Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Overcoming Social Anxiety in a Post-Pandemic World With Rachel DeAlto
[00:00:03] PF: Welcome to episode 342 of Live Happy Now. It’s time for celebrating the holidays. And for many people, that means walking through a minefield of social gatherings. I’m your host, Paula Felps. And this week, I’m joined by relationship and communication expert, Rachel DeAlto, who you might recognize from appearances on programs, including Good Morning America, The Today’s Show, or one of her popular TEDx talks. She’s also the author of the new book, Relatable: How to Connect with Anyone, Anywhere (Even If It Scares You). Rachel is joining me today to talk about how to navigate social settings in a post-pandemic world and offer tips for easing social anxiety during the holidays and into the new year.
[00:00:48] PF: Rachel, welcome to Live Happy Now.
[00:00:51] RD: Great to be here.
[00:00:53] PF: This is such a timely topic for us. It’s actually a universal topic. But it’s particularly timely right now with the holidays coming up. Because we’re going to talk about relatability. And when we talk about relatability. Or more importantly, when you talk about relatability, what is it that you mean?
[00:01:10] RD: When I talk about relatability, it’s our ability to truly make connections with each other and to inspire people to want to invest their energy in you. Because I think it’s a big distinction between someone being likable. Likeable, it’s like I like that person. Relatable is, it’s really I can see myself in them. I want to invest my energy and getting to know them. So it’s kind of that next level.
[00:01:32] PF: And it seems like this is something we should know, because we grew up, we had friends, we got along with people. So it almost feels like, “Oh, I should know how to do this.” But yet, a lot of us don’t. And that’s becoming more and more common. Is that correct?
[00:01:47] RD: 100%. It’s one of those things that was really eye opening for me. So I’ve been in the relationship space and talking about relationships for a decade. And I kept seeing similar patterns showing up. And a lot of times, it has to do with worth issues, and identity issues, and confidence challenges. But then in the last five, six years, I’ve just seen this incredible rise in social anxiety. And it really is getting in the way of people making connections. And it just keeps on compounding. And then you add the pandemic into it, and isolation, and all these things which were already on the decline, are getting so much worse. And that’s why my focus really started shifting towards really helping to resolve that.
[00:02:29] PF: So you saw this happening before the lockdown. Obviously, we’re going to get into that big time in a little bit. But what was causing that? Is it a generational thing? Is it because of our connection to technology? Or what is causing this decline in relatability and connectedness?
[00:02:45] RD: So it’s a really interesting question. And I don’t think anyone has identified one root cause. I think it’s a multitude of things that are impacting us. I believe that it’s really that disconnection that has come from the way that we change as a society. And yes, social media is an absolute part of that. And it is a generational thing.
You see, there’s an enormous rise in anxiety and social anxiety amongst Millennials and Gen Z’s. And so it’s getting worse as those generations are coming up. And you look at that and you think, “Okay, what is the difference?” And I’m a young Gen X, very old Millennial, depending on how you’re looking at the numbers. I’m like, “I think it’s a Xenial.” I don’t know. But I wasn’t raised on social media. I wasn’t in a place where I had to see all my friends doing things without me. I didn’t know what I was missing out on unless someone told me what was the difference of staying home versus going out. And so I believe it’s that comparison. It’s that FOMO. It’s that all of those things that we now have to see. And these younger generations aren’t handling it as well. Because who can handle that? When you’re raised on it, it’s anxiety from the moment that you start engaging in it, which is why my daughter is not allowed on it.
[00:04:04] PF: And there’s so much comparison, and that makes us feel not worthy on so many levels when we see like, “I should be doing better in my career.” “My kids should be cute.” Or, “My life should look better.” And that comparison factor is making a shutdown.
[00:04:21] RD: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And listen, we did have that. It’s not like older generations didn’t compare ourselves to each other. We just had to do it in person, or we did on the magazines. I was raised in the Kate Moss era. So when a magazine came in the house and you saw these stick thin fingers, that was how we compared it. But it was isolated versus celebrities. And I think that our psyche can handle that better as opposed to your peers, where you’re like, “Wait a second, I’m not doing this right.”
[00:04:51] PF: Yeah, and it holds such a mirror up to us and makes us feel like, “Okay, do I even need to go out right now?”
[00:04:59] RD: Yeah. I might as well just stay home, I’m already losing.
