How to Make Friends When You Have Social Anxiety

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Making friends can be tough for anyone, but it may be particularly challenging for those with social anxiety disorder ​(SAD). Social anxiety is a type of anxiety that causes people to feel extremely nervous and self-conscious in social situations. This often leads to the avoidance of social situations, which can make it difficult to form and maintain friendships.

If you are living with SAD, you may want to make friends but do not know where to start. However, there are things that you can do to make friends, broaden your social circle, and build fulfilling relationships.

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Fight Negative Thinking

Negative thinking can play a significant part in making social anxiety worse. Examples of negative thoughts that can make it more difficult to make friends include thinking that no one is interested in what you have to say, overanalyzing people's words and actions, thinking you can tell what other people are thinking, and always assuming the worst.

Cognitive reframing is one strategy that you can use to help change these thoughts. This process helps people learn to recognize thought distortions, adjust their mindset, and see things in a more optimistic way.

You can practice cognitive reframing by:

  • Identifying your negative thoughts
  • Assessing whether these thoughts are realistic or accurate
  • Actively challening your negative thoughts
  • Replacing your negative thoughts with more positive, helpful ones

Making friends takes time, but if you feel that you cannot meet new people or that idea of trying to meet new people is too frightening or overwhelming, it may be a good idea to consult a therapist.

Working on treating SAD can help you relax and enjoy being around other people more. Once your social anxiety is under control, you should find it easier to approach new people and start developing friendships.

Set Small Goals

Instead of immediately trying to forge new friendships, you might start by setting smaller goals and then taking small steps towards them. Some small goals you might want to set include:

  • Smiling at a stranger
  • Exchanging pleasantries with the cashier at the grocery store
  • Making eye contact and waving at a neighbor
  • Texting a current acquaintance or friend to say hi

Practice Social Skills

As you work toward making new friends, it can also be helpful to learn and practice your social skills. This can not only help relieve your anxiety, but it can also make interacting and meeting people easier. 

Some skills that can help include using open body language and learning how to make small talk with new acquaintances. Rehearsing these conversations and having a list of small talk topics can help you feel more comfortable in these casual interactions.

Look at all of your social interactions—whether they are at work, school, church, or even the grocery store—as opportunities to practice your skills.

You won't walk away from every encounter with a new friend, but you will have practiced smiling, chatting, and other social skills. It also gives you the chance to practice managing the anxiety that these interactions can cause.

Meet New People

In order to find potential friends, you need to look for opportunities to get to know new people. When looking for potential friends, the best places to start are also the easiest—your interests.

Do you work with others? Do you know someone who has a large circle of friends? Could you join a group or organization to increase the number of people that you are in contact with?

It is important not to be too picky in the beginning. Anyone could be a potential friend. First impressions are not necessarily the best indicators of who could become a long-term friend.

When you want to meet new people and potential friends, consider:

  • Asking a coworker to lunch
  • Joining a book club at the library
  • Volunteering at a local non-profit

Online apps such as Meetup and Bumble can also be useful for finding new friends. Such apps can be particularly appealing to people with social anxiety because they allow you to get to know someone to a certain degree before meeting in person.

In addition to making new connections, consider reaching out to current acquaintances such as neighbors, co-workers, friends of friends, or other parents from your child's school.

Say Yes to Invitations

As you meet new people, work on both accepting invitations and making plans with others. When you are invited to spend time with others, do your best not to turn them down. Saying yes helps show that you are interested and willing to make the effort to strengthen the relationship.

By the same token, you shouldn't always expect the other person to make plans. Though making plans can be a challenging task for those with SAD, it is important to show others that you are interested in them and want to get together. Start small by asking them to meet for coffee, visit a local bookstore, or go shopping together.

Be patient as your friendship grows. Research shows it can take 50 or more hours before an acquaintance becomes a true friend.

Stay in Touch

Once you have begun to form friendships, it is important to stay in touch. Make sure to get contact information for the people that you meet, whether it's their cell phone number or a link to their social media pages.

Over time you will come to learn how often certain people stay in touch. Be sure to do your part to contact your new friends and make plans. Talking to each other in person or on the phone can be important, but staying in touch can also involve sending a text or sharing a link on social media.

Building friendships takes time and mutual effort. Make creating new friendships a priority, but realize that the race to the finish line is a marathon, not a sprint.

A Word From Verywell

Friendships can be a great source of support, strength, and enjoyment. Finding new friends is challenging for most people, but social anxiety can make it more challenging at times.

However, having social anxiety doesn't have to mean that you can't build new connections. By taking small steps, combatting negative thinking, and looking for opportunities to meet new people, you can begin to build rewarding friendships.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I make friends when I have social anxiety and depression?

    Anxiety and depression can both lead to negative thoughts that make forming friendships more difficult. Learning how to identify, combat, and replace these patterns with more encouraging thoughts can help you in social situations. Work on building social skills, practice your social interactions, and look for chances to meet people who share your interests.

  • How do you keep friends when you have social anxiety?

    While social anxiety can make you want to stay home and avoid social situations, it is important to stay in touch with your friends. Sometimes this will involve forcing yourself to accept invitations that you might otherwise decline. Over time, exposing yourself to social situations can help reduce feelings of social anxiety.

  • Why do I have a hard time making friends?

    There could be a number of reasons why you have a hard time making friends. Many people feel a certain degree of anxiety when meeting new people. Or you may have never had the opportunity to learn how to socialize effectively. Situational factors such as moving to a new area and don't know anybody yet can also play a role.

    Major life changes, such as starting a new job or becoming a parent, can lead to feelings of isolation and make it harder to build new connections. It is important to remember that many people find it challenging to make friends as adults. One way to address this is to actively seek friendships and look for opportunities to meet new people.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Social anxiety disorder: More than just shyness.

  2. Managing Social Anxiety and Making New Friends in College. Williamette University. 

  3. Hall J. How many hours does it take to make a friend?J Soc Pers Relat. 2018;36(4):1278-1296. doi:10.1177/0265407518761225

  4. Amati V, Meggiolaro S, Rivellini G, Zaccarin S. Social relations and life satisfaction: the role of friends. Genus. 2018;74(1):7. doi:10.1186/s41118-018-0032-z

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."