Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 10/2/2022
Social anxiety is an anxiety disorder that can have a devastating effect on your quality of life. That’s because when you have social anxiety, it can be difficult to make connections and form relationships. So, even though having friends can add a lot to your life, learning how to make friends when you have social anxiety can seem impossible.
But just because you have social anxiety doesn’t mean you have to live a friendless life. You may just need to put a little extra effort into it.
As we mentioned, social anxiety is an anxiety disorder. It’s sometimes also referred to as a social phobia.
In general, people with this anxiety disorder are worried about being judged or disliked by others. So, they may start avoiding social situations, having to meet new people or things like public speaking.
Around five percent to 10 percent of people have social anxiety disorder. Those who have it, often show signs of it before they are 20 years old.
If you have social anxiety, you may experience any of the following symptoms during social interactions:
Feeling like your heart is racing
Blushing or sweating
Avoiding eye contact
Feeling self-conscious or embarrassed in front of others
Having fear of being around others
Avoiding people or places
We won’t lie to you — when you have social anxiety disorder, it may take more effort to make friends. That said, it is very much worth the effort. Having solid friendships has been found to lower stress and contribute to overall life satisfaction.
Once you recognize you may need to put a bit more effort into making new friends, you can get started actually doing it. These tactics can help.
A core part of social anxiety is feeling like people won’t like you or you are being judged. So, it reasons that if you want to make friends, you may need to start by nipping those feelings in the bud.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be a great treatment for social anxiety disorder and can help you change how you feel in social situations. In CBT for social anxiety, you will work with a mental health professional to change the way you think and feel. You can also learn or practice social skills.
As you work on taming these negative thoughts, you should experience less fear when meeting new people and can better embrace the act of making new friends.
Going from avoiding social situations to partying it up? Probably not going to happen. And if you do attempt it, you may jam yourself up.
Instead, start by setting a small goal. This could be as simple as chatting up the friendly-looking person in line behind you at your favorite coffee shop or even sharing pleasantries with the cashier.
As you get more and more familiar with engaging in these small exchanges, you may begin to feel a bit more used to pushing outside of your comfort zone. Plus, you never know when one of these small exchanges could lead to a new pal.
Another form of therapy that can help with social anxiety is called exposure therapy.
With this type of therapy, you’ll work with a mental health professional to progressively expose yourself to social situations that make you nervous or give you anxiety.
While you may not start going to parties, you’ll slowly work to meet new people. Over time, the hope is that you’ll become more confident in making new friends.
Think about the things you love to do. Maybe you love crafting or baking. Or, perhaps you’re interested in running or fitness.
Chances are, if you do these things often, you’re comfortable doing them. Consider trying to make friends with shared interests.
For example, you could join a running group or sign up for a cake decorating class. The idea is that if you are focused on an activity you love, you may feel less self-conscious about meeting new people.
Plus, research has found that shared interests make for a good basis for friendship.
On average, it takes 50 or more hours to go from acquaintance to friend. If you have social anxiety, it may take even longer.
Repeat after us: It’s okay if it takes time. Be patient and stick with it — do not go back into your shell!
If someone invites you for a cocktail, go! Feel too jittery to do that? Text an acquaintance to say hello and catch up. As you continue to do these things, you may find yourself growing closer and developing a friendship.
If you experience symptoms of anxiety when in social situations, you may be dealing with social anxiety.
When you have this, you may notice physical symptoms (sweating, blushing and more) and anxiety symptoms (feelings of dread or avoidance).
These feelings of anxiety can make it difficult to make friends. After all, if being around people makes your anxiety worse, it can be hard to form new bonds in your daily life.
Thankfully, there are ways you can make friends — despite feeling symptoms of anxiety anytime you are in a social setting.
From taking it slow to going to therapy, gently pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can help you meet new people and connect with potential pals.
If you’d like to speak with a healthcare provider about the treatment of anxiety or how to navigate social phobia, you can schedule an online consultation now.
To keep reading, you can check out our article on how anxiety affects friendships next.