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Reviewed by Beth Pausic, Psy.D.
Written by Our Editorial Team
Friendship — we’d put it up there with ice cream, pasta and jumping in a cold pool on a hot summer day as one of the great joys of life. Maybe at the top, even.
Still, as we go through life, it can be hard to maintain those bonds or create new ones. With busy jobs, romantic partners, families and, ya know, the less fun acts of adulting, making time to catch up with a friend or reach out to someone new can get placed on the back burner.
Because the pandemic eliminated many of the most common opportunities for in-person socializing, some of us might be feeling a little out of practice these days. Our social skills are a little rusty.
If you’re wondering whether you’re just an introvert or if it’s something more, we get it. While feeling self-conscious or shy is certainly common and nothing to be worried about, if you’ve noticed fear and anxiety when you’re around people in social situations, you might be dealing with social anxiety.
Social anxiety is a common anxiety disorder that affects an estimated 12.1 percent of all American adults at some point. Social anxiety, also referred to as social phobia, impacts a person’s life and daily activities and can make it difficult to make new connections or form relationships. Those who have social anxiety often show signs of it before they are 20 years old.
Even though having friends can add a lot to your life, learning how to make friends when you have social anxiety can seem impossible.
As is often the case with many of the most common anxiety disorders, social anxiety can be treated with the right combination of treatments and tactics. That’s good news because when it comes to friendship, the jury is out: having solid friendships has been found to lower stress and contribute to overall life satisfaction and well-being.
So, now that we have our sights set on a more vibrant social life, let’s explore some powerful tactics:
If you think you have social anxiety disorder, you may want to reach out to a mental health professional to help you navigate making a change.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be an excellent 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 how you think and feel. You can also learn or practice social skills.
As you work on taming your negative thought patterns and instead cultivating positive self-talk, you should experience less fear when meeting new people and can better embrace the process of making new friends.
The way we see it, small talk gets a bad rep. In reality, having a short chat with a stranger or acquaintance is a low-stakes way to warm up your friendship muscles.
If you don’t want to talk about the weather (but let’s be clear, talking about the weather is a shame-free go-to), you can ask if someone has been watching anything interesting lately or if they have any fun travel coming up.
Another small way to make a big difference is to be mindful of your body language. When you’re putting out closed-off vibes — crossed arms or a lowered gaze, for example — it can be hard for others to strike up a conversation. Being too engrossed in your phone can also act as a big “Do Not Engage” sign, so try to cool it on the screentime when you’re in a social setting.
Talking to strangers or hanging out with friends one-on-one or in a small group somewhere familiar can ease other feelings of anxiety or uncertainty that might exacerbate your social anxiety.
Head to your favorite coffee shop, or have a small group over at your house. If you love cooking, cook for your friends. If you have a favorite movie, suggest a movie night. Love crafting? Gather the supplies.
If you can combine things you love and are comfortable doing, you might find relaxing in social settings easier.
This isn’t just advice for people wondering how to make friends in a new city. It’s never too late to join a new club – be it a book club, chess club, community garden, or club baseball team.
If you have a dog, take them to your neighborhood dog park and chat with the other dog owners. Nothing breaks the ice like a cute pup.
You could also ask a coworker or a mutual friend to meet for coffee or lunch sometime. Following through tells someone you value their time.
One of the benefits of social media and technology is its power to create community and connect with others. Don’t be afraid to dip your toes into some newer forms of meeting people, like Bumble BFF, Meetup, or Facebook Groups for shared hobbies and interests.
If you meet someone new at your new club meet-up or a local Facebook group, why not take the leap and meet for a coffee? If asking for someone’s phone number feels too bold, ask them if they’re on social media and if you could follow them on Instagram.
When it comes to friendship, many of us tend to put too much pressure on ourselves. In reality, simply checking in can often be enough to show others we care. New research suggests casually reaching out to the people in our lives is more appreciated than we realize.
After you meet someone, don’t be afraid to ask them how that trip they told you about was or what they’re growing in their garden this spring. Following up and nodding to past conversations shows people you’re conscientious.
We love small talk as much as the next person, but when you’re ready to forge some deeper connections, it’s all about authenticity, honesty, and vulnerability. Sound intimidating? We get it — letting your guard down and being your true (probably flawed) self can be scary.
The next time you meet a friend for coffee, don’t just ask them what’s new. Ask them how they’ve really been, and be prepared to be a good listener.
We’re all craving more connection these days, and authenticity is a magnetic quality.
On average, it takes 50 or more hours to go from acquaintance to friend. If you have social anxiety, it may take even longer.
That’s okay! Friendship takes time, and it’s all a part of the journey.
When you’re in the market for new friends, it can be helpful to get in the habit of saying yes to an invitation. If it’s a new friend hang, ask them if it would be okay to bring another friend along. Don’t be shy to suggest somewhere or something that you’re comfortable with.
No matter what, make sure that if you have to cancel, you’re open and communicative. More often than not, this potential new friend will appreciate the honesty and will be happy to reschedule.
Whether you’ve been struggling post-Pandemic or since you can remember, endeavoring to have more friendship in your life is like opening the door to a deeper sense of well-being. Worth it, if we do say so ourselves.
And, just knowing you have social anxiety (or some of the associated symptoms) is a solid first step to overcoming social anxiety.
Still unsure? Remember, social anxiety can look like:
Drawing inward and ignoring social invitations
Worrying about feeling embarrassed in front of others
Leaving gatherings early or chronically canceling plans
Avoiding public places and a fear of making eye contact
Negative self-talk (“No one will miss me if I don’t show up”)
Whether it’s finding common ground, going to therapy, gently pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, or leaning into the things you already find joy and comfort in, there’s plenty of ways to 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 psychiatry consultation. To keep reading, you can check out our article on how anxiety affects friendships next.
Dr. Beth Pausic is a clinical psychologist and oversees the therapy platform at Hims & Hers.
Prior to Hims & Hers, Beth worked in senior roles at several behavioral healthcare startups focused on the digital delivery of emotional support and treatment through both conventional and innovative approaches.
Her experience prior to working in telebehavioral health includes over 15 years as a Clinical Administrator and provider in diverse clinical settings. In her clinical work, she primarily focused on anxiety, depression and relationships.
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