[00:05:02] PF: And that brought us into the lockdown in which we had to stay home. And now I’ve talked with several people who are now less comfortable in social settings. And one friend in particular is very anxious about the holiday season, because he has to go out and be at holiday parties. And it has nothing to do with the pandemic. It has everything to do with his own awkwardness that he feels he’s developed through a year of quarantine.
[00:05:27] RD: Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s kind of one of those things where if you’re not using it, you can lose it. And just like our muscles in the gym, if you go back to the gym after not working out for a year and a half, it’s going to hurt. And so I liken that to social skills. If you’re not in it, and you have gotten comfortable – And a lot of my introverts out there, they’re thinking, “Well, I don’t want to go back out. This has been awesome.” Those have been socially anxious, they’ve been able to kind of take a minute, and it probably felt good. It’s not good overall for your psychology of your system. But it’s definitely given them that pause of like, “Wait a second, now I’m even more out of practice. If I was anxious before, now, I don’t even know how to handle this new world that we’re in.” And there’s so many different rules now. So it can feel really, really intimidating, which is leading to this next level of anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle.
[00:06:19] PF: And a lot of times they’re developing that anxiety way before they get out the door. Because just the fear of what it’s going to be like is exacerbating how they’re going to feel. So what are some things that they can do when they know they have to go out? Not have to. When they know they get to go out and interact with people, how can they offset some of that anxiety and start dealing with it?
[00:06:44] RD: Yeah, there’s a lot of things that they can do. And actually, you kind of caught yourself on one of the things that they can do, is be intentional, be intentional with how you’re thinking about it. So I have to go out versus I get to go out is a very different mindset. And so prepping yourself of, “Okay, this is going to be great.” Even if you have to remind yourself, fake it till you make it until you’re in that position of I can put myself in this place. It might be a little scary. But I can set the intention to enjoy myself to the greatest extent possible. And then really focusing on taking baby steps. And this is something I talk often times about, because I think, so often, people are like, “No, no. Just throw them in the deep end and trust me [inaudible 00:07:24].”
[00:07:26] PF: They’ll be fine.
[00:07:27] RD: It didn’t work. I was traumatized. Listen, I learned to swim, but I hated the swim school. I hated everything about it. I had PTSD forever. And so it’s not necessary. You can baby step into it. You can take those little moments where you do have a little bit of anxiety, and then take the next one. Don’t jump into something that’s going to shut you down, because then you’re just starting at square one again.
[00:07:46] PF: So how can they kind of practice and do little test runs before having to go out to say a large holiday gathering?
[00:07:55] RD: Yeah, so I would say – Well, it depends. So different people have different triggers in terms of the level of anxiety. For some people, one on one is more anxious producing than having a holiday party where they can kind of have small talk and bounce around. So figuring out where do you have different levels, and then really focus on engaging in a way that’s kind of at that one to three level versus, “Oh, my gosh, this is a seven to nine, and I’m going to be sweating, and my heart’s going to be palpitating.” So figuring out where those are for you. And then focus on doing one of those things. Maybe one on one is more comfortable for you. And find a friend that you can go have coffee with and set a time limit and be like, “Hey, I have like 30 minutes. Let’s get together and chat for 30 minutes.” Versus I’m going to engage in a way that’s really overwhelming to me.
[00:08:43] PF: And your book gives great narratives about certain situations and examples. And one that you tell very early in the book, and I really like, and it’s a guy that’s going into a social setting for work. And he’s all excited about it. But then he kind of gets overlooked. And he reverts to scrolling through his phone in the corner. And that struck me because that is so easy to do. It is so easy to have one slight or feeling like you’re slighted and then you just retreat. You think, “I’m doing good,” and then suddenly you’re not. So how do we keep from reaching in the pocket, into the purse, getting that phone and letting that be our default companion for the night?
[00:09:25] RD: Yeah. Well, part of it is that I talked about negative thought tornadoes in the book too, where once we’re in that negative situation or something happened like that where we were rejected for all intents and purposes, we can either focus on that or we can allow ourselves to reset our mindset. And it’s not easy all the time. Sometimes you’re so far in that spiral that it’s like we need a complete reset button. But oftentimes it’s, “Okay, I’m going to stop. I just realized I just started focusing on this negative stuff. I need to get myself out of it. Where’s another interaction I can have they can improve this wrong?” And that’s really getting yourself out of that negative thought process. Because another challenge with social anxiety is we’re constantly feeling like people are judging us. There’s a constant feeling of judgment. And there’s a constant reflection of what did I do wrong. And so it’s so important to get yourself out of that before you’ve gone too far into it that it feels insurmountable to overcome.
