Newswise — Does the thought of making polite conversation with relatives you only see once a year or with your co-workers at the annual holiday office party leave you tongue tied? Many of us have experienced social anxiety, or at least felt a little uneasy when faced with a room full of people we don’t know well.

Naomi Koerner, a Ryerson University psychology professor and expert on worry and anxiety, can help put those fears to rest with helpful tips to bring out that social butterfly in all of us.

Making Conversation1. Be open to conversation. For many people, this can be hard to do, especially if there are a lot of unfamiliar people at the party. Start by smiling and make eye contact. Try saying “hello” to some people you don’t know.

2.Don’t spend too much time on your mobile device or cell phone. While you are gazing down at your electronic device, you may miss out on cues that people would like to chat with you. People may assume that you are not interested in conversation and may be less likely to approach you if you are not looking up and making eye contact.

3. Join an ongoing group conversation at the social event. At get-togethers, people often walk around, moving in and out of different conversations. See if you can join a group that is discussing a topic that interests you, or that you can tell an amusing anecdote to.

4. Ask questions. This is an opportunity for you to catch up with coworkers, friends or family members on what they have been engaged with this past year. But be careful not to turn this into an interview or q & a session. Share some experiences and stories of your own to balance out the conversation.

5. Step out of your comfort zone. Once you start a conversation with someone at a social gathering, you may want to stick with that person for a while because you feel comfortable. Instead, take a risk. Try to strike up a conversation with someone else, especially with a person you have not met before. You may learn something new about a person you already know, or you may discover that you and a party guest you have just met have things in common.

6. Don’t avoid the social gathering by keeping yourself busy loading the dishwasher and serving the food and beverages.

Overcoming those social “butterflies”1. Don’t assume that your anxious thoughts and predictions are necessarily true. Ask yourself questions to challenge your anxious thoughts such as: “What is the likelihood that others will notice my anxiety?” and “What is the worst that could happen if people notice that I am nervous?”

2. Avoiding feared social situations will only worsen your anxiety. If you’re shy, talking to others will be difficult at first. If things don’t go perfectly, that’s okay. It will become easier over time if you keep practicing.

3. You may be tempted to drink alcohol to calm your nerves before you head to the social gathering. Wait until after you’ve arrived and have had a chance to settle into the party. You’ll likely find that your anxiety has gone down on its own, without alcohol.

4. Trying to control or hide your anxiety at a party may make it worse. Accept those uncomfortable feelings and sensations and try some of the other tips to calm those butterflies so you’ll enjoy yourself.

Ryerson University is Canada's leader in innovative, career-oriented education and a university clearly on the move. With a mission to serve societal need, and a long-standing commitment to engaging its community, Ryerson offers more than 100 undergraduate and graduate programs. Distinctly urban, culturally diverse and inclusive, the university is home to more than 30,000 students, including 2,300 master's and PhD students, nearly 2,700 faculty and staff, and more than 140,000 alumni worldwide. Research at Ryerson is on a trajectory of success and growth: externally funded research has doubled in the past four years. The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education is Canada's leading provider of university-based adult education. For more information, visit


Naomi KoernerAssistant Professor, Department of PsychologyRyerson UniversityOffice: 416-979-5000 x 2151[email protected]

Not available after Dec. 21, 2012