Two young adult women sharing a laugh together. This shows how to make friends with social anxiety

How to Make Friends with Social Anxiety

Making friends with social anxiety feels challenging when the idea of being in new social situations increases your heart rate. Meeting new people and building friendships is not easy and often gets more complicated for adults. 

While time constraints and busy schedules are common reasons for this. For some, the barrier to building new friendships is secretly worrying that they do not know how to make friends with social anxiety.

If you fear social situations and have a small social network, you may worry about your ability to make friends. Feelings of nervousness and self-consciousness do make things difficult.

But rest assured. The truth is that people with social anxiety or social phobia can absolutely make friends. Not only can you make friends with social anxiety, but you can have healthy, supportive, and meaningful friendships. 

Below are a few tips that can ease the stress associated with putting yourself out there and building a new friendship.

How to Make Friends with Social Anxiety

Creating a social life that is fulfilling does take some effort on your end. You must first make a decision and commitment to try something new. In other words, there has to be some level of willingness to put yourself outside of your comfort zone. 

This is a challenging prospect if you have social anxiety. Shyness, worrying, fear of embarrassment, and fear of being criticized or judged may prevent you from wanting to do this.

You may find yourself purposely avoiding situations that will lead to anxiety, nervousness, and discomfort. Avoidance temporarily helps to quiet intense anxiety but it is not a long-term solution.

Furthermore, isolating and escaping social situations until the anxiety calms down decreases opportunities to build relationships.

Making friends with social anxiety means that you don’t have to wait for all of your anxiety to disappear. In fact, it means that you will practice putting yourself out there even while being nervous.

Young adult women talking to each other on how to make friends with social anxiety

The process of learning how to make friends with social anxiety involves a thoughtful, skilled and manageable action plan.

It’s an action plan in which you take small steps towards building new, healthy and positive associations with socializing. 

The more positive social experiences you allow yourself to have, the more confident you will feel. You will also start to feel less worried or fearful of negative experiences or outcomes with social situations.

Limiting Beliefs About Making Friends with Social Anxiety

Learning how to make friends with social anxiety will also involve identifying and tackling limiting beliefs about yourself and others. 

Limiting beliefs are thoughts that place a limit on our capacity for something. Common limited beliefs for social anxiety include thoughts such as:

  • “I’m not good enough”
  • “I’m not able to have friendships”
  • “People only pretend to like me”
  • “I can’t be myself because people will reject me”
  • “It will be a waste of time to try”

Limited beliefs about anxiety:

  • “I’m just an anxious person”
  • “I’m always going to be shy and quiet”
  • “Having anxiety means I’m weak”
  • “I’ll have social anxiety forever”

It’s important to be aware when limiting beliefs are entering your mind and leading to avoidance behaviors. For example, if you think that meeting new people won’t result in anything positive, you may not go out.

You may decline social invites or decide not to invite others out for the fear that something will go wrong. But, consider what will happen if you don’t leave the house? The chance of finding new friends is going to decrease.

To challenge limiting beliefs, see if you can find a middle ground that you feel comfortable with. For example, “I’ll have social anxiety forever”. Remind yourself that social anxiety disorder is treatable. 

You can try some of the tips written here. And if you need more support, you can work with a professional and licensed social anxiety therapist.

When you let go of limiting beliefs, you are letting go of excuses and reasons to stay in your comfort zone. Focus on your positive attributes, choose to believe in yourself and your abilities to accomplish social goals.

Use Your Observation and Listening Skills

Many people with social anxiety find it stressful and anxiety-provoking to socialize in a group. It can feel intimidating to figure out when to join a conversation and chime in.

Observing the context of your surroundings and the group dynamics will provide helpful information. You can use your observation skills to interpret nonverbal cues such as eye contact and shift in body language.

Take a look at what is going on in the group. What is the emotional tone or topic of conversation? Who seems to appear friendly, is making eye contact with you, smiles or makes you feel comfortable? 

Are people sitting or standing closely together? Or are people creating distance from each other, indicating the conversation is soon ending?

Take note of these things. It can be calming and boost your confidence when you have a good feel of what is going on. 

A special note of caution: You may be tempted to stay quiet for too long and observe for too long. But, remember that learning how to make friends with social anxiety involves putting yourself out there.

Observe and listen with intention to participate. In order to build friendships, you need to try to connect with others. One way to connect is to practice active listening. Meaning that you listen attentively but also provide verbal and nonverbal cues to show your interest and understanding. 

For example, consider a nonverbal gesture such as nodding to show you understand. Or use a verbal confirmation or affirmation such as, “I see”, “I get it”, “uh huh”. These are skills you can use to connect with others during social interactions.

