Today, we’re talking about coping with social anxiety. In Ask An Editor, Her Campus Editors answer readers’ questions about how to be a human. This month, Her Campus’s Deputy Editor, Iman Hariri-Kia, hosts office hours.
How do I make friends while dealing with social anxiety?
Best Friends Or Whatever
Dear Best Friends Or Whatever,
As you get older, making friends becomes notoriously weird. When you’re a child, you’re constantly thrust into social situations, where you’re forced to adapt or suffer the consequences. As a result, friendships are somewhat accidentally inevitable. Your mom sets you up on a blind playdate with the kid of a woman she met at work. You’re ordered to play Capture The Flag with that random girl in gym class. There’s only one classmate who shares your bus stop. See where I’m going with this? In all of these scenarios, friendship lacks agency. It’s something that just happens to you.
But when you grow up and begin to cultivate routines, you suddenly have to make the decision to meet new people. Friendship requires putting in tangible effort. And if you’re someone who struggles with social anxiety, that effort can feel as difficult and inorganic as wrestling your hips into a pair of low-rise jeans. How do other people even do this? And why does it feel so awkward and uncomfortable when I try?
But Reader, I’m here to tell you that it is possible to make new friends well into adulthood, even if you’re a GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) goddess like yours truly. I’ve been lucky enough to make many a connection in my early to mid-twenties, including two of my closest friends in the whole apocalyptic world. Here’s how I meet new people, despite my tendencies to overthink and underestimate myself:
Make Friends Through Lived Experiences
If you’re someone who has trouble making the first friendly move, put yourself in a position where that pressure is taken off of you. Identify an activity that you already enjoy, that puts you at ease and makes you feel confident. Ideally, this activity has structure built into it — like a class or a workshop. That structure will lend itself well to meeting and talking with new people in a non-committal way, where the focus is the work you’re doing, rather than your sense of humor or personal interests. For example, I might sign up for a writer’s workshop that involves a feedback circle at the end of each half hour. I’m in my element, I’m talking to strangers about something I actually care about — writing — and I’m not obligated to share more than I’m comfortable with. Bonus points: If I meet someone that I click with and I want to ask them to grab a coffee after class, I’ll already have a built-in topic to talk about.
Identify Friends In Your Daily Routine
Do you always go to hot power yoga at 6:30 PM on Wednesdays, and see that girl who sits in the back of the class in savasana the whole time, the one with the custom purple mat? Whenever you grab tacos on Tuesday at lunchtime, does the cashier make you laugh so hard that snot comes up your nose? Is there a salesperson with personal style that you admire from afar, but have always been too nervous to tell her? More often than not, potential friends may already exist in your day-to-day life — you just need to reframe your narrative to see them as such. Next time you’re in their vicinity, make a small comment to gauge how they react. If all goes well, follow them on social media and start to orbit in their circle. Who knows? In a few months, you might go from quietly enjoying their presence to hyping up their new brow business. (Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything…)
Meet Friends Who Share Your Interests
God bless the internet. Thanks to this black hole of never-ending content, there is quite literally an online community for every niche interest or unique thought you’ve ever had. Do you prefer novels to humans? Would you choose to curl up with the newest edition of an anthology over going to a party with other people any day of the week? Then join BookTok and become digital friends with other people who share your taste in female heroines or enemies-to-lovers plot devices. Are you a die-hard Kpop fan? Start following Twitter threads and DMing the accounts with the opinions that you share the most. I swear, I thought I was the last Buffy The Vampire Slayer fan on the planet until my algorithm showed me someone who shared my fanfic obsession. I fangirled from afar, until I realized that we had a mutual acquaintance and that she lived in my city. She went from virtual to IRL friend overnight.
Of course, you can always ask the friends you’ve already made to intro you to the new people they meet in class or at work, then grow your network that way. There’s nothing wrong with taking a passive approach to friendship, especially when you have social anxiety and can’t just walk up to someone and say “hey!” (because that’s literally so embarrassing omg). But here’s a little secret I’ve learned in my twenty-something years on this planet: The friends you actively make? The ones who you seek out, and choose you in return? They’re going to be your people for life. You are deserving of friends who want to be around you because, not in spite, of everything that makes you who you are — and yes, that includes your anxious brain.
And if all else fails, you can always DM me. I would love to be your new friend.