“Are you mute?” That was the first question someone asked me after not responding to her right away. My mind had gone blank and anxiety had kicked in. I had no idea how to make friends with social anxiety.
This wasn’t a first-time thing. This happened in every conversation with a stranger or anyone I was not close with. The difference between shyness and social anxiety is that my social anxiety interrupted every social interaction in my life that I missed out on many opportunities.
I appeared as though I was mean and stuck up when I really just felt like protecting myself and escaping. A simple hello was difficult when my mom introduced me to her friends. And I had a hard time saying “present!” when the teacher did roll call.
Does it feel like you’re alone in this? That your family, your classmates, or co-workers just don’t understand why you struggle to engage in conversation like them? Do they usually tell you to just get over it?
This kind of reaction doesn’t help at all but makes only those with social anxiety feel like it’s one of their character flaws. That there’s something wrong with them and they’re not normal.
How do you know if you have social anxiety and not just shyness?
According to Mayo Clinic, you may:
- Have an intense fear whenever you have to talk or interact with strangers
- Avoid simple social interactions like making eye contact and returning products to a store
- Start sweating, your heart starts beating fast, you feel nauseous or dizzy in social situations
Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. To know if you truly have social anxiety, it would require a diagnosis by a professional.
Here are 7 ways to make friends with social anxiety:
1. Know you don’t have to have a ton of friends
I always thought it was a bad trait to only have one or two friends in school and I wanted a ton of friends like all the other students. But I should’ve appreciated the close friends I already had and focused more on nurturing those relationships.
Keeping a few close friends is much easier than having a bunch of friends for people that have social anxiety. Don’t try to be like the popular crowd and stay true to who you are.
When you set realistic goals on how many friends you want, you’ll put less pressure on yourself to make more friends.
2. Pick locations where you feel the most comfortable
You want to make friends in an environment that doesn’t have a ton of strangers or where all eyes will be on you. The fewer people, the better. It will make it less intimidating to approach.
For people with social anxiety, a library, a small class, an interesting club. Then go to these places regularly at the same times. You might notice that certain people keep showing up at those same times too.
Observe them and then try to make conversation when you find out something you have in common.
3. Join clubs and participate in activities that you enjoy
It’s much easier to make friends with someone that you have a lot in common with than someone that you know nothing about. Once you know you have a shared interest, you can strike up a conversation about that specific activity.
Put the focus on that activity and not what that person will think of you. Make it a goal to start with talking to only one person who is also by themselves working on the activity.
4. Choose the right people to be friends with
Don’t try to become friends with someone who thinks people who are more introverted, shy or have social anxiety have flaws and need to speak up more. Choose friends who value you and don’t pressure you to speak up when you’re feeling uncomfortable.
It’s better to choose people to friend when they are understanding of your background and will accommodate. This also means avoiding the popular crowds of people because you will be pressured to speak up more than you can handle.
First, start off with others who seem more reserved or shy to engage in conversation with.
5. Become friends first online and then meet in person
If your anxiety is more severe, making friends online can be much more helpful. Join groups in your local area that have shared interests with you. Pick a person to start talking to that you really resonate with.
If you click and are talking a lot, you can then move forward over time with the option to either call or meet in person. Be safe though! Always tell people where you are going and who you’re meeting with.
A lot of people meet their friends online and should just be as common as online dating. It’s hard to make friends even those without social anxiety.
6. Seek out a therapist to help you make friends
When all else fails, a therapist is the way to go as they specialize in this kind of topic. Tell them your struggles with making friends and they can find out your triggers with strategies on how to work around them.
Social Anxiety is really hard to overcome by yourself and is usually developed after years of trauma or some kind of rejection. For me, I had social anxiety since I was a kid because my peers rejected me since I moved to different schools often.
There’s a lot of behaviors and triggers that I never paid attention to that a therapist could show me.
7. Understand that friends can come and go
Sometimes your friends won’t be there forever. You’ll lose some and gain some. It’s all part of the life journey and it’s not always your fault on why you lose friends.
Drop people that do not respond. If you’re like me, I used to feel so bad like I was not interesting to them when they stopped. It’s not you. Find new friends that will value your time.
This happens to everyone. The sooner you adjust your group to those who give you back the same appreciation, the better you will feel. Even if it feels like you won’t make any friends and will always be alone, you have to trust that you will have the discernment to pick better friends.
You don’t have to rush to make a ton of friends. You can make your goal of only making one friend for this month and slowly increase. Take it at your own pace that feels comfortable while also seeking out mental health support to help minimize your social anxiety.
And you’re not alone. 7.1% of people have Social Anxiety in the U.S. So chances are, you’ve interacted with someone that has the same struggles as you.
You got this!