Moreover, these skills are ways to lightly participate in the conversation without putting too much pressure on yourself. You can still demonstrate that you are part of the group.

Use Positive Imagery and Visualization Techniques

Imagery can play a role in the process of learning how to make friends with social anxiety.

Two young adult Black female women are standing together and laughing. Demonstrating making friends with social anxiety.

People with social anxiety often have mental images of a social interaction going awry. For example, it may be easy to imagine yourself stuttering during conversations.

Or perhaps, the image that comes to mind is of a past social experience in which you felt embarrassed.

Both of these scenarios in your mind are examples of negative imagery. Negative imagery has a higher probability of increasing an anxiety and fear response. 

Simply imagining a social interaction going wrong, can make you feel more worried and less confident. Moreover, it can decrease your motivation to want to go outside of your comfort zone to meet new people. 

The opposite is often true with positive imagery. Imagining yourself performing well in social situations can decrease worry while at the same time boosting confidence. 

If you visualize yourself achieving success in your social goals, you may be more likely to embrace new social experiences. Moreover, you may be more willing to practice making connections and forming friendships.

Visualization and positive imagery are powerful mental tools you can use at any time. But, they can be especially helpful in preparing for a social situation. 

Prior to meeting with friends or attending a social event, take a few minutes to yourself. Picture something that makes you anxious about socializing. And then picture the opposite happening.

For example, if you fear speaking up in front of a group of people, imagine yourself successfully navigating the situation. Perhaps you imagine yourself successfully contributing to the conversation with at least one comment.

Visualize yourself overcoming your fears. Imagine a positive scenario in which you start making friends with social anxiety and have a positive outcome.

Acknowledge and Work Through Fear of Rejection

When practicing how to make friend with social anxiety, it can be helpful to acknowledge underlying fears of rejection.

Fear of rejection can show up in many ways during social interactions. Examples include: staying quiet, not showing preference, saying things you believe others want to hear, difficulty saying no, being inauthentic.

Often these behaviors exist only to try to protect yourself from painful emotional experiences. You may rationalize and think that if you say and do the right things, people won’t criticize or reject you.

But, remember that avoidance only temporarily reduces anxiety. Consider what would happen if you consistently avoid rather than acknowledge and work through feelings of rejection.

It can lead to loneliness and limited support system. It can also be more difficult for people to get to know you. And in order to build meaningful relationships and friendships, you need to let people in a little bit.

Two young adult women sitting down, laughing and sharing tips on making friends with social anxiety

Making friends with social anxiety means taking new social risks to be yourself even if it means that people may not like you. For instance, let’s say that fear of rejection keeps you from opening up and sharing about yourself.

Maybe you leaned to deliberately ask a lot of questions during conversation to keep the attention away from you.

As a result, you get to know, like, and want to befriend someone. Now, think about how will they get to know and want to befriend you in return? The way is to be yourself.

Share your sense of humor, opinions, personal preferences, interests, and worldview. Naturally, some people will gravitate towards you and others won’t. 

While no one wants to face rejection, this is a true part of life and it can hurt very deeply. It is helpful to work on these difficult emotions so you don’t get stuck in them.

Reframe Negative Self-Talk

“I sound stupid when I talk”, “I’m boring”, “I should be able to…”. These are examples of negative self-talk that can psych you out of wanting to even try to have a social life!

Reframe these into positive, helpful statements. For example, “I am learning and practicing new skills on how to make friends with social anxiety. Soon I will feel more comfortable and feel more connected to others”.

Focus on positive thoughts about your new venture to make friends! Thinking positively about something you are unsure about is often more motivating. After all, you can’t one hundred percent predict what will happen in the future. 

Start with controlling your attitude and mindset. Practice self-compassion and speaking to yourself kindly.

Get Used to Small Talk-It’s a Connection Builder

As a socially anxious person, you may avoid small talk at all costs. For many people, it’s a source of stress as it forces you into talking with a stranger about mundane things like the weather.

However, small talk is a great way to practice very important and subtle social skills that help build new friendships. For example, small talk allows you the chance practice social skills such as:

  • Saying hello and introducing yourself
  • Making eye contact
  • Staying on the topic of conversation
  • Using nonverbal communication
  • Practice deciphering body language

Small talk also helps expose yourself to social situations that are time limited. Small talk lasts usually less than 10 minutes. It’s just a quick moment in time to help you build a connection. 

The short time frame is a good way to practice making friends with social anxiety. You will learn to allow yourself a chance to experience short, casual, positive interactions instead of avoiding them. 

