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Prepare Flash Cards

Okay, not literally. But you should go into a social event with some ideas of what you might want to talk about, says Vinson. "You may not even need to employ the plan, but knowing you have a backup can be comforting." Not sure where to start? Try these 7 Small-Talk Tips. (And maybe also learn Why Conversations Go Wrong—and How to Fix Them.)

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Use the Buddy System

"Plan ahead and determine who you're going to know at the party," says Gross. Pairing up with people we trust can definitely help ease anxiety—even more so if you give them a heads up: 'Bars can be a little stressful for me. Can I tag along with you for the night?'

What if you don't know anyone? "Most people wait to initiate, which can be even more terrifying than talking to a stranger," says Angert. Scan the room and trust your gut. "We have a sense of who feels safer than others, so trust that you have your own best instincts and that your gut knows," she adds.

Consider talking to a wallflower. "A lot of people's inclination may be that the outgoing person is easy to talk to, but if you find someone who is more introverted, that may actually be a more interesting and in-depth conversation," says Vinson. "Then, that one person might last you the whole 20-minute stay, and you'll feel accomplished because you had the interaction without having to introduce yourself to strangers over and over."

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Talk Yourself Up

In your car, in the Uber, even in the elevator before a party or meeting, give yourself a little pep talk the way you would to a friend, says Angert. "There is a self-fulfilling prophecy in how our internal dialogue plays out—the brain believes what you tell it," she says. 'I'm looking forward to this. I'm smart. I'm beautiful. I'm strong,' is going to set you up for success a helluva lot better than 'This is going to be so awkward, so scary.'

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Give Yourself a Time Limit

"If you're going to a bar for your friend's birthday, tell her you can only stay for 20 minutes," suggests Sarah Vinson, M.D., an Atlanta-based psychiatrist and member of the American Psychiatric Association's Communications Council. Anxiety stems from feeling trapped, so knowing there's a finite end can help you get through the experience. Plus, setting a goal helps build confidence—you accomplished staying for 20 minutes, and next time you can build on that.

Worried the short stay will seem rude? "Think about times when people have left a party—you don't think they left because they're anxious. You assume it's because they have other plans," says Vinson. "We give people too much credit for understanding our emotions."

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Work Out Right Before Going Out

Working out not only helps you ease into social situations more often, but it gives you an immediate mood boost. "Being happy becomes an upward spiral—the opposite of what happens when you're anxious and hide out," he says. "When you're in a positive mood state, you're more likely to interact with others, which can then improve your mood further."

Plus, exercise helps bring your nervous system down from that high-energy state of anxiety, and that kick into calmness might be just enough to help you accept the invitation to go out with friends.

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