I’ve struggled with feeling self-conscious ever since I can remember.
Dates, friendly hangouts, group events, you name it – whatever the social occasion, I would always feel anxious, on edge, and overly aware of what I said and how I acted.
While my anxiety has slowly gotten better over the years and I’m now able to relax in group settings, I still feel a bit too self-conscious for my liking sometimes.
Luckily, I have a few hacks to fix it.
If you want to be less self-conscious when meeting new people, start practicing these 8 simple body language tricks.
1) Slow down your breathing
Did you know that a single 5-minute session of slow breathing can reduce stress and anxiety?
Yes, that’s right. If you’re feeling a bit too nervous in a social situation, all you’ve got to do is take…a…slow…breath.
And again. And once more.
Keep slowing down your breathing until you can feel your body relaxing as your anxiety dissipates (or becomes manageable at least).
And why does such a simple act have such a major impact on your feelings, I hear you ask?
Well, according to experts, it’s got to do with the vagus nerve, which follows a path between your abdomen and your brain and is directly affected by your breathing patterns.
When you slow down your breathing, you’re essentially triggering a relaxation response in your body, helping you regain some sense of peace and balance. And the less anxiety you feel, the higher the chances that you’ll “get out of your head” as it were and enjoy the social interaction for what it is.
There are plenty of different breathing exercises you can try – and not just when meeting new people.
As the psychiatrist Dr. Marlynn Wei M.D. J.D. says:
“Breath exercises help both in the moment when one is facing stressful situations and also, perhaps even more importantly, as a preventative tool. When one practices breath exercises regularly, even when one is not feeling stressed, this develops the ability to deal with stress better in the future.”
2) Assume an assertive posture
It’s not all that surprising that confidence affects your posture, but it’s quite interesting that your posture can also have an impact on your confidence.
It’s true. As part of her research, social psychologist Amy Cuddy has analyzed how certain postures and positions affect us on a biological level.
What she and her team have found is that “power poses” (such as standing with your legs apart and your hands on your hips) increase our testosterone and decrease our cortisol, thereby lowering stress and skyrocketing assertive behavior.
Poses that signal low self-esteem, on the other hand (such as hunching and trying to minimize the amount of space you take up), do the exact opposite.
It sounds strange, but if you keep your back straight, hold your head high, and carry yourself with confidence (even if it’s fake), you’re automatically increasing the odds of feeling less self-conscious and more self-assured.
And before you complain about how uncomfortable and unnatural it feels… I know. I’ve been there. It’s like stuffing yourself into a suit that doesn’t fit you.
However, the more you practice, the more authentic assertive postures will feel. That’s precisely what’s happened to me.
3) Nod along, lean toward the other person, and be responsive
Here’s one trick that’s helped me tremendously when it comes to getting outside my own head and being in the present moment – divert your attention toward others as much as possible.
In other words, display so much curiosity about other people’s lives and internal worlds that you won’t have the time to overthink their perception of you.
This mindset can be applied on both a linguistic and a nonverbal level.
As for the first, ask lots of open-ended questions, compliment others, and show a genuine desire to learn more about them.
As for the latter, don’t shut your body language off.
On the contrary – nod along, gesticulate, don’t be afraid to show genuine facial expressions, and lean toward the person you’re talking to in order to display interest (not too much, of course – it’s important to respect other people’s personal space).
I’ve met a few friends who were so self-conscious that they were as little expressive as possible because they felt awkward.
However, the truth is that keeping your body language to a minimum so as not to attract attention may only increase awkwardness because it’s an obvious display of nervousness and uncertainty in one’s own self.
In my experience, the more you focus on other people and what they’re saying, the easier it is to ignore your anxious feelings and have fun.
4) Say no to closed-off body language
Body language isn’t just about what you do, of course. It’s also about what you don’t do.
Let’s quickly recap the main signs of closed-off body language (aka, the things you should strive to avoid doing in order to promote feelings of confidence and positive rapport with others):
- Crossed arms or legs
- Leaning away from others
- Having your feet turned away from the person you’re chatting with
- Keeping your head low
- No smiling and displaying very few facial expressions
The latter deserves some more attention, so here goes…
5) Try not to fidget
I say this as someone who suffers from restless leg syndrome: fidgeting rarely helps you feel any more self-assured.
In fact, it often does the complete opposite.
Personally, when I tap my feet, play with my necklace, bite my nails, and speak very quickly, my behavior only supports my inner feelings of nervousness, escalating it all into a tornado of anxiety.
Of course, things aren’t as black-and-white as all that. For example, psychologists say that effective fidgeting – such as playing with fidget toys – may help relieve ADHD symptoms and improve focus.
However, since fidgeting is usually a response to stress or boredom, it doesn’t exactly promote positive rapport when meeting new people. The person you’re chatting with will either think you’re very anxious or very bored, both of which aren’t great.
If you want to get out of your head and boost your social confidence, try to slow down your movements and avoid fidgeting. For instance, you can slowly sip on your tea instead of clicking your pen over and over again.
6) Learn to take up space
Alright, alright, this is more of a mindset shift than a body language trick, but it’s so vital that it bears mentioning nevertheless.
When I used to be extremely self-conscious, I’d struggle to walk through a room knowing people were looking at me. The feeling of being perceived by somebody else scared the hell out of me, and so I always tried my best to minimize my presence in a group setting.
I didn’t want to draw attention, cause a scene, or do something embarrassing or upsetting. So I just… did as little as possible.
As I grew older and read more personal development books, I realized I had the right – just like everybody else – to express myself, speak up, and claim my space in the world.
And this was revolutionary. It completely changed how I approached social situations and how my body language operated.
You, too, deserve to take up space.
7) Don’t overthink it
Of course, the main issue with trying to find out how to be less self-conscious is that applying all the different tricks might make you even more self-conscious in the process.
“Oh, that writer on the internet said I should nod along and gesticulate and never hunch, so I’m going to spend the next five minutes making sure I adhere to those rules instead of actually paying attention to what the person in front of me is saying.”
Been there, done that.
Look, the tricks outlined in this article aren’t supposed to make your life more difficult. They’re supposed to help. And tricks are only helpful if you apply them in a way suitable to your own circumstances and personality.
You don’t have to keep your back straight 100% of the time. You don’t need to completely stop fidgeting.
As long as you pick and choose what works for you, that’s enough.
Remember that we’re trying to overthink less, not more.
8) Practice, practice, practice
This is probably the last thing you want to hear, but the truth is that the best way to be less self-conscious in social settings is to expose yourself to those kinds of situations more often.
I know. It’s uncomfortable as hell.
But the general rule of thumb is that the more you practice, the less anxious you’ll feel.
And that’s exactly how I’ve managed to decrease my anxiety and self-doubt by 90% in the past three years.
I’ve put myself into new situations and forced myself to go outside my comfort zone so many times that my brain slowly realized meeting new people wasn’t that scary after all.
The more you practice the above-mentioned body language tricks, the more comfortable you’ll feel taking up space in the world.
And the more often you face your fears, the less scary they become.
Lost Your Sense of Purpose?
In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.
Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.
Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.
With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.
Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.