To start exposing yourself to small talk, start with people with whom you already have contact with. Neighbors, coworkers, people at your gym class, etc. These are people that already have some sort of acquaintance with you.

It ncreases the potential for them to be responsive to you and can feel less intimidating. Moreover, you have mini-successes with them that build self-confidence! 

As you build confidence, you can talk with more people with the intention to move past small talk. The goal is to get past the acquaintance phase and on to starting the foundation of a good friendship.

Ask Open-ended Questions

Using open-ended questions in conversations helps you to get to know someone better. They also serve as lead-ins to prolonging the length of the conversation. 

If you’ve mastered small-talk and want a lengthier, deeper, and more fulfilling type of conversation, ask open-ended questions.

These are opposite of closed-ended questions, which are questions that result in a yes or no response. Thees type of questions tend to close the conversations quickly. Which does not give you much time to practice social skills and befriend someone. 

Examples of open-ended questions: What do you like doing on the weekends; any hobbies you enjoy?, How did you choose which major to study?, What do you like best about the new downtown area?

What these questions have in common is that they create opportunity for elaboration and more conversation. It gives you a chance to find new ways of connecting. 

However, you want to still maintain awareness of people’s privacy and comfort level. You want to get to know them a little bit and not interrogate them by fishing for information.

Spend Time with People Who Share Similar Interests

Two young adult women friends outside with sunglasses in New York talking.

Having shared interests with another person already means you have something in common. It automatically gives you something to talk about and lessens the burden of being creative when putting yourself out there. 

Having similar interests provides opportunities to emotionally bond with someone. 

Furthermore, it provides the chance that you can meet up frequently to engage in similar interests and activities. 

Mindfulness During Conversations

Stay in the present moment and go with the natural flow of the conversation. Focus on what others are saying with intention to follow the direction and topic of the conversation. 

Be mindful if you notice that you feel anxious and tension in your body; and relax your muscles. Sometimes inner tension and discomfort can cause an inadvertent desire to want to control the conversation.

This can look like jumping in too soon to share your own personal experiences instead of listening to what others are saying. Staying mindful can help. Practice listening attentively and without interrupting. 

In addition, avoid multitasking. Put your phone away so you have less temptation to text or appear busy when you start to feel anxious.

Overthinking: Don’t Get Hung Up on Stressful Moments

Overthinking social interactions is common when making friends with social anxiety. While it is normal to think about social moments we’ve experienced, overthinking can be harmful to your self-confidence. 

Overthinking can introduce self-doubt and anxiety about your social performance. If you find that you are hung up on what you said, could have said, or should not have said… etc. Stop and acknowledge what you are doing. 

Making a good impression is important to you and making new friends is of high importance. But, rehashing mistakes you have made and engaging in self-criticism will minimize all of your hard work. 

Instead, redirect your mind to think about something else. Be proud of yourself for trying to overcome social anxiety to live the social life you want. As you learn how to make friends with social anxiety, you will find that things will be a matter of trial and error.

Not every moment will be perfect. But every moment is a moment where you tried. And that counts!! 

Find Community & Venture Out Into the Real World

Staying on the computer, chatting with people through the internet is often a go to method of combatting loneliness. However, it is hard to build true connection and really know who you are talking to on the other end.

Instead, limit the time on your phone, social media, or other forums and see what’s going on in your community.

Online friendship and relationships may appear safer, but they often are not. They also do not allow you to practice and increase confidence with both your verbal and nonverbal communication skills.

Find community events that have small gatherings, such as an art class, music class, sports, or other activity that will allow you to try new things while also practice talking to and meeting with new people. 

You may be more likely to form deeper, supportive friendships when you participate get off of the internet. Furthermore, social media scrolling can give you the feeling that you are missing out on important life events. 

Try to put yourself out there and engage in your community and create new, positive, social experiences.

Making Friends With Social Anxiety is Possible

Stay Hopeful

It can be deflating when you make great strides to put yourself out there and don’t find much change in your social life. Making friends with social anxiety is challenging and also takes time.

Sometimes you will find success and meet some great people. And other times, it just isn’t a good fit. Stay hopeful and try to keep your spirits up. 

Continue to expose yourself to social situations and using positive and healthy strategies to keep you motivated. Trust in yourself and your ability that you can make friends. 

Therapy For Social Anxiety Near Me

Therapy for social anxiety can help you reduce stress in social situations. Get to the root of social anxiety and increase self-confidence. If you live in New York State, consider working with a therapist in Rockland County NY that specialized in anxiety counseling. Online counseling is available. Call 845-305-5322 to schedule an appointment. 

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