the ceiling at 3 a.m. in self-flagellation. I even managed to have a little bit of fun.

Curious and kind didn’t mean I could automatically charm the naysayers. You can’t please everyone, duh. But if I was curious and kind, I was out of the realm of judgment. Not of theirs, because what other people think of me is not my business, I’m slowly learning, but of my own. Curious and kind has allowed me to toss the measuring stick I once used to judge myself against other people, situationally dictating my confidence level. Curious and kind is not only how we should approach others, it’s how we should treat ourselves.

As humble and simple as it sounds, it’s worked for me ever since.

That’s not to say that I’m anxiety-free. A couple of weeks ago, I went solo to my friend’s husband’s birthday party. Not knowing many people and having no one to talk to, I perched myself at an empty table, shifted my weight from foot to platformed foot and resisted pulling out my phone. I felt the familiar feel of anxiety around my neck, her grip tight as ever.

Really? I thought. You again? I thought we had a deal.

On cue, the negative voices in my head started to prattle: No one is talking to you! No one likes you! Your dress is too tight across the bum! Your hair is weird!

I started to panic that maybe this time I wouldn’t be able to pry anxiety’s fingers from my throat and set her down. I felt so fragile with her there. But then it dawned on me. I must be pretty strong if I am upright and able to carry her.

Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man in a purple suit, with an unusually lengthy, salt-n-pepper beard plop a plate of food on the table next to mine. I thought to myself, curious and kind. Noticing that the birthday guy’s family all seemed to sport similarly long beards and colorful attire, I leaned in and said, “You must be a relation.” He looked up and grinned, spreading his arms wide and said, “What gave it away?” And we were off, chatting like children.

My friend, the hostess, glanced over to see if I was okay. And I smiled a private, dorky smile to myself because I totally was.


Lisa Rubisch started her career at MTV and now directs commercials and music videos for major brands at Park Pictures in New York. She also contributes writing to websites, anthologies and books, and has written three other essays for Cup of Jo.

P.S. An anxiety trick and five words that changed everything.

(Illustration by Libby VanderPloeg for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Denise Logue says...

    Wow, you hit the nail on my head for sure. I am full of confidence and know my stuff when I am in one of my comfort zones, but like many of obvious others, once that little self doubt niggle makes her fleeting appearance, I find myself looking everywhere for her and even while cautioning myself to stop I continue. So the curious and kind is going to be in effect tonight as I’m out for a birthday party and I will try it. Thank you so much for the great advice

  2. grace says...

    Thank you for writing this.

    In my wedding vows, I told my husband that I love how curious and kind he is. I think these qualities are beautiful, and tremendously underestimated. The idea that being curious and kind – which as you mention, are entirely within my control – can help me to deal with those ever persistent doubts is empowering.

  3. Genna says...

    This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time and sort of made me tear up. I’m going to use this to be kinder to myself when I am struggling in social situations. <3 Thank you <3

  4. Roxanne W says...

    Oh man, a good mantra is my thing. Sometimes when I’m nervous about something I’m trying to do, maybe a job interview or a big ask from someone I tell myself “do the best you can, and that’s all you can do”. It’s a way to remind myself that if I put it all on the table, that I can fee like I did my best and if it doesn’t work out maybe it wasn’t meant for me. It also helps me from talking myself out of things because I have to at least try, at least do my best. That’s all you can do.

  5. Coralie says...

    I’m going solo to a wedding tomorrow, knowing no one out of 220 guests – except the bride and groom – and I’m so glad I read this. I’ll remember to remain « curious and kind » if I get lonely in the crowd. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  6. Christie says...

    This was so lovely – I’ll remember to tell my daughter this as well. She’s only 7 but already has a little anxiety monster clinging to her.

  7. Oh my god… the late night self-flagellation! Yes, I know it all too well. I would get this curious-and-kind mantra tattooed on my sweaty, anxious self if I could. So wonderful! During the holidays, my social anxiety really shines!

  8. Amy says...

    This is so great! I’m heading to an awkward work networking event right now and will repeat this mantra all night. Thank you!

    • Rebecca Delorme says...

      WHOA.
      A game show ‘ding-ding-ding’ sound was going off inside my head the whole time I read through this. Thanks so much for sharing that read. I’m that cheery, bubbly, can chat to anyone about any topic person at social gathering, but then always felt tired and drained the following day. Satisfied, but lethargic. THIS IS ME!

      For years now, I’ve done this thing my husband has jokingly come to nickname “Dementoring” – where I need to go out and socialize with the masses to re-charge/boost my energy levels, but I don’t actually want to talk to anyone (HAH). This Dementoring takes the form of me packing up a book or a knitting project, queuing up some podcast episodes and walking to a local coffee shop to sit alone and just surround myself with other people’s energies while I do my own thing. Hahaha, essentially feeding off others. Sinister and nerdy nickname aside, I’ve found this to be one of my most effective and favourite ways to recharge and strike that balance between getting ‘me time’ and a ‘social boost’ over the years.

  9. Madeline says...

    I struggle so much in networking situations or parties where I don’t know many people and the “curious and kind” mantra is exactly what I need. I know as soon as I start chatting with someone I can breathe a little easier. T

  10. This could not have arrived at a better time as I will head off to my husband’s office xmas party. The writing was as inspiring as the message itself: curious and kind. I love it! Thank you for this holiday gift.

