How to find support among strangers?
How to find support among strangers?
  • Why am I stressed out when talking to strangers?
  • How do I overcome the fear of talking to strangers?

I feel nervous and anxious when I find myself exposed to strangers. Why can’t I go out alone?

Why do I get anxious when I am in a new place, may be a coffee shop, a function, a new school or any other new environment?

We tend to think that friends, romantic partners, and family members are our biggest sources of connection, laughter, and warmth. While that may well be true, researchers have also recently found that interacting with “weak ties“- people that we don’t know very well actually brings a boost in mood and feelings of belonging that we didn’t expect.

In one series of studies, researchers instructed Chicago-area commuters using public transportation to strike up a conversation with someone near them on their respective buses or trains. On average, participants who followed this instruction felt better than those who had been told to stand or sit in silence. The researchers also argued that when we shy away from casual interactions with strangers, it is often due to a misplaced anxiety that they might not want to talk to us. Much of the time, however, this belief is false. As it turns out, many people are actually perfectly willing to talk and may even be flattered to receive your attention.

Surprisingly, the emotional benefits of connecting with strangers holds even for introverts. So, put down the newspaper and smile at a stranger. Strike up a conversation with your seatmate. Commiserate with a classmate. You never know what you might learn. Chances are, you’re overestimating the potential awkwardness and dismissing the potential feelings of happiness and connection these small encounters will provide. As William Butler Yeats said, “There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t yet met.”

Reference: Jaime L. Kurtz Ph.D.

Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder. “Mistakenly Seeking Solitude.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 143 (2014): 1980-1999.

Gillian M. Sandstrom and Elizabeth W. Dunn. “Social Interactions and Well-Being: The Surprising Power of Weak Ties.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 40 (2014): 910-922.

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