WHEN YOU FEEL anxious fairly often, it tends to isolate you socially. Even surrounded by people, even with a lot of acquaintances, you can feel isolated. And the feeling of isolation tends to increase your feelings of anxiety or stress.
One reason is because feeling connected to others is soothing, and if you are not connecting, you are missing out on a very good way to feel calmer and more relaxed. Feeling close is very relaxing. It is a powerful anxiety-reducer. In surveys that ask people what kind of things improve their mood the best, the most common answers all involve interacting with people.
One very good step toward eliminating a feeling of isolation and increasing your feelings of connection is to increase your people-skills.
The two most practical books I've ever come across on the fine art of dealing with people are Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends & Influence People and Les Giblin's How to Have Confidence and Power in Dealing with People. They said a lot and they said it well. But I have a few more things to add.
Both of those books emphasize using the techniques to get what you want, and they could be used in a way that does not bring you closer to people. But they can also be used to increase your comfort and connection with people. And when that is your intention, the methods in those two books work very well indeed.
How do you go about increasing your skills? Simple: Get one of those books and read it. Pick two or three skills and work on them in all your interactions.
What do I mean "work on them?" I'll give you an example from Dale Carnegie's class. He was a master of practicality — he got people using the principles, not just reading about them. In his class, which is about public speaking, one of the books you get is How to Win Friends & Influence People. The class meets once a week, and every member of the class gets up and speaks for two minutes twice every week. One of those speeches is on a principle from the book. Carnegie's book ends each chapter with a short principle you can easily remember and apply.
So the teacher assigns a principle, and the class members are told to apply that principle at least once in the coming week and then tell the audience about it the next week.
Since you need to have something to say the following week, you try applying the principle where you can, maybe two or three times to make sure you get a good story to tell. Trying it out, you see how well it works, and you tend to keep using some of the principles from then on. It's a clever system.
What is a people-skill? What am I talking about? I mean basic things like using a person's name when you're talking to her, or noticing something you like about her and telling her you like it, or learning to draw her out in a conversation by asking good questions and showing interest. Those are three people-skills.
In How to Win Friends & Influence People you'll find a bunch of them. Read through a book like that and choose one or two or three you think would really help you if you practiced it, and practice them until they start to feel natural. Then find a couple more, etc.
I think most people conceive of people-skills as a way to persuade people, manipulating their emotions to get them to do what you want. But that doesn't usually reduce anxiety to use people-skills that way. It often increases anxiety.
Let us conceive that the purpose of practicing people-skills is to bring you and others closer together. To cultivate affection, others for you and you for others.
And whenever you get close to people, the process involves moving from relatively superficial conversations to more meaningful conversations as you get to know each other. The people-skills in Carnegie's and Giblin's books are perfect for helping you cross that gap. They are the skills that help you turn a stranger into a friend or lover, if you use those skills with honesty and integrity.
And as you get closer to people, your mood will rise and your anxiety and feelings of isolation will begin to disappear, and you are on your way to a better life.