  11. Lainey says...

    I absolutely love this – it’s one of those genius pieces of life advice that’s easy to remember, completely reassuring and genuinely effective. Gold dust! I smiled and laughed my way through this beautifully written essay – but I laughed the most when I read Lisa’s biography at the end. She sounds so amazingly accomplished, impressive and interesting with a fascinating but demanding job! If someone with that kind of career can have social anxiety it just goes to show that you never know who else might be quietly freaking out in the corner of the room…

  12. Jodi Cranston Perrier says...

    Lisa, if I ever met you (or for that matter, just passed you on a set just en route to the coffee station) I would be truly tongue-tied. I would, in effect, be the dorkiest of dorks. I would be THAT dork. You are an inspiration to any little girl (or woman) who thought she could be the one behind the camera calling the shots. Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing.

  13. sallyb says...

    oh myyyyyyy……early Christmas gift. Thank you, dear!

  14. Carmen says...

    I have been struggling with a similar thing! For the last six years I’ve been a young, confident, corporate professional who was comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. I had to work up to that of course, but as of last year it was a skill I’d felt I’d mastered. Six months ago I developed a huge fear of public speaking out of thin air. Friends, it is the worst! Now I even have trouble even speaking at our small team meetings. I used to lead monthly onboarding classes at my last company, for heaven’s sake. The worst part is, it makes no sense. I didn’t grow a third eye. My team is so supportive and I like my job. I haven’t gained weight. It is so bizarre. I haven’t talked to anyone about it yet since even I can’t make out wtf is happening inside my own head. I did repeat your mantra today before hosting a webinar. I had marbles in my mouth at the beginning but I made it out the other side OK. Thank you for having the courage to publish this piece. I’ve felt like a huge loser for months now and this made me feel a lot less alone. ❤️

  15. Hailey says...

    Beautifully written and I really resonated with this– thank you so much for sharing. I’ve always been an extrovert, “life of the party”, people-person but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more and more self-conscious about social situations. I’ve always had anxiety around public speaking, but I’ve started to get knot-in-my-stomach nervous before going out or getting together with others– even close friends! This article articulated so much of my own experience in ways I haven’t been able to yet. I love the mantra of staying “curious and kind”– it puts the focus back on others and stops the downward inner spiral. Saving this one!

  16. Adrianna says...

    Such a wonderful essay! Thank you for this :)

  17. janine says...

    thank you for this…truly

  18. Kelly says...

    those are symptoms of panic attacks! I have phobia of public speaking. I’ve worked at it for years bc i need to be able to do it for my job. I’ve gotten hypnosis, which has helped in lower pressure situations, a lot. I take propranolol for high stakes…no shakes, no racing heart, no shortness of breath! Just took it today when i had to be on a panel in front of my ENTIRE COMPANY of 2500+ people.

    i’d love to try exposure therapy but don’t have time to commit to it right now. my point is, there is a solution for you if you keep seeking relief!

  19. Kristen says...

    Is it odd that my takeaway from this post was the part about the dessert party? If someone had a dinner party, but *only* invited me to the dessert portion, I’d also feel somehow inferior. Who does that?! TACKY!

    • Neena says...

      My thought was that she had a thing that prevented her from joining for the whole party and that the host invited her to crash in once she was free.

    • Heidi says...

      Kristen

      I thought the SAME thing!

  20. Brandy T says...

    I really needed to hear this….thank you!!!

    -no-longer-anxious-but-curious-and-kind.

  21. Cheryl says...

    I can really relate to this now although in my twenties I used to think that it was my sole responsibility to entertain others with my good cheer and enthusiasm and was ready with so many quips and funny stories I felt like a walking three ring circus after a while. I was always the center of attention. Once, as I got ready for a date I just didn’t have the energy anymore to be ON. I figured, I’d let him worry about the conversation for a change and be so busy listening I wouldn’t have to “bring the circus.”
    I’m in my forties now. I don’t live in a big city, I don’t drink, I socialize in small groups of good friends and I know myself a lot a better. Needless to say I cringe thinking about that alter ego I possessed and even experience the occasional social awkwardness now. I attribute it to tuning in to others, to being aware, plugged in. It’s a nice thing! I might even find myself the quiet person at the party actively listening rather than interjecting. Being that person (myself) is so much less work and needs no justifying. I guess I also don’t give a crap about what others think anymore. That’s another great benefit of forty.

  22. Katie says...

    Thank you for this. You wrote this just for me.

  23. Stephanie says...

    This helped me yesterday thanks :)

  24. La says...

    Only semi-related but I just have to say…inviting some people to have a full meal at your home and then inviting others to only attend dessert strikes me as so cluelessly rude. Maybe if you’re having a rehearsal dinner followed by a reception in the same place. Otherwise…nope!

    • Ras says...

      Exactly what I was thinking!

  25. Lauren B says...

    “Curious and kind didn’t mean I could automatically charm the naysayers. You can’t please everyone, duh. But if I was curious and kind, I was out of the realm of judgment. Not of theirs, because what other people think of me is not my business, I’m slowly learning, but of my own. Curious and kind has allowed me to toss the measuring stick I once used to judge myself against other people, situationally dictating my confidence level. Curious and kind is not only how we should approach others, it’s how we should treat ourselves.”

