A guide to fitting in on your own terms

Whether you’re starting a new job, joining a sports team or walking into a villa full of potential romantic partners, unfamiliar social situations can be nerve-wracking for everyone.

We asked psychologist Honey Langcaster-James for some advice on how to handle social anxiety and the pressure to fit in.

We all want to feel accepted, so it’s natural to feel a little bit anxious or self-conscious when you’re trying to forge new relationships. Remember that it’s perfectly normal and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. Other people will undoubtedly be feeling the same way. It’s all part of the process of making new friendships, and you’ll soon feel more relaxed as you get to know who you’re dealing with and find out more about each other.

Here are some tips to help you feel more comfortable in social situations.

What should I do if I feel anxious?

• Take a deep breath. Remember that it’s completely normal to feel anxious or like you don’t fit in when you’re getting to know new people. This will usually pass once you’ve got over the initial getting-to-know-you stage.

• Remember, you’re not alone. You can use your anxiety to connect and empathise with others who might also be feeling anxious. Don’t be afraid to admit your nerves either – it can put others at ease and they may well make an extra effort to help you feel comfortable.

How should I behave?

• Around new people, it’s normal to want to adapt and behave in a slightly different way from how you usually would. Try to strike a balance between changing to meet the new group norms (talking and behaving like others do) and staying true to yourself. If you find yourself acting really out of character in order to fit in, you may end up feeling worse later on. It might temporarily give you a feeling of belonging but you’ll be sacrificing who you really are and you might never feel truly comfortable or accepted.

• It’s better to try to hold fast to your own values. Draw a line if you think you wouldn’t behave this way usually and find a different group where you fit more naturally.

Goldfish swimming in opposite direction to other fish

How much should I open up?

• Don’t tell everyone everything about yourself straight away. It’s better to gradually share information about yourself slowly over time as you build trust in your relationships. This can take time, so be patient.

• Give other people a chance. It’s likely that your opinions and feelings towards others will change as they tell you more about themselves too. Stay open-minded and get to know people.

Remember, it’s often the character traits that make us different and unique which make us really interesting. If we were all the same, we might fit in, but things would be very boring. There’s a balance to be struck, and sometimes it is better to stand out!

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