How You Can Make Friends Despite Your Social Anxiety
Do you feel extremely nervous when you're socializing? Are you constantly worried about other people judging you? Does the thought of making friends or having social interactions make you feel jittery?
If so, you may have social anxiety disorder (formerly known as social phobia). It's one of the most common anxiety disorders with 12% of the population meeting the criteria for it at some point during their lives. Social anxiety coincides with a persistent fear of humiliating yourself, talking to new people, and having physical symptoms of worry.
Even if you know that having close friends is important for your mental health, your anxiety can make connecting with others feel downright impossible. As a result, you may isolate yourself from people or avoid social situations. These habits, of course, can make the problem worse.
Here's how to make friends with social anxiety:
Acknowledge Your Anxiety
It may seem paradoxical, but accepting your social anxiety may be the first step to overcoming it. Trying to suppress, deny, or conceal how you really feel often makes anxiety worse. It's like trying to pretend that a part of you doesn't exist. That part will only become louder (and more defiant) the more you resist it.
To combat this, you have to make room for your mental health. Recognize your anxiety. Note how it feels in your body. Pay attention to the messages it tells you about yourself. Familiarize yourself with the negative thoughts that accompany your bodily sensations.
Practice Social Skills By Focusing on Small Talk
Small talk often gets a bad rep, but mastering small connections in everyday social situations can help you feel more confident. Best of all? You can practice this work anywhere, from talking to your neighbors while walking your dog to chatting with a barista at your favorite coffee shop.
The key is routinely exposing yourself to getting out of your comfort zone. Mastering this skill takes time, but you can focus on taking actionable steps like:
making eye contact when others talk
engaging in active listening
connecting based on shared interests
If you feel nervous, keep reminding yourself that you're interacting with strangers. You're not necessarily trying to form solid friendships. From this framework, these conversations can be perceived as "practice." You're practicing talking to others despite feeling socially anxious.
Remind Yourself That Most People Value Friendship
People with social anxiety sometimes talk themselves out of forming connections because they don't really believe want new friends.
This couldn't be further from the truth. Research shows we are hardwired to seek like-minded individuals. Additionally, most people feel self-conscious when they meet people for the first time.
So, what does this all mean for you? Most people are so focused on themselves that they aren't judging how a new friend talks or behaves. Instead, they are interested in forming connections, making plans, and what other people actually think of them!
Seek Smaller Gatherings
Don't like huge parties or working for a massive corporation? Nobody says you need to!
Many people with social anxiety prefer smaller settings when mingling with new people. These smaller scenes may feel less overwhelming, and they give you more time to focus on building a deeper sense of connection.
Remember that potential friends exist everywhere- from a local group to your church to your office building to a library book club. The more open-minded you are in meeting new acquaintances, the more opportunity you will find for such connections.
Prioritize Connections Patiently
It takes time to deepen new connections.
You may need to challenge your own thoughts (especially if you struggle with negative thinking) about what it means to build and maintain relationships.
Research shows that it takes, on average, 40-60 hours to form a casual friendship, 80-100 hours to be a friend, and over 200 hours to become good friends. If these numbers make you anxious, take a moment to pause. You have the rest of your life to spend time and build your social circle. Connections happen in minute-by-minute interactions.
But you can focus on making the most of these interactions by aiming to be a good friend. That means showing a genuine interest in other people's feelings and needs. It means being mindful of the process of trust and vulnerability. It also means being kind and helpful.
In other words, try to be the friend you want to have. Identify what feels most important to you in your relationships and make a genuine priority to carry that energy as you build your social life.
Keep Challenging Your Negative Thoughts
Making friends is challenging, and it's important to remind yourself that everyone (and not just people with an anxiety disorder) feels insecure from time to time. This is a shared part of the human experience!
Be aware of when you're being hard on yourself. For example, if you struggle with the belief, nobody likes me, ask yourself, What evidence do I have to support this belief? What would I tell a good friend if they were struggling with this harsh thought? What can I do to feel like people do like me?
Remember that even if they feel real, thoughts aren't necessarily rooted in reality. They're often distorted based on our own social conditioning, fears, and early life experiences. In other words, they can be challenged and changed!
How Professional Support Can Help With Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety is more than just shyness, and it's more than just feeling uncomfortable around new people. Social anxiety disorder refers to persistent discomfort in social settings and active avoidance of such interactions.
Anxiety symptoms can undoubtedly affect your quality of life, and they can stunt your ability to make new friends or engage in enjoyable social relations.
At Mental Health Transitions, we help people understand their emotions and work through their fear of socialization. We believe social support is one of the most valuable assets of life satisfaction. Working with a qualified mental health professional can help you overcome your anxiety symptoms, foster stronger in-person connections, and feel better about making friends.
We are here for you! Contact us today to learn more about our unique programs.