Social Anxiety is when you struggle in social situations and have a lot of anxiety about what may or may happen, so literally interacting with people gives you fear, stress, and anxiety.
I had social anxiety.
I had no friends for the longest time, I struggled with making friends and wondered what was wrong with me. I kind of assumed everyone’s judgements about me are valid. And turns out, when you are a quiet, shy person with social anxiety, apparently you can look suspicious or you leave people with an open gateway to make up any story about what kind of person you are, when you are literally someone who minds their own business.
Whenever I did try to make friends, I struggled a lot because I would have anxious thoughts that run a million miles a minute. Every interaction, I dissected to make sure that I did not mess up, or there is not some kind of judgement that someone can misconceive about me. That I was my most perfect self.
I was also in a friend group that, if I brought up an issue, I was the problematic one because I am not keeping the peace and I am making issues by bringing up things that bother me. (Which I think is more problematic and quite limits for shallow interaction only.)
Boy, was that exhausting. Made me conclude that I was an introvert because I always had to recover from hang outs with people. Or interactions with people in general. To be your perfect self worried and thinking about all the things that could go wrong drained my energy.
So how do I have friends now? A lot of friends, and how am I able to just meet new people easily and talk to them as if I have known them?
Trust me, this was not easy, I cried very often and had many panic attacks, but lets get into it:
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS DESPITE SOCIAL ANXIETY
- Find someone safe to be friends with.
Make sure this person is reciprocating in friendship. Do not force a friendship. If someone actually wants to be friends, you got to make the effort. If you try to make friends with someone who does not really care to be friends with you in the first place, you are wasting your time and making yourself go through an uncomfortable situation. Then you may think more is wrong with you when in actuality, you just picked someone who was not a compatible friend and was not interested. It’s like forcing a guy who doesn’t like you, to like you, and wonder why he doesn’t like you. He wasn’t interested. Move on.
2. Practice makes perfect.
Interacting with people and understanding interactions take practice. It takes practice to be comfortable, it takes practice in knowing what to say, why people are the way they are, and what you are okay with in your life and what you aren’t. Practicing makes interacting with others easier the more you do it. You will have anxious thoughts, but slowly they will go away. But I’m talking years. If you really want to be comfortable in your own skin regardless of anyone else’s opinions.
That means any uncomfortable conversation. Do your best, stop trying to be perfect, keep showing up and trying again. Worst case scenerio, find another group of friends (if its that bad). But try not to run away if they haven’t entirely rejected you out of their group. Rejection just means clarification of the lack of compatibility. Keep practicing interacting with other people.
3. Take time to understand yourself.
If you take the time to understand yourself, you will be able to take the time to be more forgiving to yourself in your interactions, which also makes you a better person because you tend to resonate with others who make social mistakes and other people are safer to be around you.
4. Know Anxious feelings will come up.
Anxious feelings will reoccur. Remember that they are just thoughts. Nothing more. Whether it is right or wrong, people’s minds can be changed, but honestly, just focus on whether you would be okay interacting with yourself, and if you are, chill out. People are different, the right, long lasting friends will vibe with you. You won’t have the constant push and pull.
5. When you feel comfortable with your natural interactions with one friend, make more.
When you have practiced with interacting with your one friend, make another friend. Interactions become easier and it becomes second nature. Then practice interacting with that person with the variations of the kind of person they are, and just do your best. That is good enough. Then keep making more and more. Keep practicing. Social anxiety will come up. Just show up.
6. Jump in other peoples group conversations
In my experience, people who give you dirty looks for joining their conversation, are the tell tale sign to NOT make friends with them and avoid them. You do NOT want their approval OR their friendship. People (typically) won’t go out of their way for you because they don’t know you. Stop getting offended by it, and just jump in conversations. Ask questions about them, relate to what you are talking about. Then, they have something to talk about with you the next time you see them. You become familiar with them.
There was this one time that I showed up at a social event and turns out, I knew only three people. I wanted to get up and leave because I did not know anyone at that event. My anxiety raised, I did not know who to talk to, but it was way too late to just leave. It would be noticeable.
So I stayed. I jumped in conversations, and by the end of the night, I was able to chat and participate, and not be awkward. Shift your focus on the conversations. Or, just help out with preparing or cleaning if you really don’t know what to do.
In two years, I went from having no friends, and forcing myself in social situations, driving home crying because I was exhausted from social situations, to being a serial friend maker who killed most of her anxious thoughts and who is filled with the joy of enjoying friends and a good time. Living in the moment rather than living in my head. Its amazing.
Your panic attacks are just triggering your anxiety. Nothing bad actually happened. So take a deep breath, and keep going, because that’s true strength. Try again. Let your body experience the panic attack safely. Your tears, are out of exhaustion. Cry it out, and show up again. You need to cry in the middle of the hang out? Go to the bathroom, fix your makeup, and go back in. You need to push your limits to change.
I dove in the deep end cause I was sick of being alone. I did not want to live the rest of my life alone. So do what you are able to do. But it truly feels so free after all that work on my social anxiety.