[00:10:26] PF: And I’ve dealt with anxiety quite a bit in my life. And I know the importance of developing a strategy for, “When I feel this way, this is what I need to do.” Because if I wait until I’m in that moment, it’s too late. I’m a goner. And so how important is it beforehand, before going into a social situation, to have a strategy in place?
[00:10:46] RD: Oh, my gosh, it’s absolutely essential. And it’s really important to give yourself some sort of safety mechanism, whether that is excusing yourself to go to the bathroom to breathe for a minute. No one’s trapping you. This is a social situation.
[00:10:59] PF: It’s not a hostage crisis.
[00:11:01] RD: Yeah. But, I mean, sometimes it can feel like that. So give yourself an out. Practice that out of like, “It was so great talking to you. I’ll be right back.” And you don’t have to come back. No. If you’re in a social situation, no one’s going to track you down and find you. So you want to make sure that you are giving yourself permission to have calming mechanisms in place. So whether that’s taking a step outside, getting some air, separating yourself from conversations that give you anxiety that you cannot handle. And a lot of it comes down to that self-awareness of, “This is what’s going to work for me. This is not what’s going to work for me.” And making sure that you’re taking care of yourself.
[00:11:39] PF: And how important is it to realize that we’re probably not the only person in the room feeling that way?
[00:11:46] RD: Oh, my gosh, it’s essential. I guarantee, all of us think, “You know what, I’m the only one going through this. I am wrong. I am going to make myself wrong, because clearly, I’m the only one who’s suffering here.” Yet, I guarantee you, if you walk into a room, and there’s more than five people in there, there is going to at least be one other person who’s doing exactly what you’re doing. And oftentimes you saying hello to someone is relieving them of the pressure that they have within their chest and their head. So recognizing this is an enormous challenge for so many millions of people. I think we’re at like 23 million people in United States suffer from social anxiety, which is different from anxiety. It’s huge, right? So you’re not alone?
[00:12:31] PF: Yeah, I think that brings us to your tips on – You have such great advice for how to – Once you’re in that situation and once you’re talking to someone, how you connect with them and become more relatable. And I love the fact that you emphasize the importance of sharing good news or discussing something positive. So I guess to begin, why is that so important? Because you really emphasize it, and you do it so beautifully.
[00:12:54] RD: Yeah, positivity, it’s such a necessary element of conversation. It’s such a necessary element of keeping your own joy and happiness levels up. And really focusing on those things allows you to elevate not only the conversation, but allows you to elevate your own feelings. And the more that we really kind of – Again, I feel like everything does come back to that self-awareness. The more that we’re aware of how we are presenting ourselves, what’s coming out of our mouth, how we’re engaging in conversations, the more that we can control it in a way that benefits us.
[00:13:26] PF: Well, if you’re caught in a conversation that starts getting negative, because right now, we hear a lot of that. I mean, it’s always been around us. But, oh my gosh, right now it’s a minefield. So if you’re talking with someone and it’s going negative fast, how do you kind of turn that around?
[00:13:43] RD: Well, I think it’s really important to validate like, “Yeah, I totally understand where you’re coming from. Tell me about what has gone in your life that’s good lately. What’s the trip that you’ve had that you’ve enjoyed? Where are you planning to go? Tell me about your last job you did?” Whatever it is, I mean, obviously, the context will change based on the connection. But redirection is so powerful. And I think that’s where some people get caught up is they don’t feel like they have the power to change the direction. You feel like you’re on a boat, that boat is set, those coordinates are in. Those coordinates can change in any minute, and you are part of the captain of that ship. It’s a joint effort, but you’re definitely – You have a hand on the wheel. So take the power into your own hands and steer it in another direction. And you can do that, like I said, in a very respectful way. It’s not like, “Alright, I don’t want to talk about that anymore. Let’s talk about this.” That’s probably not going to make the person talking feel really great. But you can definitely start to steer it into a different direction just by asking questions.
People love to talk and they love to feel important. And something I said all the time is the person who talks the most and the conversation rates at the highest. And research have shown that again and again. And so if you can just get people talking, you can ask them a question about something else and completely change the direction of a conversation.
[00:15:00] PF: And How can you kind of practice this? See, I kind of feel like I have a cheat sheet because I read your book. And so it’s amazing all the little tips and exercises that you offer. And I hadn’t, I guess, really thought about the need to practice things like this. So how can you kind of practice redirecting? And how important is it to be able to practice that ahead of time?
