Making friends is hard, especially as an adult, after college, with a spouse. It’s like the friendship gods are against everyone who crests the ripe old age of 25. Trying to overcome social anxiety on top of it is even worse. The other day I literally sprinted out of church after service ended to avoid small talk with someone I ALREADY KNOW. Pitiful.
This kind of reaction can be crippling when you’re trying to make friends… or simply exist in normal society. So how can we overcome social anxiety? I’ve got a few ideas:
3 Ways to Overcome Social Anxiety
This one could be under the Preventative Care category. My first job post-college was working for an organization on the University of Tennessee’s campus. I lived in the student housing as the resident intern and was expected to be “on” every hour of the day and night. I had to go to all the events, call/text students to see how they were/where they were/if they were coming to the next event/why they missed the last event. Bleh. My door was always open. I had no privacy and no time to recharge from the constant exertion of mitigating and mediating student drama.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved some of those students and made some great friends. But, as an introvert, the job itself was toxic for me. Instead of the constant socialization forcing me to be “stronger,” it increased my anxieties ten-fold.
In order to overcome social anxiety, we have to find a nice middle way. If you over-socialize you may scar yourself. Instead, exercise your right as a human being to say no. You don’t have to have an excuse. You can just say no.
Hey, do you want to go to this trivia night with me? No
Well, how about just a restaurant? No
We can go to a movie, we won’t even have to talk. NO DAMMIT!
But don’t under-socialize either or you’ll never grow from the spot you’re in now. Say no when you need to. Say yes when you need to.
Don’t Do Something Just Because You Want to Be a Better You
This sounds a little counter-intuitive. We’ve been taught since we were children to get out of your comfort zone and do something that scares you because it makes you a better person. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right? Well, I’m not convinced.
By no means do I think you should never push yourself. I think healthy and ongoing progress in personal development is good. BUT God made more than one type of person for a reason.
There are introverts in the world. There are extroverts in the world. They each fulfill a totally different purpose and each is necessary. I don’t have to be an extrovert to benefit those around me. I don’t have to push myself to be something I’m not. I don’t have to grind myself to a pulp trying to make every person that walks through the door feel welcome. That’s what the extroverts are for.
That’s why we work in teams. That’s why we have friends and spouses. Are you insensitive? That’s ok. Someone out there is sensitive enough for the both of you. Are you thoughtless? It’s alright. Make friends with a thoughtful person and ride on their coattails. (Literally, I’m just naming things that I am: intensive, thoughtless, introverted.)
I’m not saying you should ignore all your faults and become a heathen. I’m just saying don’t be so hard on yourself. I’ve been working since I was 16 to be this person I am today, and I’m happy to say I’m the nicest version of myself I’ve ever been. Yet, I still have a long way to go. If your parent literally dies, I’m probably going to walk right past you without remembering. I most likely won’t remember your birthday. I definitely won’t buy you Christmas gifts. I won’t ask you how your week has been. None of this means I hate you. I love you. I’m just not thinking about those things. I’m thoughtless when it comes to niceties.
Should you continue to work to be the best you you can be? Sure! Should you do it at the expense of your essential self, your stability, and contentment. NEVER! Remember your strengths and play to them. Acknowledge your faults, and work on them at your own pace.
Use the Buddy System
But what if you really do want to overcome social anxiety? You don’t want to become an extrovert, you just don’t want to sprint from a room every time you encounter an awkward situation.
Use the buddy system. It’s my newest trick to meeting new people without sweating through all my church clothes.
There is a lady at my church name Sally, and she is an introvert like me. Last year she made a promise to herself that she was going to at least try to talk to new people who visit our church. She took one very simple step that has made it easier (and less awkward) for her: she started sitting in the back of the church. This way, she can see everyone who comes in and she can tell who is new and who isn’t. Plus, she can see who is sitting by themselves or looks like they have no idea what’s going on. (Our church is liturgical, so it’s helpful to have a kind soul simply point you in the right direction at the beginning of the service.)
Anyway. Sally also got her husband to commit to at least standing next to her when she approached a new person. He’s an introvert too, but just his presence made it a little bit easier.
A year later, Sally is like a straight-up pro at this. She flits all over the church meeting new people. Is she still scared out of her mind? Yep. Does she still get nervous? Definitely. But she has become a better person for it. And, if she has a morning where she just can’t handle the pressure, she can take a break that week. It’s ok. There is space for grace in all of this.
SO, this year, I promised myself that I’m going to talk to more new people. And I’m going to make Sally my buddy. Just last week, I sat next to her for a change, and I talked to SIX NEW PEOPLE without running desperately from the church!
I was so incredibly proud of myself. My friend (who’s a 9 on the Enneagram if that means anything to you) gave me a high five and congratulated me. My husband (who’s a 1 on the Enneagram if that means anything to you), reminded me it was because those new people just happened to sit all around me, so I technically didn’t have to try… SO WHAT? I still talked to them, thank you very much.
You can do this too. Get a buddy to go with you when trying to meet new people. Take a friend to your yoga class. Go with a friend to that Harry Potter trivia night (this is actually happening at my local Barnes and Noble this weekend, but I’m not going… alas). Friends you already have can help take the pressure off when meeting new people. Try it and let me know how it goes.
Do you have any tricks up your sleeve to overcome social anxiety? What are they? Let me know in the comments.