How to be Friends with People with Social Anxiety

How to be Friends with People with Social Anxiety

Apr 23, 2019

How to be Friends with People with Social Anxiety

by Kritleen Bawa

Social anxiety or social phobia is explained as having clinically relevant anxiety or fear in the anticipation of or being in a social situation in which embarrassment may occur. People with social anxiety are afraid of interacting with other, being watched in a social setting and performing in front of people because they are fearful of embarrassing themselves. They are fixated with the idea of being perfect in the public eye. Sometimes this can lead to a feedback loop where increased anxiety makes them more likely to stutter or fall in public which can then lead to having a greater anxiety in social situations.

Social anxiety can greatly hinder one’s social and professional life development. People with social anxiety start to avoid social events and are uncomfortable in presenting in front of others, which can greatly reduce their chances of getting a promotion at work. People with social anxiety also report taking more days off from work due to their symptoms. They are also at a higher risk of having a lower education level and hence low wages. They generally have fewer friends and are less likely to get married and have kids.

People with social anxiety disorder usually have other comorbidities such as other anxiety disorders, depression and substance use disorder which can make it difficult to deal with their symptoms all together.

So, from the above information and personal experience, I can say that approaching and being friends with people with social anxiety disorder need a bit of alteration in the behaviour that allows us to be friends with people who don’t have social anxiety. So how do you approach them and be friends with them?

I have a few friends who have social anxiety as well as general anxiety and over the years I have learned that simple things like going out with friends may be a great deal for them. As noted by the information above, avoidance is a problem that makes it harder for people with social anxiety to interact with others and get their work done. This can also show up in personal relationships such as not making a phone call, or going to a friend’s birthday party or other things that are seen as basics in friendships. I believe that patience is the key in this situation. To bring them out of avoidance, you need to make them feel comfortable. Pushing them to do something that they are uncomfortable with will only push them away, and lead them to avoid further interacting with the group.

The first step to making them comfortable with you is accepting their social anxiety and hence freeing them from the social responsibilities that they might be forced to fulfill in a room of people they do not know. They should be able to be themselves completely without being afraid of being judged. For example, they might fear looking rude if they wish to leave early from a party but if you are patient with them and accept what they are feeling, it will be easy for both of you to maintain a healthy friendship.

Another step would be taking some initiative. Instead of waiting for them to call, you should call them to check in. Talk to them about anything that they might have trouble with or need help with. So, number two would be taking some initiative.

The third step in making them comfortable should be being empathizing with them and trying to de- stigmatize and normalize their experience. Instead of trying to fix them, you can help by listening to them. This will allow them to confide in you and open up to you. They may even be comfortable enough to accompany you to a social event.

Of course, you are a friend and not a therapist. So if you believe that your friend needs more help and their behaviours are becoming self-harming or increasingly hindering them from carrying out a normal life then you can, maybe with a help of another friend or a family member, help them get in touch with a professional healthcare provider, for example a therapist, a psychiatrist or others.

In conclusion, being friends with people who have social anxiety disorder is not drastically different than being friends with people who do not have this disorder. You just need to be sensitive to their feeling and adjust your behaviour according to their reactions and feedback and you will have an awesome friend by your side! Just remember to be accepting, patient, empathizing and ready to take some initiative to maintain this friendship, which is also necessarily the key to any healthy friendship.

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