    I will be printing this out and taping it to my mirror, putting it in my wallet, and re-reading it every chance I have.

  26. Julia Vesilind says...

    I needed this today as i have an event with co-workers tonight. And its the holiday season. Curious and Kind…. love that. I also loved “what other think of me is not my business”… that might be my new mantra:)

  27. Irina says...

    I am a fairly shy person, particularly when large groups are involved – and to me, large is more than 3 people including myself :) Whether it is a work meeting or a social event, I tend to clam up.

    However, moving to our small, rural community has done wonders for my social anxiety. We have people here from all walks of life, all income and education levels, etc. – but most everyone is friendly, humble, and down to earth.

    It’s easy to strike up a conversation with anyone around here, and if all else fails, you can always ask each other if you’re originally from this area, and, if no, how you ended up moving here. Everyone has their own unique story to tell, whether they’re a 4th generation local or just moved here a year ago from across the country. A simple question can easily spark an hour-long conversation.

    Also, when living in the city, I used to hate going to events by myself, but in our small town, wherever I go, I’m bound to run into someone I know. This eliminates the awkwardness of having to talk to strangers, or sitting alone and feel like everyone is staring at me because I’m by myself and they are all there with friends or a partner.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that sounds really wonderful, irina.

  28. Robin says...

    I think the first question to ask before worrying about your social anxiety is, “am I surrounded by a bunch of jerks?” Because then you are totally justified in feeling anxious and should probably try to escape as soon as possible. It kinda sounds like this was the case for the writer, when she went to a party where she wasn’t good enough to be invited to the dinner. Already, she’s been rejected, and it sounds like the people are kinda jerk-ish. She should have been invited to the entire party, and the hosts should have made a point of including her in the conversation when the snooty political talk was excluding her. I swear I have felt the exact same feelings she was feeling, and I admire her strategies for coping. However, I think she missed the most important strategy, which is: Recognize the jerks and don’t hang out with them.

    • Sasha L says...

      I was scratching my head at “invited for dessert” ??? Is this a thing people do? Have a dinner party where some are invited to the whole dinner, and others just for dessert? I can’t imagine a context where that’s not plain rude.

      It sounds like many at this party could’ve used the advice to focus on being kind and curious (which is awesome advice not only for quelling social anxiety but also for not acting like a jerk).

    • Sapna Malik says...

      My thoughts exactly!

    • Kristian Olson says...

      So glad ‘m not the only person totally confused by why this person was only invited to half the party. Like, is that a thing in other parts of the country? This seems very odd, and of course it would make one anxious!

      I do like Robin’s advice of not hanging out with people who make you feel second class (jerks indeed!) where possible.

      That said, Lisa’s “curious and kind” advice is lovely (especially since I get anxious even with large groups of very lovely people!) and seems like a good way to go through life in all situations, no matter what you are feeling.

  29. Bridget says...

    Last night at a women’s networking event, I was ready to run to the exit as soon as the speakers were finished. One of the hostess asked if I wanted a drink as I was making for the door- she sounded so sincere and didn’t want people to leave- so I said okay a bit reluctantly. As I was handed a glass, I said out loud with a smile to no one in particular- “I’m drinking alone!” but just then a woman was walking out of the room and said, “I’ll have a drink with you” and we had the best 45 minute conversation. We might even take a trip with our daughters to Egypt in a few years. I am glad I stayed.

  30. Sally says...

    This is such wise advice, and so simple!

    It reminds me a lot of one of my personal favourite life mottos, from Mother Theresa: “We can’t all do great things – but we can all do small things, with great love.”
    I heard it for the first time, just as my dad had a psychiatric breakdown. I was so panicked about how I could help him, and this calmed me.
    I might not be able to solve it all for him, but I could hold his hand, I could listen to the constant stream of nonsensical talk, I could lay in bed with him and stroke his hair, I could build Legos with him and read him picture books.
    It cost me nothing more than time. I couldn’t fix him, but I could be kind. Kindness, after all, is free.

    • Danielle says...

      This brought tears to my eyes Sally. So beautiful.

    • Helen Ng says...

      This also brought tears to my eyes. “I couldn’t fix him, but I could be kind. Kindness, after all, is free.” – thank you for the reminder that when there are limited options/answers, kindness is always one that’s available.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is really beautiful, sally.

    • Savitha Moorthy says...

      Yes, thank you! Curious and kind feels within reach.

  31. Laura says...

    I like the idea of being curious and kind. But as an introvert with occasional social anxiety, I can tell you that being perceived as kind can be hard. I have a resting bitch face, and at times my normal state of quietness have been perceived as being stuck up or unfriendly. I think for a stranger to think of me as kind would need to be gregarious which is a little exhausting. When you’re a quiet person, curiosity and displaying kindness can be difficult to achieve.

    • Susan says...

      I’m a very reserved introvert and the way show my curiosity and kindness in these situations is to make sure I’m showing that I’m listening. In groups of more than 2 or 3 people, I rarely say much but I make sure I’m nodding, smiling, making eye contact with whoever is talking, etc. I also make a point to uncross my arms or keep my hands from clasping. I don’t want to change who I am just to make people perceive me as curious and kind, so I won’t force myself to be gregarious when I’m not. But those few small changes I make to my body language allow other people to see that I am actually listening and interested, even when I’m not talking.

