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How do you handle being under pressure?


For me being in unfamiliar surroundings and interacting with people I don't know well drives my anxiety. The effort of masking doesn't leave much for other cognitive processing and the effect is to make me appear rather stupid and slow to respond. Knowing this makes me more anxious so there's a classic feedback loop.

You see, I can't 'do' casual conversation. If there's no specific reason to talk, as often happens with strangers, then I simply can't and don't. I do much better if I have something specific to talk about. Then I can say what needs to be said and listen to when needs to be heard. In those circumstances people will often say I'm a good listener.

Recent examples:
A shop selling fossils in Whitby. I'm fascinated by any scientific topic and started asking the attendant some questions about the stock. It turned out she was actually interested in fossils, not just selling them. Bingo..we were soon conversing enthusiastically! We chatted for 10 minutes and as I left she thanked me for listening to her as she recalled her own childhood and fascination with fossils.

Last week's hospital appointment. I was in a waiting room and had to hang around for a while for tests results. Other patients were coming and going every few minutes. Most of the time there was just one other person in the room with me. We were all there for a specific eye problem...a common interest. My opening gambit was..'how is it going?' and a friendly smile. Again, there was a topic. We compared notes on our treatment and it felt good to connect. It worked.

But put me in a social group with no particular aim and after a couple of embarrassing minutes I clam up completely. Even if I want to contribute the effort is simply too much especially if there are several people competing for attention and interrupting each other. Which seems to be the group norm. To contribute in a conversation there seems to be a technique of breaking into the flow without being rude that I don't get. Part of the reason being that I simply can't follow conversations with more than 2-3 people.

I am somewhat of a recluse. But I'm also a human with social drives. I do need contact. But it is hard work for me.

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