How to Make Friends When You Are Socially Anxious
We began our series on social anxiety with a discussion about social anxiety and dating. We got some really good feedback from members about what this can be like from the perspective of someone who has social anxiety as well as from the viewpoint of someone who is attempting to date a person who has social anxiety. Next we talked about how social anxiety can have a great impact upon your job. I tell my personal story of how I coped with social anxiety in the work place. And this week we shall discuss how to meet people and make friends when you suffer from social anxiety. I can tell you from my firsthand experience, as a person who suffers from social anxiety, that finding others to connect with can be difficult but not impossible.
When you suffer from social anxiety you may suffer from great doubts about yourself in terms of relating to others. Things like initiating conversation, asking someone if they want to get together, or sharing about oneself can make some of us tremble and sweat. Thoughts race through our mind such as, "I may say the wrong thing." or "I am going to look like an idiot in front of others." This internal dialogue can reinforce our fear and cause us to avoid the very thing we wish for, connection and friendship. The result of this terrible feedback loop is isolation and depression.
One way to combat the fear and isolation caused by social anxiety is to find ways of meeting others who understand what you are going through. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be an excellent method of learning new strategies to overcome fears related to social anxiety. When this type of therapy is done in a group setting, it can also be a means to meet others as well. Call your local mental health clinic to find out whether group CBT sessions are being held in your area for social anxiety. Another resource to call is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and their information hotline number is: 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264). Their information hotline is available from Monday through Friday, 10 am- 6 pm, Eastern time.
A second method of meeting new people is to join one of the many support groups on-line created especially for those who suffer from social anxiety. For those of us who have social anxiety, the Internet can feel like a much safer venue to talk to people. You have time to think about what you wish to communicate before you write and some of the social pressure is lessened by not having to interpret body language and facial expressions. And too, it is convenient. You don't have to drive anywhere or worry about what to wear. You can talk to people whenever you feel like it and when you have had enough, you just shut off the computer.
Here are some chats, forums, and on-line support groups I found for people who suffer from social anxiety. I have not tried any of these forums myself so it is up to you to use your discretion about which group is right for you.
- Social Anxiety Support Forum
- Anxiety Disorders Association of America: List of Support Groups
- Social Anxiety Support Chat
- Social Anxiety Support: List of support and therapy groups
There are also support groups for social anxiety which meet in person. If you feel up for this type of encounter I do have experience with this which I can tell you about. There is a web site called Meet Up which lists groups and activities in your geographic area. All you have to do is plug in your zip code to see a list of meet ups in your area. There are groups for everything imaginable, from groups to go see movies, to book clubs, to support groups. If you write in "social anxiety" in the space for "topic or interest" then you will come up with a list of all social anxiety or related groups.
A couple of years ago, I found a local support group who would meet at various places in the community. Sometimes we would meet at a coffee shop for talking or else we would go to places for social activities such as the movies, bowling, or a museum. The group members were all very understanding about feeling nervous about attending such a group meeting as they were all sufferers of social anxiety too. The members were all at various levels of coping with their social anxiety. Some had lost their job due to their anxiety. A couple of people had agoraphobia and had experienced self confinement to their apartment for months. Through therapy and medication they were able to feel confident to venture outside once more. Some members had never dated and were just in the process of feeling secure enough to ask someone out. It was clear that we were all works in progress and that social anxiety can be considered a vast spectrum of severity.
It was very comforting to be among people who understood how difficult it was to be a participant in a social group. Acceptance is such a critical component for progress. The best result of being in such a support group is the discovery that being social can be a fun experience and it can lead to meaningful connections and friendships with others.
Group therapy, on-line forums and chats, and in person support groups for social anxiety can be a good first step to getting out there and meeting others. Remember that you don't have to do it all in one day. Take baby steps if you have to in order to reach your goals. Maybe the first step is simply to research these venues. Then take another step as in making a phone call or joining an on-line group. The next step may be converse with a group member. Go at your own pace as you feel more at ease. This is hard but it can be done.
Social anxiety doesn't have to take away your opportunity for friendship and connection. Take a small step today towards finding support and making friends. I am right here to cheer you on.
Now how about you? Do you have any stories to tell about combating your fears of being social? Does anyone have any experiences of joining a therapy or support group for social anxiety? How did it go? Tell us all about it. We love to hear from you