    • Kerry says...

      Laura, I relate to your comment 100%. I’ve often been told that my shyness has been misinterpreted as unfriendly or intimidating. (I’m also tall and that alone sometimes puts me at a disadvantage.)
      I’m a middle school teacher and I laugh at how easy it is for me to chat with my 6th graders than it is to work a room of people my own age! Ha!

    • Tall, introvert, with serious resting bitch face here! And oh so awkward in some social situations. I will be chanting curious and kind in my head tomorrow night at my husbands company holiday party. Thank you!

  32. Julia says...

    What a wonderful mantra. When I get nervous in social situations, I usually resort to bragadocious/wry/snipey. Curious and kind sounds much more attractive, and is something I’ll now strive for.

  33. Kelly L says...

    Beautiful! And timely, may I say with holiday parties approaching. Will be falling back on ‘curious and kind’ through all the holiday angst.

  34. Allyson says...

    Excellent timing with all the holiday events bearing down. Curious & Kind. Exactly how I wish other people would see me. This was just perfect.

  35. Blythe says...

    This reminds me of a woman named Santosh that my best friend met a few years ago at an LA party. She described her as this woman surrounded by light and dressed only in white. She was drawn to her and approached her. What she discovered is that Santosh too had suffered from social anxiety. Her husband was a music producer and she had spend much of her youth at parties surrounded by beautiful women. Initially she let it control her, but she came to a similar conclusion – to let go of being the skinniest or most beautiful or the smartest. It was then that she committed to only wearing white, to let go of societal expectations of what clothing she should wear and let her true self shine. That story has stuck with me ever since.

  36. Mia says...

    This is fantastic and very much needed. Thank you!

  37. lomagirl says...

    A timely reminder!
    My mother once told me, when I didn’t want to go to a party in high school, that I should make sure everyone else had a good time. I did, they did, and, magically, so did I!
    This is right along those lines- and so I’ll be repeating this advice along with my own to my daughter (and myself!)

    • Silver says...

      oh wow- two fabulous snippets of good tips! I love your mother’s wisdom and I will employ that same one with my son. Thank you for sharing.

  38. Holly says...

    This is so beautiful and perfect! Thank you, thank for this mantra – curious and kind. I will be using it immediately.

  39. What a lovely and simple mantra! I know how effective it can be to focus on what you can control (your attitude), instead of what you can’t (other people’s impressions of you). I definitely want to keep this one in my back pocket.

  40. Carrie says...

    As someone who deals with social anxiety, the only way I’ve found to ease my anxiety is to be vulnerable. Being kind and curious is literally exactly what is necessary. I will say though, that serious social anxiety is accompanied by physical symptoms as well and they aren’t so easy to overcome. There’s no tricking your brain into overcoming a racing heart, shortness of breath, flushed face. When you have a trick for that, call me :)

    • Kelly Jeanne says...

      I agree! The best antidote, for me, is deep, slow breathing. I forget about it, and then when I remember, it’s such a gift.

    • M says...

      That’s when Propranolol comes in handy! It’s a blood pressure medication (a Beta Blocker) that is prescribed in low doses for the physical manifestations of anxiety. People take it before they have to give a speech, or whatever situation might be triggering. (You can take it as-needed, not every day.) My husband hates that he flushes, and his doctor prescribed it, and it works like a charm. If you break that feedback loop of anxiety-flushing/rapid heart rate – which leads back to more anxiety, you can relax a little!

    • Kelly says...

      those are symptoms of panic attacks! I have phobia of public speaking. I’ve worked at it for years bc i need to be able to do it for my job. I’ve gotten hypnosis, which has helped in lower pressure situations, a lot. I take propranolol for high stakes…no shakes, no racing heart, no shortness of breath! Just took it today when i had to be on a panel in front of my ENTIRE COMPANY of 2500+ people.

      i’d love to try exposure therapy but don’t have time to commit to it right now. my point is, there is a solution for you if you keep seeking relief!

  41. Kristyn says...

    I just love this so much.
    And as always, the comments section here is such a beautiful, uplifting, place. For the nonstop “Oh my gosh, ME TOO”‘s and the “Wow, I never thought of that”s… My gratitude to all for making life and its experiences feel less solitary.

  42. Adrienne says...

    “I must be pretty strong if I am upright and able to carry her.” Wow – just wow. Such beautiful, insightful writing. Love this whole piece. I’m beginning to feel like kindness is the answer to everything! Also makes me think of a line a wise colleague once said to me, “Everyone is nervous and weird.” :)

    • Elizabeth says...

      Clicked on this article link with flying fingers! I often sing to myself the song “people are strange when you’re a stranger”. When you’re new to a place everything is foreign but before long it’s familiar and comfortable. When I went to live in London from Sydney, I challenged my introvert self to ask people to things or organise things rather than wait to be asked. It was amazing how many friends I made and how happy people were to be asked. I love this affirmation and I strive to put aside my worry (turn off that inner monologue!!) of how I look and focus on other people. This is timely as I’m about to host a Xmas party for my husband’s partners (colleagues) 60 of them…. 😬 Have a lovely day all…

  43. Lili says...

    I feel like this all the time I have really bad social anxiety where it affects me daily at work and even with my family it’s so bad that it’s cause my major depression and at times has made me suicidal so reading this article was really comforting

    • Carrie says...

