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Socially Anxious Adults Can Make Friends Too, Here’s How!

Making new friends can always be difficult for people with social anxiety. This is especially true for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Social anxiety is the overwhelming fear of being judged or embarrassed by others in a public setting. When social anxiety is intense and persistent, then it becomes social anxiety disorder (SAD). Even when a person with SAD realizes that their thoughts are irrational, their negative thoughts can still have an unhealthy impact on their lifestyle.

How SAD may affect your life:

  • Struggle to find new relationships

  • Social skills that don’t improve

  • Avoiding social occasions

  • Depression

  • Overly sensitive to criticism

It’s normal for there to be a heightened level of anxiety when meeting new people, but there’s a difference between the anxiety that we all experience from time to time and social anxiety disorder. Symptoms of SAD usually begin around the age of 13. The disorder is likely to be caused by inheritable and environmental factors.

SAD Triggers:

  • Phone calls

  • Speaking to an authority figure

  • Meeting old friends from the past

  • Performing on stage

  • Being called on in work/class

  • Being teased or criticized

Fortunately, no matter how strong the roller coaster of anxiety, it’s possible to learn to become comfortable in social settings and take back control of your life.

COVID-19’s Affect On Social Skills

Social isolation of COVID-19 can easily be brushed under the rug as something routine for people struggling with social anxiety. Unfortunately, this can still pose an effect on both the common man and somebody suffering from a mental disorder. China’s psychiatric patients reported stronger anxiety and depression symptoms due to COVID-19 related anxiety.

On a more local level, the University of California conducted a study following 514 adults. Results give an insight to the negative effects Northern California’s stay at home order had on social-emotional well being. 36% of participants reported having struggled with loneliness since staying at home and were more likely to be affected by COVID-19 related anxiety. 56.4% of participants who reported loneliness during the stay-at-home order were more likely to experience perceived social isolation. Although, social isolation and COVID-19 related anxiety were not proven to be directly unrelated.

You Can Still Stay Social

Social distancing requires people to keep a distance of 2 meters apart. Yet, in 2020 physical distance doesn’t need to get in the way of connecting socially. Medical professionals advise people to socialize through other means to help combat feelings of social isolation.

Alternative methods of social interaction:

  • Speaking over phone or text

  • Participating in social media or online forums

  • Mailing letters or cards

  • Connecting through email

Many people manage their anxiety with exercise. Even though many fitness and recreational facilities are closed, many of them have online sessions through video programs and social media.

5 Social Skills + How To Make Friends

Being the best version of yourself is a great way to make fulfilling connections. But there are certain social skills that can help participants of the Palsworks Behavioral Modification Program magnify their best qualities. If you haven’t already watched the PALS Video on how to make friends I strongly suggest you do so to get the most out of how the social skills mentioned below are performed.

  1. What is Social-Emotional Reciprocity?

Relationships are supposed to be social contracts that consist of a give-and-take relationship but what does that exactly mean? Sharing and listening when having a conversation with others plays a major role. When a relationship feels one-sided it can leave one person in the friendship feeling emotionally drained.

  • When asked a question by another person, return it in their direction. For instance, If somebody asks you what your favorite meal is after you could ask them “What is your favorite meal?”, or “What’s your favorite restaurant?”. These questions show you are truly listening and care about the other person's ideas.

  • Imitate people’s natural body language, if somebody is frowning or upset try to be gentle and more gentle. On the other hand when a friend is in a positive mood try to tap into the upbeat version of yourself.

  • Eye contact while somebody is speaking to you.

  • Show enthusiasm to other people’s interests and ideas even if it doesn’t exactly relate to your experiences.

2.) Avoid ‘Mind Reading’

Leave your mind reading at home. Socially anxious people can form friendships way easier when they don’t allow their imagination to make them push friends away. When you’re worried about a friend not liking you for no specific reason try to remember that it's most likely the social anxiety speaking. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Sensing a conflict between friends can be resolved with open communication.

3.) Learn to Introduce Yourself

  • Body language:

  • Smile when appropriate

  • Make eye contact

  • Stand tall with your head up

  • Face people to show that you’re listening to them

  • Keep it relevant: Introduce your name and mention something that relates to the current situation. If you’re meeting someone at a library, perhaps mention the kind of books you read. Meeting somebody at a poetry slam, mention the type of poetry you’re interested in.

  • Prepare your introduction beforehand: Having a semi script in your head can help settle first impression jitters. For instance, if it’s your first week at college you can introduce yourself as “Hi, my name's John and I’m a political science major, and like to play basketball in my spare time”. This gives you two conversation starters and is a simple yet welcoming introduction.

4.) Make A List Of The Things You Enjoy Doing

Making friends is supposed to be fun. The people we choose to make a part of our life often make it worth living. We want friends that understand us and connect on a personal level. Create a list of 10 activities that you enjoy and then place them onto a list.

Here are some examples:

  • Reading

  • Jogging

  • Eating out

  • Board Games

  • Photography

  • Yoga

  • Video games

  • Arts and Crafts

  • Knitting, painting, decorating

  • Playing Basketball

  • Gardening

The video above shows Yvonne doing hand tracing art that is loads of fun, and easy to get started.

5. Maintaining Friendships

  1. Stay in touch. Reach out to friends you haven’t spoken to in a while through your preferred way of communication(text, social media, etc.). ‘Awhile’ can mean once a month, or a couple of days depending on the type of relationship you and your new friend have.

  2. Set aside time to connect. In the mix of balancing work-life and at-home errands, it’s easy to put aside friends as an extra-curricular to your life; However, having friends is beneficial to your mental health. Make space for it in your schedule.

  3. Commit to plans. Avoiding to make plans, or canceling plans at the last minute is a common sign of social anxiety disorder.

  4. If you need to cancel a plan, apologize and then reschedule.

  5. Don’t be afraid to offer a more comfortable activity for you. For example, If your friend says “Hey want to go to this concert today”, and you’re not in the right mind space to go. Try saying something along the lines of “Sorry I can’t make it, wanna grab a coffee this Saturday.”

The Next Step

PALS Inc supports adults dealing with mental health challenges and trauma that are associated with a social anxiety disorder. We help develop behavioral support programs for each individual adult based on their personal trauma and experiences. Putting participants on a route to boosting their self-esteem, social, and essential life skills. Our motto is "...Because behavior modification begins with a smile”.

Believe an individual can benefit from this program you can get in contact with a PALS member here.

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