[00:15:24] RD: Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s part of the reason why I did include those exercises, because it’s one thing to talk about something. It’s a whole other ballgame to actually implement. So I think practice makes perfect, or at least close to perfection in terms of communication. So I think, really, awareness is key. And I liken this, and something I say often is, if you shop at Marshalls or T.J. Maxx. I do. And I get really anxious when I walk in that store and I don’t know what I’m looking for, because it can just feel overwhelming. There’s stuff everywhere. If you don’t pay attention to what you’re buying in there, you’ll end up with like shampoo, a chair, a sweater and a pair of socks.
[00:15:58] PF: And maybe a dog dish.
[00:16:00] RD: Maybe a dog dish. Yeah, the dog stuff there is great. But it can be really overwhelming of a store, unless you know what you’re looking for. And so if you go in there and you say, “I’m looking for a blue shirt.” All of a sudden, all the blue shirt stand out to you and you’re able to focus. And it’s the same thing with anything that we’re doing with our mind, the more that we focus on it, the easier it is. So if you set the intention to be aware of the positive conversations that you want to have, be aware of what comes out of your mouth, you’re going to naturally focus on it more. And then you’re able to be aware enough to say, “Okay, now I’m going to practice. Let’s practice redirecting.” If I’m going to set that intention that this is going to be my focus, is I’m going to work on my redirection, then it becomes something that’s easier to do. It’s the way our brain works. So it’s even as simple as just saying to yourself before you enter in to conversations of, “Hey, I’m going to practice doing this.”
And so I could ask you right now, like, “Paula, how was your holiday?” And shift that focus of like, “Thanks for that question.” But like, “Tell me about you. What’s going on with you?” And just being aware of it allows you that power.
[00:17:08] PF: Oh, that’s excellent. And you said something else that I really like. And that is about setting an intention for, say, that event or that evening, because that’s something we do. My partner and I, when we’re going out, she’ll always say, “What’s our intention for tonight?” And when we started doing that, we noticed a big shift in the outcomes of our evening, because we did go in more aware whether it was to deepen friendship, or to make new connections, whatever that was. We then talk at the end of the night, like, “Did you accomplish your intention?” And it’s amazing how it changes that whole experience.
[00:17:42] RD: Yeah, the goal that comes with that. Just how that affects everything. It is such a powerful way of living life, of just really living with intention. And you can incorporate that just like you did going out or a conversation or anything in your world. If you set that intention, things start to shift differently. And they’re just far more efficient, I got to tell you.
[00:18:06] PF: And we all love efficiency.
[00:18:08] RD: I love efficiency in my life.
[00:18:10] PF: And positivity, you’re so big on positivity. And of course, Live Happy Now, we love that. But you also have exercises in your book for improving personal positivity. And so not only does that help you overall, but how does it help you in social situations to improve your positive mindset?
[00:18:29] RD: Yeah. I mean, I always say, people aren’t looking to connect with miserable people.
[00:18:34] PF: Hey, that guy looks awful. Let’s go talk to him.
[00:18:38] RD: I can’t wait to have a conversation with him and hear about how awful his life is. How many times have you been in that conversation where you’re like, “I just can’t wait to end this, because it’s draining me.” And so negativity is a very powerful emotion. And I’m not a toxic positivity person. I think there are times where you can let it out, “I want you to be angry. I want you to be sad.” I want you to have all those – That range of emotion is so important. But as a whole, it’s really about that balance. And positivity, in terms of who you are and your communication, is really just allowing you to be more magnetic, and allowing you to really have more opportunities to connect with people. So that’s a huge part of it. And as a whole too, it really does change – It changes who you are. It changes your makeup. And there’s actual physical implications of positivity in terms of your health, your wellness, and your heart, your nervous system, like all of these things play into it. So it’s really impactful on so many different levels, which is why I’m a really big fan of it.
[00:19:38] PF: Yeah. And you have these great exercises that people can do. Can you maybe give a couple of tips of things that people can do to start improving their positive mindset?
[00:19:47] RD: Yeah, and one of them I had alluded to before, which is really recognizing when you’re in that negative thought tornado. So I call it that, because I know many of us. When we have those moments when you’re like, “Oh, why? Why did that happen?” Whatever those thoughts are, and you just start to spiral. And it feels like, “Oh my gosh, how do I get out of this?” And it feels like you’re in this tornado. And it just gets worse and worse and worse and more powerful.