      You are not alone. I also struggle with serious social anxiety but it’s slowly getting better. I am working on my anxiety from the inside, because I know deep down that it’s physiological rather than just mental. I notice it gets much worse for me the week before my period. After suffering for so long I finally made some permanent changes. I eat really healthy and balanced now, and have been experimenting with various supplements for years and have found a good regimen for me. Last is committing to an exercise routine, which I struggle with! Just know it is a process to overcome but you can do it.

  44. Andrea Leet says...

    So good! This checks the boxes of good advice: simple (although not necessarily “easy”), insightful and possible to execute.
    Your storytelling is great too :).

  45. Bethany Ball says...

    I’m an author and in two hours I have to do a big event with my editor. I appreciate this so much. I just wrote “curious and kind” on my notes. Thank you.

  46. Beautiful. This is how I feel all the time. Thank you <3

  47. Liz says...

    who the hell invites someone to half a dinner party?!? is that a thing? seems so rude!

    • Kelsey says...

      Hahaha I laughed out loud at your comment- I had the same thought!! Dinner for everyone!

    • Annie says...

      I was thinking the same thing! It seems almost orchestrated to induce anxiety in people. If the partner is worthy and interesting enough to being invited then one would think the person they have chosen to be their partner for life would at least be somewhat interesting and also worthy of an invite. Having the space is obviously not the issue.

      People are weird.

    • kiki says...

      it IS weird, but as one who hosts lots of things…the host may have actually thought of this as an easier event for the guest! meaning, it’s a bit less pressure to just swing by for dessert. the WHOLE MEAL is kind of a THING. Kind of akin to just meeting for drinks for a date. I haven’t ever done this, but I can see where the host may have been coming from, if we’re giving her the benefit of the doubt ;) LOVE this mantra…curious and kind.

    • liz says...

      Kiki, I kinda see where you’re coming from but I completely disagree. Why would a host tell a guest that the guest needs to be excluded? If for some reason the guest is overwhelmed by the event, the guest can ask the host if it’s ok if they arrive late. It seems really mean for a host to essentially tell a guest that they know the guest can’t handle the whole dinner party so they’re only invited for dessert. I would go as far as to say it is condescending even. And also — the author indicated this caused her to feel excluded and more insecure. I would feel the same way!

    • Sally says...

      My thoughts as well!

      I’m only “worthy” of eating your desserts…? Sorry, but you can keep them!

    • Chris says...

      I assumed it was because she was traveling and wasn’t available to join the group until the dessert course.

    • Robin says...

      I know right! I’ve never heard of such a thing. It would be an impossible situation to navigate. You arrive at a party, hoping that the people like you, trying your best to fit in, but there’s no hope since the host has already made it abundantly clear that she doesn’t really like you.

  48. Karen T. says...

    Wow. This really resonated with me. I don’t always feel social anxiety but when I do, this is my new mantra. Sharing with my girlfriends. Thank you.

  49. ally says...

    so well timed with my work christmas party looming tomorrow night and the familiar feeling of dread and discomfort already settling in. Curious and kind – I can do that. :)

  50. Zm says...

    This is just to say how much I enjoyed your writing style.
    3 am self-flagellation. :D

  51. Shannon says...

    I love this post! It reminds me of a quote I read once, “You can make more friends in a year by being interested in other people than by trying to get other people interested in you.” Total mindset shift! Thank you COJ.

  52. AJ says...

    Whoah this is utterly exquisite writing! Really so beautiful in every sense – the word craft and the wisdom, a marvellous piece of work. Great advice for everyone, to be curious and kind – but I so relate too! Especially love the line about how you must be pretty strong if you can stand and carry her weight (this can apply to so many things). Gorgeous writing.

  53. Courtney says...

    WOW so beautiful

  54. jeannie says...

    Such a beautiful down to earth way to put things in perspective! I will be reminding myself that it is enough to be “curious and kind” from now on, especially when I feel nervous or out of my depth. Great essay! This is a wonderful thing to tell children, too.

  55. Dee says...

    This was lovely, and easy to remember! I will definitely pass this on.

    I have a motto that I started saying to myself to get out of the house after having kids, “you won’t regret it if you go, and you can always go home early.” Helped with my introverted tendencies, recharging myself and social anxiety – because it always turned out to be true.

  56. Meg says...

    This lands so perfectly on the heart of my own experience. It is also really, really fun to read. Well done!

  57. Hannah says...

    Wonderfully written! And so helpful – I’ll have to remember that: “curious and kind”.

  58. hali says...

    As someone who has long played the hostess card in order to control social situations and curb my social anxiety, this whole post gives me so much motivation and hope! I want to chat at another person’s table until the tapers burn all the way down, the host cobbles together a midnight snack, and somebody has nodded off on the couch. It happens all the time when I host dinners and parties… those late-night quiet conversations are always the best. But I’m always paralyzed with nerves about going to other people’s parties. I think I’ll be braver now! Maybe I’ll make “Curious and Kind” a 2019 resolution to show up and stay put at parties. This was so inspiring to read. Thank you!!

    • Jamie says...

      I play hostess for this same reason! And I don’t think I’ve ever fully realized it until this exact moment!

