Ever Feel Like Hiding From The World? This Is The Probable Cause


Picture yourself in a room full of people you barely know at a busy networking event.

You came to make new connections, but how do you feel about that now?

Are you confident and keen to mingle, or are you nervous and shy?

We all handle social situations differently. While some people may feel fine mingling or making conversation, many others find themselves feeling self-conscious, intimidated, or even overwhelmed by the idea.

If you’ve ever wanted to hide in a corner or run away from a party, group of people, or busy gathering, you’re not alone. Social situations are among the most common types of stress triggers for many people, and that’s what this article is all about.

The Urge To Escape: Stress In Social Contexts

So why does it happen?

As humans, our defensive “fight-or-flight” response is triggered when we encounter stress-provoking situations. When this happens, we often feel the urge to withdraw from the situation, causing us discomfort, fear, or concern, and leading us to start avoiding these contexts.

We are then more likely to engage in avoidance behaviors such as:

  • Staying home rather than being social
  • Avoiding interactions with others, such as conversation or eye contact,
  • Acting quiet and shy in group settings, or even
  • Actively removing ourselves from the stressful situation (excusing ourselves or going home).

Hiding might make more sense once you understand the fight-or-flight response, but it may not be our most helpful instinct. It only earns us some short-lived relief in the best scenarios.

It can contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation over time, which negatively affects our overall mood and mental health.

What Does The Research Say?

Quite a few researchers have explored how this instinct works from a psychological perspective.

In one Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, psychologists studied college students using the experience sampling method to see how stress levels lead to social avoidance.

Using a smartphone app called Student Life, 88 students tracked how many face-to-face conversations they had each day and how long they lasted. These were combined into a total “social contact score.” The students’ sleep patterns, activity levels, and alone time at home were also measured so that scientists could assess how they impacted the participants’ social contact.

Finally, the students were asked to rate their stress levels on a scale of 1–16 at intervals throughout the day.

And what were the results?

Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that our stress level is a crucial predictor of how much social contact we have with others. The higher our stress on a specific day, the less social contact we are likely to have the next, independent of how much we sleep, move around, or remain at home.

The more we avoid social contact due to stress, the more likely we are to increase our stress levels due to isolation. It’s why I created the Hiding Stress! Coaching Card and prepared some tips on how to break the vicious cycle.

3 Tips To Avoid Hiding

The following are three ways to stop stress about social situations from getting the better of you.

It’s simple but effective—a smile can be an incredible way to conquer your discomfort and turn stress-inducing interactions into positive ones.

1. Smile

Smiling has many benefits, including:

  • Making others feel more comfortable. You come across as interested, engaged, and welcoming when you’re smiling at others, which can make your interaction more positive.
  • Improving your mood. Smiling can trigger the release of “happy hormones” that alleviate stress and boost your mood.
  • Acting as a positive non-verbal cue. It makes you seem more approachable and easy to talk to. Wouldn’t you rather chat to someone who has a smile on their face?
  • Enhancing your self-esteem. Do we smile because we’re happy, or are we happy because we smile? Many experts believe it goes both ways. Don’t believe me? Try it!

2. Turn Your Attention Outward

Focusing on others rather than your own anxiety is a great way to distract yourself while making your interactions flow more smoothly. The next time you want to hide away from others, try the following instead:

  • Ask open-ended questions – encourage them to speak more and expand
  • Listen closely and attentively to what they’re saying – can you dig deeper or relate to their story?
  • Show genuine interest in their responses – they’re sure to love it!

3. Be Prepared

Preparing yourself before a social event or function can be a real confidence booster. If you want to feel comfortable in the presence of others (rather than running away!), try these planning tips:

  • Brainstorm some common or interesting topics to discuss or develop conversation-starters ahead of time. What shared interests do you have with other attendees, colleagues, or guests?
  • Get there early. Doing so earns you some quiet mental preparation time and helps you avoid that “all eyes on you” feeling when you enter!
  • Bring a prop. A small gadget, souvenir, or talking point can be a wonderful ice-breaker if you’re not too confident about starting conversations. What small but meaningful (or even unusual) item can you bring?
  • Embrace common humanity. Remind yourself that everyone else has their own worries and self-doubt; we’re only human!

Nicolien Dellensen

Nicolien Dellensen, Senior Consultant and behavioral specialist and creator and owner of the ’Sphere of Influence 360º’ a comprehensive concept and (360) online tool about interactive dynamics.

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