We all have different skill sets. Some of us are social butterflies who float from gathering to gathering, quickly building a strong group of friends along the way. Others may have a bit more difficulty starting new relationships. For some of those individuals, the big obstacle is social anxiety. While anxiety disorders don’t stop you from making new friends or dating, they can make the process so hard that opting out entirely often feels like a safer choice.
However, there are ways to challenge the negative thoughts that make socializing so complicated and help alleviate your anxiety. Whether your goal is to make new friends, go out more often with the friends you have, or even overcome your dating anxiety, you can achieve it.
Feeling Anxious vs. Anxiety Disorders
The person who never feels nervous about upcoming social gatherings is probably rarer than someone who feels anxious about them. Dating can be even scarier because it’s such a personal interaction. However, anxiety disorders aren’t simply a matter of “feeling anxious.” A person who doesn’t have any mental health conditions will feel nervous before or during a date but can push through it. The butterflies in their stomach typically vanish once they start conversing freely.
People with social anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder often can’t push through their symptoms, even if they truly want to. These symptoms affect their daily lives, often causing them to skip out on social events due to intense fear, anxiety, or even physical issues like lightheadedness, nausea, or difficulty breathing. In some cases, anticipatory anxiety can be so severe that a person will avoid any situation that requires socialization. While the symptoms come and go—depending on various factors—their very presence makes meeting people, making friends, or dating quite difficult.
Why Meeting Others is Important
Because fighting against anxiety is often more of a struggle than giving in to it, some people wonder why they should even bother trying. This mindset is particularly common among individuals with multiple conditions that feed into each other, like depression and anxiety.
While there are people who are perfectly happy being alone and may even benefit from it, we all need some socialization, whether with a love interest, close friend, or even a new acquaintance. Humans are innately social creatures. Our ability to communicate with each other is one of the key things that pushed us forward as a species, and our bodies actively encourage it.
Research shows that face-to-face talking releases a flood of neurotransmitters that benefit us. Even something as simple as a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, a hormone that quite literally encourages bonding. In animal studies, hormones like oxytocin limit fear and anxiety and have an antidepressant effect. That’s right, high-fiving your friends can help fight mental health issues.
Plus, tons of studies have found that individuals who have close friendships in their teenage years experience lower rates of anxiety and depression later in life. Other research confirms the effects in our twilight years, as seniors who live socially active lives report higher satisfaction. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to fill every waking hour with parties, get-togethers, and meetings, but the occasional conversation can help us become happier and healthier.
Meeting Others or Dating With Anxiety
So if socialization is healthy and important, how does a person with anxiety actually manage their condition long enough to be able to go out and meet people—let alone try dating? The answer will depend on your circumstances. We’re all different people with unique needs and backgrounds. Even if you and someone else share the same type of anxiety, you probably have different symptoms, triggers, and past traumas. Even so, there are still plenty of ways to work around anxiety—and most of them are simple.
One easy way to limit anxiety is to involve yourself in the planning. Not knowing the details of an upcoming event is a major source of anxiety for many people. Voicing your desires and helping with the planning will keep you involved and allow you to find solutions to other potential triggers. If being reliant on your date for transportation worries you, suggest taking separate cars. You might also try a double date if you both have friends available, which gives you someone you can rely on.
Even if you can’t plan the event itself, you can plan what you’ll do. Find some reliable conversation topics. Maybe you could ask about what show they’ve been binging or what bands they’re really into.
If getting to the planning stage is difficult, find something that helps you refocus your mind before a social event and keeps anticipatory anxiety at bay. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, journaling, and even yoga are all great ways to fight stress and anxiety.
Positivity Over Negativity
Remember to focus on the positives. Anxiety makes it easy to dwell on the negative, which only serves to feed a loop of stray thoughts and negativity. Rather than looking for what’s going wrong, find what’s going right. Maybe they’re laughing at your jokes or sharing their personal life with you.
Everyone Has Bad Dates
Let’s face it, socializing is hard and dating is harder. The vast majority of the people on this planet have had a negative dating experience. If you have a bad time or a nightmare of a date, your anxiety will encourage you to dwell on it. In some cases, it may even become something of a traumatic event. Remember that your past doesn’t have to determine your future. A failure now doesn’t prevent you from finding success.
You Don’t Have to
Remember that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Making friends and socializing is better for your mental health, but trying to force yourself beyond your limits will only harm your future efforts. Maybe you need to cancel some plans because you’re just not in the headspace for socializing. Maybe you don’t need as many social outings to recharge your batteries as other people. It’s up to you to decide what is best for your mental health and sometimes that may mean staying at home and enjoying your solitude.
What to Do if Nothing Works
If you’ve tried every tip imaginable and your anxiety is still limiting your ability to make friends or date, you’re not alone. Overcoming a serious condition like social anxiety on one’s own without any support is legitimately difficult. But you don’t have to do it alone. At FHE Health, our team of experts has helped many people with anxiety over the years. We’ll help you find ways to manage your anxiety symptoms and reach your dating and social goals.