    • Same same same! I am a charming, witty, gregarious host…and a total dork as a guest!

  59. Stacey says...

    Love this! Similarly, my sister recently picked up an expression somewhere that has been really helpful for new social situations: “You don’t have to get people to like you. You just have to be kind.”

    It really takes the pressure off since my social skills are way, way, down lately (grieving a parent -> barely able to handle small talk, etc etc).

    • Alyssa says...

      Sorry to hear you’re grieving. Hope you’re feeling surrounded by love.

  60. B says...

    So needed to read this today! Can’t wait to come back to this one and read more responses — best comments section on the internet!

  61. Nat says...

    This piece sang to me. Your way with words and humor made me unable to stop reading, and I’m glad I didn’t. Thank you so much. :)

  62. Brooke says...

    I have the shivers reading this. Curious and kind – what homey earthy lovely centering words. I felt myself take a deep breath and know that this is the way out of shame and anxiety. Ahh! And how sweet it helps you have compassion for others who are feeling the “inner critic” rear up its ever so tough face too.

  63. Thank you for this lovely and very relevant essay. I am going to be repeating “curious and kind” the next time I feel awkward at a gathering :)

    • Emme says...

      same!

  64. I love this essay so much! And I wonder, does every person feel this? Do we all have this perception of others’ confidence, when deep down, we are all insecure? All of the books on sales or raising money or being influential, all have one theme: ask questions, and get other people to do the talking, and they will find you brilliant. Her advice is spot-on: be kind and curious about the other person, and they will think you are the brilliant one. It’s much less intimidating to try to find questions to ask rather than things to say or add to a conversation. I believe you found the cure: curiosity and kindness ❤️

    • R says...

      Honestly, while I found this piece lovely to read and appreciate its message, in answer to your question: I, at least, do not feel this! Perhaps on occasion I have, but usually I don’t feel this way.

  65. jill d. says...

    oh thank you thank you thank you for this….so lovely…so beautiful…so real…so relatable…thank you.

  66. Sandra says...

    I LOVE this! I can relate to this so much. Funny thing, I think in general I am curious and kind. But when I’m anxious my focus is all on me, me, me (in the most critical way possible). This is such a wonderful reminder that I should instead be focusing on the wonderful new people that I’d like to get to know better. I have a social situation coming up tomorrow that I’m really anxious about. I’m just going to keep repeating “curious and kind” on my way there. :-)

  67. Loren S. says...

    Lisa, what a gorgeous essay! Miss you and my buddy. Please give him a hug! xo

  68. Shashi Anand says...

    Love this

  69. Allison says...

    Beautifully timed for the holiday parties ahead. Brava!

  70. Caylin says...

    “I must be pretty strong if I am upright and able to carry her.” What a beautiful sentence and sentiment. Thank you so much for this wonderful essay.

  71. Melkorka says...

    These are the attributes I hope I can foster in my kids (curiosity and kindness). What a lovely lovely bit of writing!

  72. Mel says...

    This is one of the best, most helpful posts I have ever read on Cup of Jo. I have always had a hard time articulating how I feel in socially anxious situations, because I also truly love meeting new people. This has been something I have truly been struggling with for so long and it brings me so much comfort to read this. I am going to try this new little mantra:)

  73. Maryann says...

    I really enjoy Lisa’s writing. I think of her first essay about (Hello? It’s Me, Your American Soul Mate) often, and just realized that it was written in 2016! Her words here on social anxiety really resonate with me – and when I think about it, the people I have encountered in social situations who made me feel welcome have always been curious and kind, too.

  74. Marianne says...

    Loving this! I tend to either ramble on or completely lose any thought in my head and have word finding difficulties when i get anxious. ‘Curious and kind’ is a good reminder that in general people like when others are nice and interested in getting to know them.

  75. Kile says...

    This is such a lovely essay! When I felt that grip of anxiety tightening around me in social situtations, I used to keep count of how many times the quietest person in group had said something—and then force myself to say one more thing than her. I didn’t need to be the prettiest or the smartest or the funniest, I just needed to be a teensy bit less quiet than the quietest person there. That strange, tiny goal kept me in the room until I felt comfortable enough to not want to like run for the hills!

  76. Katherine says...

    This is great.. One thing I’ve started doing when I feel anxiety’s clammy hands is say to it ‘Ahh, my darling, fierce protector, THANK YOU SO MUCH for just trying to keep me safe, but I’ve got it’. I end up swelling up with self love for how much I am just trying to protect myself from getting hurt, while wresting back what’s true.

    • Amy says...

      This is so lovely and moving. Thank you for sharing.

    • Laura says...

      Beautiful. Thanks for sharing this.

  77. Cara says...

    I love this! I have a similar mantra that helps me: warm and confident.

  78. Jen says...

    “Curious and kind.” Perfect. Thank you.

  79. Jules says...

    Since she was born, I have been telling my 9 month old daughter that there are two things I want her to be in life, ‘be brave and be kind’ – I will now be adding ‘be curious’ to our mantra! What great advice.

  80. Tashs says...

    Curious and kind—so perfectly succinct a life lesson. Will add it to another favorite—be harmless, not helpful.

  81. curious and kind! such good advice. thank you!