So how I have people really focus on that is becoming aware of them. Because again, we’re just talking about with intention. The more that you’re aware of your thoughts, the more that you can recognize how negative they are at times, and then really starting to reframe them. And so I have people do negativity journals where they start to write down those negative thoughts, become aware of those repetitive ones, because typically – And people come up with these BS numbers of how many thoughts a day and how many negative thoughts there are in percentages. It’s all BS.
[00:20:43] PF: Yes. Everyone just guesses.
[00:20:44] RD: Yeah. I was like, “It’s a lot.” That’s the very scientific term for it. But once you’re aware of them, you can start to shift them in your own mind. So if you have a recurring thought – For women, it’s oftentimes related to their appearance, their weights, their aging, whatever it is. I always say, “Listen, you have this reoccurring thought. Maybe you can’t go from I hate my body to I love my body.” But maybe we can go from I hate my body to I accept where I am. And maybe you’re working to change it. Maybe you’re just working to accept it forever, which is amazing on both levels. But really recognizing that you can take that step and start to reprogram your brain to be a more positive reflection of whatever those thoughts you’re having.
[00:21:29] PF: That’s excellent. And again, your book has such wonderful exercises to walk them through it. And I highly recommend to anyone who’s going through these feelings of social awkwardness or just not feeling relatable. I really highly recommend they pick it up, because your exercises are so fantastic. That was really an added bonus to the book, in my opinion.
[00:21:50] RD: Thank you. They were really intentional.
[00:21:53] PF: Yeah.
[00:21:53] RD: Had to bring intentional back.
[00:21:54] PF: Yeah. And it’s also very funny. That’s what I think is probably one of the most entertaining, helpful books that I’ve read.
[00:22:03] RD: Oh, that makes me so happy. Normally, I just laugh at my own jokes.
[00:22:08] PF: It always helps to have someone else laugh.
[00:22:08] RD: Yeah. When other people other than my mother find me amusing, it’s always a benefit.
[00:22:14] PF: Oh, that’s great. And one thing, I know we’re getting close on time, but I wanted to talk to you because you say that curiosity is a superpower.
[00:22:21] RD: Yes.
[00:22:22] PF: And so can you tell us how asking questions will make us so much more relatable and comfortable in social settings?
[00:22:30] RD: Yeah. And it goes back to what I was saying before where people who talk the most in the conversation rate at the highest. And I’m like, “Why are we spending so much time thinking about what to say?” Just think about what to ask. You get somebody talking, you’re golden, because it gets them talking the most. And then you don’t have to say anything. And I find that if you can get curious about something, it could be so small. Something they say something, they’re wearing something they’re doing. Whatever it is. Asking questions about that. Because active listening is one thing. But curious listening means are actually paying attention with a drive and a desire to know them better. And so, curiosity, definitely one. It keeps you from thinking about what to say as a statement, and you can turn it into a question and let them lead the conversation. But at the end of the day, curiosity about somebody makes them feel important. And if there’s nothing else that we do, if you allow another human being to feel heard and seen by you, you have absolutely hacked the system. Absolutely hack the system. They will think that thoughts about you. They will have all the warm and fuzzies. And it will change the dynamic of that connection.
[00:23:41] PF: That is terrific. So Rachel, as we head into the holiday season, it’s here, and we get out there and interact with others. What do you want everyone to remember? And they can practice it during the holiday season and then let’s carry it right on into 2022. What’s the thing to keep in mind?
[00:23:57] RD: Anybody can be relatable. This is not insurmountable obstacles in your way. You can take those baby steps. Wherever you are too, we can always improve. I mean, I learn every day. And so I think just understanding like we can always evolve and grow. And there’s just so much power in connection. So all that growth and all those growing pains are 100% worth it.
[00:24:19] PF: Rachel, thank you for coming on the show. This was so fantastic. And I really appreciate you sitting down and having this conversation with us.
[00:24:27] RD: It was awesome to be here. I really enjoyed it.
[00:24:31] PF: That was Rachel DeAlto, talking about how to manage social anxiety in a post-pandemic world. If you’d like to learn more about Rachel, follow her on social media or buy her book, Relatable: How to Connect with Anyone, Anywhere (Even If It Scares You). Just visit our website at livehappy.com and click on the podcast link.
And speaking of the holidays, we’re celebrating at Live Happy with 12 Days of Giving on Instagram. Through December 14th, we’re giving away Live Happy gifts, and all you have to do to be part of this is visit My Live Happy on Instagram.
That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all new episode. And until then, this is Paula Felps reminding you to make every day a happy one.