Everyone can relate to the initial fear of meeting new people. But social anxiety isn’t just that. And feeling connected isn’t just meeting new people.
Feeling connected involves meeting people, figuring out which you relate to best, maintaining the relationship, and letting yourself be vulnerable. All of which become especially difficult when you experience social anxiety.
So is social anxiety contributing to your loneliness? Maybe. But you might be able to feel less lonely while combatting your social anxiety.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety is a set of feelings and safety behaviors caused by a fear of social interactions, which is totally different than introversion.
We may not always feel socially anxious, but when we do, it’s hard to reach out to those around us.
Social anxiety can mean feeling scared to go to social gatherings, or worrying that peers think you’re annoying, no matter what you say.
Whether you have social anxiety or not, it’s easy for the brain to jump to the worst possible scenario, where everyone dislikes or judges you. And that can contribute to feelings of loneliness.
Do social anxiety, loneliness, and isolation have to go together?
While social anxiety doesn’t have to make you lonely, it often does.
Social anxiety can make it hard to attend social gatherings, reach out to peers, or maintain relationships. All of which in turn can make us feel more lonely. Social media can also skew our perspective of loneliness by making us feel like we’re connecting, when it’s only on a superficial level.
This disconnect between our intentions and abilities, created by social anxiety, can heighten our sense of isolation, and make us feel defective and guilty – making it even harder to reach out to others. Over time, social anxiety can suck us into a pit of isolation.
Small tricks to combat social anxiety
A lot of us with social anxiety feel like we should wait until we’re NOT anxious to reach out. But if we think that way, we’ll never come out of the fear and isolation.
Other people are a big part of healing, and in baby steps, the understanding ones will help you build evidence that socializing doesn’t have to be scary.
Social anxiety doesn’t just come from nowhere, so it’s not quick or easy to get rid of it. You’ll be fighting longstanding patterns, and maybe some conditioning from your past. And to fight this conditioning, you’ll probably have to build up a bank of evidence that people are safe.
Reaching out despite your fear helps you see that people are safe, while helping you feel at least slightly less lonely.
You can reach out right now, 24/7 and completely anonymously here at Supportiv. Or if chatting in a judgement-free space still feels like too much, here are a few small, easy strategies to make connecting easier — despite social anxiety.
Imagine the worst case scenario.
Imagine you’re going out to meet a friend. Or even just answering the phone.
By thinking of the worst possible chain of events, you can dig into what you’re actually afraid of. Then, try making arguments against this anxiety-reasoning.
As you practice this more and more, you may find that your brain stops jumping to the “what if?” mindset. You may be able to notice and counteract an unhelpful thinking style.
Recognize your safety behaviors.
When we start to feel anxious, it’s easier to isolate ourselves by resorting to safety behaviors. These could be looking at your phone, avoiding commitments, or physically stepping away from a group.
Try and avoid these behaviors to push yourself, even if it’s uncomfortable at first!
Reverse the roles.
Social anxiety can make us feel like everyone hates us. We may feel awkward asking people to hang out.
But try imagining how you’ve felt when a friend asked you to hang out. You were probably glad to hear that someone wanted to spend time with you.
Chances are people you ask will feel the same way.
Realize you’re imperfect.
It may be hard to accept, but not every social interaction will be perfect. And most people are not loved or even liked – only tolerated, so that’s all you have to aim for.
You may say “thanks you too” when a waiter says “enjoy your meal.” You may be a bit (or very) awkward on a first date.
By realizing you are not expected to be perfect, you place less pressure on yourself, and thus less weight, on every social interaction.
If you want some practice chatting in a group format, please don’t hesitate to join a group of peers in a chat room here.