  82. Elena Olson says...

    Every morning I saw to my daughter at drop off: Be curious, work hard, be kind and have fun! It encompasses everything she could come across in her day. It seems I should tell myself the same thing… thanks for the reminder!

  83. Jenny says...

    I’m 48 and I finally found my mantra. Thank you!

  84. Erin D LaDue says...

    beautifully written

  85. I love this. Curious and kind. All of the best people I know have these traits :)

  86. Katie says...

    I held my breath reading this and then burst into a hot puddle of tears at the end. To have someone articulate so exactly how you’ve felt your whole life was not what I was expecting today.

    • Laura says...

      I felt exactly the same!

  87. Emmy says...

    Love the focus on curiosity and kindness. That’s how I hope to raise my kids someday – not the “smartest” in the room, or the most athletic, etc. but curious about the world and kind to others!

  88. Caz says...

    Oh wow, I needed this today!
    I too get socially awkward, then chatter on incessantly trying to charm people and make them like me, but just end up coming across as annoying. It’s like an out of body experience watching myself and thinking “no, no, no, shut up!” Then I get home and replay all the conversations over in my head and berate myself for all the things I said or didn’t say, convincing myself that I will never be invited anywhere ever again. It’s exhausting.
    I’m still working on not caring what people think of me, and in the meantime I will chant “curious and kind” to myself over and over!

    • Lora says...

      You just described me, Caz. We’ll work on this together ;)

    • Mary says...

      AHH WOW. This is me, too. Truly an out-of-body experience! Except that although it *feels* like I’m talking too much, I’m never quite sure if I really am. Sometimes I wish I could have a neutral party come observe and then give me pointers later on so that I could get an accurate view of things. And then, when I wish that, I worry that I’m a narcissist. Ha!

  89. Jade Lees says...

    Last year my new years resolution was to be kind and strong. As someone who also suffers social anxiety (this time of year is the worst!) to be curious and kind is going to be my 2019 resolution. Thank you for the gentle reminder.

  90. Meg says...

    This was lovely and well-written! Does anyone else experience post-party anxiety? Like I don’t get nervous beforehand or during parties, I usually have a nice time and don’t feel self-conscious until after. That night or the next day, I remember anything I said that was silly, or any misstep I might have made, and replay it in my mind. Objectively I know that nobody is noticing these things but me (I certain don’t dwell on others small missteps, or even notice them!) but I can’t seem to quit.

    • Caitlin says...

      This happens to me on all of the “next days.” I feel you Meg! All of the self-consciousness comes in hindsight.

    • Anna says...

      I call it my social hangover :)

    • FGB says...

      Oh my goodness. 9 years ago I was at a conference with some colleagues. The presenter asked a question and I answered – and I was unhappy with my answer. 15 minutes later, at lunch, I was talking to my colleagues about how dumb I sounded. Their answer “what did you say, I thought it was cool that you answered.” No one was really listening to me. 15 minutes after I had talked about it they had no idea what I said. Nine years later I wake up in the middle of the night embarrassed and in a panic that I sounded stupid. Ridiculous! Who cares! Me be me, you be you. Curious, honest and kind! I love it.

    • Sasha L says...

      Yes! Overly critical of my very existence. I also feel physically drained, headachy from all of the perfumes and noise and stimulation, terrible stomach ache. It’s only after I read the book Quiet that I started to understand what happens to me. I’m an expert fake extrovert in social settings, and as a true introvert, it just destroys me. Add in social anxiety and self criticism and I don’t really like parties! I find that saying no when I need to is helpful, and when I do say yes, understanding how taxing it will be helps me take care of myself better around that time. I need extra quiet to recharge again.

    • Hailey says...

      Yes– all the time! It’s so easy to spiral but I love this article because being “curious and kind” turns the attention away from ourselves and onto others. Definitely a mindset shift!

  91. Julie says...

    I am going to share this with my college students next semester (and perhaps promote “curious and kind” as a basic classroom policy). Thanks!

  92. Ro says...

    Oh this is so timely! I’m currently sweating bullets as I wait for my partner to get home so we can go on a double date with his friend (a college professor) and his older girlfriend (a woman I’m imaging will be 5’11, dressed all in black, and smoking a long hand-rolled cigarette). Even though I also have a cool job and find myself to be witty and charming, whenever social anxiety strikes I can feel myself shrinking back into my awkward middle school self. When I get like this I try to be funny, and it backfires. I try to sound smart, and it backfires. So I’m going to take this advice to heart. (I hear they just pulled up outside, ACKK!) and try to be curious and kind instead.

    • Robin says...

      I bet the college professor’s girlfriend is also sweating bullets about meeting you too! 😊

    • Lydia says...

      I hope you have a great time!

    • shannon says...

      Wow, this post was perfect timing! Hope your evening went well!

      My husband is a college professor, and his work events can be so intimidating. I’m a therapist, which is quite different from what all of his colleagues and their spouses do.

      He always reminds me that they are feeling just as, if not more, awkward than me. I think this holds true for most situations. The other person may seem to have it all together, but that’s only because you don’t know their internal dialogue.

      At these events, I like to ask people questions about themselves. That allows me to focus on asking thoughtful follow-up questions and getting to know the other person, rather than worrying about what I should say to seem funny or smart.

