Anxiety can make you feel like you need to hide and be on your own. Some people feel shame for having anxiety and don’t want people to know. But people who suffer anxiety are often among the most intelligent, the most thoughtful and the most capable. They have a lot to be proud about and a lot to offer others.
Furthermore, when reaching out to others, you’ll be surprised how many people can relate to having anxiety or know someone else going through the same thing. Whether you have a specific social anxiety condition, or if anxiety makes it difficult for you to plan time with others, it’s important not to become isolated.
Benefits of social support for anxiety
Hundreds of studies show that social support is important for maintaining physical and mental health. As human beings, our need to connect to each other is vital. Many researchers would even say it’s as basic as our need for food, water and shelter.
As human beings, we are shaped by our social environment and when our social bonds are cut, we suffer greatly. Not only do we have a biological and evolutionary need for socializing, but it’s particularly important when you have anxiety.
When we suffer anxiety and isolate ourselves, we actually perpetuate a cycle. We become internalized and wrapped up in our thoughts. One of the best ways to not get stuck in anxious thinking is through distractions and external stimulus. But when you feel anxious and choose to be alone, the anxious thoughts often increase and become more negative. Getting outside, doing an activity and being around people are great ways to take you out of anxiety.
Don’t beat yourself up if socializing feels difficult
Anxiety can make it seem hard to meet others and have relationships. If you suffer from social anxiety in particular, you may feel like you lack the skills to talk to people. But it’s not necessarily the case. According to a recent NPR story, research shows that people who are lonely may actually have superior social skills to people who are not lonely. They struggle with being social because they are scared of messing up and saying the wrong thing. Or, you may put undue pressure on yourself to only socialize when you feel you’re at your best.
If you feel anxiety when meeting new people, try starting with simple questions. People enjoy talking about themselves and this will endear you to them very quickly. Or, seek out social pursuits that revolve around a shared activity such as a running club, a knitting class or a gaming group.
You’re in good company – The statistics on anxiety
Whatever form your anxiety takes, it can feel isolating. But you’re not alone. There are many people suffering from anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), roughly 40 million people in the U.S. aged 18 and over suffer anxiety, or 18.1% of the adult population. (That’s almost one in five!)
Suffering from anxiety doesn’t mean you’re inadequate. Many would even argue it’s becoming symptomatic of our times. These days, our socialization is often reduced to texts, emails and social media, leaving us more alienated from each other than ever before. This can also lead to feelings of comparison and not living up. Add to that an increasingly speedy world, it’s no wonder human beings are becoming more stressed and anxious.
For these reasons, there is a widespread belief that anxiety is on the rise. Unfortunately, the statics are even higher for younger generations. Anxiety disorders currently affect 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old, according to the ADAA.
While these statistics may sound gloomy, the good news is that anxiety is highly treatable.
Having fun helps ease anxiety
Anxiety is treated with a variety of approaches and one of them is having fun. It’s all about distractions from your anxious thoughts and creating healthy, new patterns. Many people who suffer anxiety have lots of “should” lists and don’t give themselves permission to have fun. It’s important to make nourishing, social activities a regular part of your life.
Have a recurring social activity that requires you to keep showing up. This could be a movie night, a recreational sport, a game night, a weekly meditation group, an art class, a volunteer shift at an animal shelter, monthly brunch with a friend and so forth. If you feel anxious beforehand, still show up.
Start small if you need to and be gentle with yourself. You don’t have to jump straight into attending a crowded party. Stay busy with enjoyable things. Don’t let yourself be alone getting lost in your thoughts all the time. Little by little, develop a consistent pattern of being more social, and gradually create a more supportive social life for yourself.
How to reach out to family and friends
It can be very beneficial to let those close to you know you’ve been suffering from anxiety. It doesn’t matter if it’s just one person or 10, reaching out is the important part. Here are a few ways:
• Designate a friend or family member to check in with regularly. You can tell them the specifics of what you’ve been going through or if you’d rather, just let them know you are going through a challenging time and would value their company. Do whatever is most comfortable for you.
• Write a letter to a close family member or friend. Sometimes it’s easier to put what you are experiencing in writing. For some, talking about having anxiety can make us feel even more anxious. But sitting down and writing a letter can take the pressure off.
• Find a support group or network. Knowing you’re not alone in this is important. Also, if you don’t feel you have someone in your life you’d like to open up to, a support group can be a safe and anonymous environment for sharing what you’re going through.