• Anxious about Making Friends?

    This blog is featured in the Mindful Life’s Young Adult Series (the Mindful Life is the blog of the Mindful Counseling Center), which is written by young adult bloggers for young adults. This particular blog focuses on the challenges of making new friends in a new place and ideas to ease your related anxiety and facilitate social connections. 

    In the fall of 2022, I found myself getting on a plane to a country I had never visited before. It also happened to be the first time I was traveling outside the country all on my own. So, as you can imagine, I was feeling an immense cloud of anxiety and fear hanging over me. 

    I chose to study in Ireland for a semester abroad, even though I didn’t know anyone that would be studying at this university with me. I would have to make a whole new group of friends for the short span of four months that I would be there. When I got there, I figured the best way to start making new friends would be through my roommates. Unfortunately, they did not arrive until three weeks after I moved in. So, there I was, left in a strange country, all alone, in a four-person apartment, wondering how in the world I was going to possibly make friends. This thought lingering in my head was a magnet triggering feelings of anxiety and panic.

    The anxiety you might experience in social situations like making new friends may be accompanied by physical and emotional reactions such as:

    • Rapid heart rate
    • Excessive sweating/trembling
    • Nausea 
    • Difficulty with making eye contact with others
    • Self-consciousness 
    • Self-isolation
    • Tensing of the body
    • Soft speech
    • Fear of embarrassing yourself

    While these feelings and reactions may seem abnormal to you, it is important that you know that feeling anxiety in these types of situations is completely normal.  If you think that you are the only one feeling anxious, you are wrong! Almost everyone has dealt with anxiety in some form or another, and many people struggle with creating new friend groups.  

    The first step to making new friends is always going to be the hardest. Putting yourself out there is scary, but it’s a fear that you most likely can manage. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to put yourself out there in a big way, like going to a party.  A small gesture,  like asking a new classmate or coworker out for  coffee, is a step in the right direction. Overtime, meeting new people is going to get less and less scary, and you will likely find that you are no longer feeling the same level of symptoms of anxiety that you may have had before. 

    Here are some ways that you can make new friends while also easing feelings of anxiety that may come up when being out of your comfort zone.

    Seek Out People with Similar Interests

    A great way to ease into making friends is to find people with whom you share common interests. This way, it will be easier to find talking points that you can use to engage with them. You can find these people by attending social events in your area that you are interested in or joining clubs or associations that you think you might enjoy. This approach gives you opportunities to interact with people who you share commonalities with, while finding comfort in something familiar. 

    Seek Out Friends on Social Media

    Sometimes turning to social media is a great start. One of my favorite ways to try and make new friends when traveling to a new area is by joining a Facebook group. If you look on Facebook, sometimes there is some sort of community group for people looking for friends in your area. I find these groups especially useful for people starting a new university, whether it be for an undergraduate or graduate program. Sites like these allow people to meet online before committing to meeting up in person, which could alleviate some of the anxiety you may feel during your first in person interaction.

    Seek Out Friends at School

    If you happen to be starting a new school like I did, make sure to take advantage of your orientations. I met my friends when going to my school’s orientation, and you are required to be there already, so why not take advantage of it. Sometimes making friends is as simple as asking someone if you are in the right place, and then continuing the conversation from there. Starting off with simple small talk can lead you to finding people that you are able to make new memories with, just like me! 

    Make Long Lasting Friendships

    Another tip that is passed around a lot is the idea of being yourself. Now, while some people overlook this one, I find it to be extremely important. When making new friends, being true to yourself is what’s going to allow you to build strong relationships that you will feel at ease in going forward. This concept of being your true self is difficult for a lot of people, because they may fear rejection and that may heighten their anxiety. Not being truthful about your personality or interests, though, is just going to start new friendships with a cracked foundation. To make long lasting friendships, being yourself and finding people that appreciate you are essential.  It is also important to remember that making a lot of friends isn’t the goal. Keeping in mind the quality of your relationships over the quantity of relationships made is key to reducing feelings of anxiety. Finding friends who you are comfortable around is more beneficial than making a lot of connections with people you feel won’t accept the “real” you. 

    A pro tip is to remember that you aren’t going to like everyone, and everyone isn’t going to like you either. You don’t have to spend time trying to please someone with whom you don’t share a strong positive connection. 

    Address Social Anxiety

    If your symptoms of anxiety while seeking out new friends feels a little more intense than you think is normal, or you are having a really hard time taking any steps towards interacting with new people, you may be dealing with a social anxiety disorder. A social anxiety disorder is described as the persistent and intense fear of being watched and judged by others. 

    Some ways to reduce feelings of social anxiety include:

    • Journaling: try to understand your anxiety patterns by writing down your experiences and feelings
    • Relaxation: try to participate in meditation practices, and stress relieving breathing exercises. 
    • Mindful listening: try to focus on what others are saying, rather than letting your mind roam and assume the worst.

    If social anxiety feels like it is controlling you, it may be time to reach out to a mental health counselor for help in exploring your situation, thoughts and emotions, and finding strategies that work for you to ease your anxiety. Feel free to contact the Mindful Counseling Center to schedule an appointment with a counselor. 

    I wish you the best in your efforts to make friends. 

    Article by Emma Correia