  93. Marta says...

    This is one of the most inspiring and empowering articles I’ve ever read in Cup of Jo. If everyone was kind and curious how fun and tender life would be? What a beautiful moment I had reading this article and reflecting about it. Thank you!

  94. Adel says...

    Most brilliant advice I have heard ever about high functioning social anxiety. No words for this brilliance and realness. Thank you!!

  95. Gina says...

    Awhile back, I taught classes on networking . I always encouraged my shy and insecure students to—at whatever meetup, party, dinner, etc. that they were attending—be a champion for the other attendees who were sitting alone, likely looking at their phone. The odds were that that person was also shy and insecure and would be thankful for the friend.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      That’s beautiful advice! Everyone is worried about themselves and it’s so freeing to realize that :)

  96. Kate says...

    On the 21st, I will be flying to Canada to meet my boyfriend’s family and friends for the first time. And although I feel very comfortable in most social situations and can connect with people pretty easily, this trip is psyching me out. The stakes feel so high! Do I aim for funny? Do I try to be charming? Should I hang back and just try to read the room? Will I just be a terrible American? Will they like his exes better?? So much thinking!

    But curious and kind? That I can be. Or at least, I can certainly aim for it.

  97. Jo says...

    Heading to my first appearance at a new, intimidating book club in a few minutes, and man did I need this. Curious and kind, curious and kind, curious and kind.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Hope it goes well, Jo! I’m sure they will feel lucky to have you.

  98. Marti says...

    What a beautiful essay. The whole way through I kept saying out loud, “SAME… WAIT… THIS IS ME!” I am going to keep this in my pocket because it makes so much sense to me. Curious and kind. Curious and kind. I can surely be that.

  99. Bonnie says...

    Curious and kind!! What a concept!

  100. Meg says...

    I read this on break from class, shaking with anxiety about having to take part in discussion. It was like a calming salve.

    Curious and kind. I can do that.

  101. JUST yesterday I posted interviews with 3 strange, funny, beautiful women who talk about what its like to navigate the world as a socially awkward person. And Cup Of Jo is my favourite blog! Such a lovely co-incidence (while anxiety and awkwardness are different, they are to me within the same larger family). Putting the link here if you’re interested to see.

    • Claudia says...

      Hi, didn’t see the link. I am really interested to read this! Thanks!

  102. Mary says...

    love this!!

  103. Sarah says...

    Curious and kind. This is just the mantra I needed. Thank you!

  104. Erica says...

    I read this blog every day, and I love when I can hear the writer saying these words even though I’ve never heard them speak. Thank you for writing this – you write so beautifully and honestly it hurts! <3

  105. Caitlin says...

    Thank you for this. Just what I needed to hear.

  106. Kat says...

    When I saw this headline, I half expected the article to just be one word: tequila. :)

  107. Michelle Palo says...

    Thank you so much for sharing this!

  108. Megan says...

    i don’t think i’ve read anything in the recent past that has so cleanly nailed my exact feelings. i’ve read things before here that have definitely helped with my own social anxiety – instead of being nervous, you’re excited! and now curious and kind! things like these are whole-heartedly helpful and help buoy me up (especially during the holidays!). i have my own mantra that may seem a little odd and maybe even negative initially, but if you really think about the idea, it’s just simple – “do less, care less”. a little reminder to step back, care less about what other people think, look around, be present, lady! thanks always for this stuff. always always.

  109. K says...

    Lovely! This reminds me of two things: A few years ago, I landed an amazing position that was a big step up, and no training was offered. I knew I’d figure things out eventually but had serious imposter syndrome, but decided my approach would be to remain “responsive and kind.” I hoped that no one would fault me if I responded to their questions and emails promptly and thoughtfully, even if the answer was “oh, what a good question! I’ll have to find out the answer and get back to you,” rather than leaving them hanging while I did all the research. It worked (aaalmost all the time)!
    The other thing: I used the tagline “kind and kinky” for all my hook-up apps and I felt like it summed me up well. Yes, I can have fun, casual sex….no, you can’t treat me like a jerk just because it’s casual. I will be nice to you. :)

  110. Megan says...

    This is wonderful and resonates so strongly with me. I loved this. Thank you.

    It also helps me to tell myself when I feel anxious. It sounds silly, but by recognizing and identifying the symptoms of anxiety, I can separate the anxiety itself apart from me. When I start to feel I am holding my breath, like I can’t think clearly, and I know anxiety is creeping in, I simply tell myself “You are feeling anxious right now.” It helps me to realize that while I feel these things, I am NOT anxiety. I am a kind, interesting, funny, openhearted person who just also happens to have anxiety.

  111. Em says...

    What a fantastic illustration! I love it!

  112. Katy says...

    What a beautiful essay! I always thought I was the only one who felt that way. Thank you for sharing this.

  113. Vivi says...

    This is genius! When I read the first paragraphs, I was like, this is totally and completely me! I was so curious to find out what the cure would be and it makes so much sense. Curious an kind, that is such a nice mantra for this kind of situations. Sometimes I am already doing this (without thinking it so consciously). I realized then that when being curious and kind, my normal person slowly returns (the wit, the stories, everything that I am around people I know and like!) and all the akwardness that I felt before vanishes.

  114. Amanda says...

    Oh my goodness, I love this. Are we the same person?

    Curious and kind. I need to remember that.