Whether anxiety strikes when you’re talking to strangers or even long-time friends, feelings of discomfort during conversations can hinder your social life. These feelings might limit you to small talk, keep you from standing up for yourself or even cause you to miss out on potentially romantic opportunities with those you admire from afar. Fortunately, several strategies can help you reduce anxiety and feel at ease while talking with others. With these strategies in mind, you can jump-start your social life and find friends all around you.

Control Your Imagination

Visualize success, advises Steven Cohen, communications instructor for Harvard Extension. Picture the person you are addressing reacting positively to your message, and picture yourself speaking calmly with warmth and wit. Even if the actual conversation doesn't turn out so smoothly, this optimistic vision will give you the courage to start the conversation. This is a healthier alternatively than picturing yourself failing, so when you catch yourself making negative expectations, turn them around.

Direct Your Focus

Where you focus your attention is an important element in overcoming your fear of speaking to others, suggests general internist Alex Lickerman. During conversation, rather than focus on your insecurities such as how smart or witty you sound, place your focus on the other person. This prevents you from overanalyzing your own words and actions, and it helps you stay engaged with the actual conversation. Ask questions, observe his body language, be an active listener and try to connect with his feelings.

Don't Shrink Yourself

Expansive poses, or poses that require you to take up additional space, reduce the body's stress hormones, according to Harvard professor and researcher Amy Cuddy. On the other hand, if you use timid body language to appear smaller, such as slouching or folding your arms across your chest, you will likely feel more anxious. Avoid timid body language during conversations and your brain will get the message that there is nothing to fear from the other person.

Embrace the Fear of Rejection

Learning to handle rejection will increase your conversational courage. For example, go to a crowded area and ask 20 people for the time, leaving three minutes between each encounter, suggests clinical psychologist Bill Knaus. Some people will ignore you, but most will happily answer. In some cases, you might even feel drawn into conversation. The point is, you learn to handle a bit of rejection. Be a little bolder and combine this exercise with another technique Knaus recommends: making ridiculous fashion statements such as wearing mismatched socks. Soon you'll discover that a little bit of social rejection isn't lethal.