3 Ways To Stop Feeling Awkward At Social Events (& Make New Friends)

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How To Meet New People & Make Friends When You Have Social Anxiety

If you have social anxiety, you might want to learn how to meet new people and socialize with them without feeling so anxious and stressed out. 

Do you feel like the "broken" one at BBQ's, picnics, and dinners because you can't talk or make new friends with people?

If you or someone you love experiences social anxiety, it can feel especially uncomfortable when summer picnics, neighborhood parties, and social gatherings are present.

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Some folks will drop everything to grab a quick potato salad and run to the neighbor’s backyard for a little socializing. However, worriers will find any excuse in the book to stay away.

What is it about parties, get-togethers, dinners, and reunions that is so polarizing? People either love them or hate them. 

I must admit, I tend to run with those that would just as soon stay home. Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends and being with them is great. But over the years, I notice that I’ve changed from quite social and motivated to more introverted.

The time came when my sense of obligation to go to the big BBQ just gave in to the tired and anxious part that gained permission to say no thanks.

I feel a little sad knowing that I have likely missed out on good times with good people. On the other hand, I also have compassion for myself knowing that life can be very full and it isn’t always necessary or possible to go to every event.

For most of us, there is a choice. For some people, maybe even you or someone you love, to accept or refuse an invitation is not a choice. A social event feels too overwhelming to consider. 

For some clients and friends, events like these create intense stress and they nearly always stay away. Others experience an intense longing to be invited and included, but when they arrive at the party, they feel confused and sad.

For people who experience a lot of chronic worry, the aftermath of a gathering is so full of self-critical thoughts and scrutinizing their every interaction, it makes even what originally seemed like a fun time feel like a flop. 

Do you sometimes feel like an outsider at a gathering? Do you receive an invitation and cringe? You might be the kind of person for whom mingling at a BBQ is as appealing as having a root canal.

But, you can learn how to stay calm and get in touch with what works for you to create personal growth and even meet new friends. 

Here are 3 ways to meet new people and socialize without feeling stressed out or socially anxious.  

1. Go for it and don’t take it too seriously

Use the event as an opportunity to do a little personal research about you! All our lives, we face groups and situations from our point of view. Can you imagine how early in life you learned what it felt like to join a group?

Consider, what is your default or knee-jerk sense of how others will feel about you when you walk into a gathering? Some people almost innately feel that they will be loved, welcomed and included. Others have a cue of danger that they will not fit in or cannot trust others.

This, of course, may vary group to group depending upon the context. For those of us who don’t relish the idea of a group function, though, having a real-life research experiment at hand is a good excuse to go. 

Breathe and see what comes up in you. Take a few notes if you can about what strong feelings you have and where you feel them in your body. See if they change from person to person, conversation to conversation.

What interactions feel best to you and which ones are difficult? Can you imagine at what age you first discovered these sensations and messages?

Maybe there is a young part of you who still carries some pain, sadness, or anxiety about social events. Perhaps you can check in with that part, offering it a little compassion and letting it know that you are there now.

Young parts of us love it when they realize we are grown and they do not have to go to the party alone. 

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2. Find one person who needs a little company or who seems fun or inviting

Whether it's a pet or a child, make friends with them. In this scenario, you can have a nice impact on someone else or allow that person to bring a smile to your face. You don’t have to entertain the entire crowd of people, if crowds aren’t your thing. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an impact or be a part of the party.

By finding one person who feels approachable and giving them some attention, you have contributed to a warm and happy atmosphere. And, let’s face it, that contributes to a good BBQ. 

Again, notice your motivation and what you hear yourself say in your mind. If you spend the entire time listening to the part in your head that criticizes you or others at the party, it will be almost impossible to truly "meet" someone.

Your goal in this technique is to have just a moment to appreciate someone and feel a comfortable connection. When a kind smile and warm eyes meet, the impact is palpable and important for both people — and even for people with pets. 

As in the first method, you can also treat this as an experiment. Jot down a few notes about what it feels like to make even the briefest warm encounter. Notice any feelings that get confused or frightened.

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You can get curious about these feelings and help them later. Don’t forget to celebrate any moments of goodness, love, comfort, and confidence.

3. Formally (or informally) take on a role

You might be more comfortable doing something rather than just being someone. This isn’t to say that who you are is not enough. However, if you naturally derive comfort from having a purpose and contributing in a physical way, it’s totally fine to have a role at the party rather than just showing up to chat.

This method celebrates what you like about you. Your role can be an actual one you have coordinated with the host or one that you quietly take on for yourself.

For example, you could volunteer to help with the grilling, clean up food areas or garbage. Maybe you offer water to guests, stoke the campfire, or bring a special food item. Your skills might lead you to help with kids, set up a game or provide music.

Big or small, it doesn’t matter as long as it feels comfortable for you.

This method isn’t about you having to feel like you fit in. It’s about being yourself in the most comfortable way you can. Again, notice how this feels and remember that you are contributing to the community gathered there by just being a kind and willing helper. 

Hey, it’s summer!

So take a few small steps outside of your comfort zone. Look around you at your next picnic, event or BBQ. Breathe and allow your body to calm. Seek out a smile and accept it. Appreciate even one thing you see. Slow down and notice the messages you give yourself. It all matters.

Most of all, notice parts of you that feel broken or imperfect. These parts of you need your love and care. Honestly, with a little attention, they may be your strongest assets.

Allow your humanness to join you to others around you — a little at a time.

Enjoy your self!

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Ingrid Helander is a Marriage and Family Therapist. For more information on her services, visit her website and sign up for her newsletter. If you need a little extra help with worry, don’t forget to download: Calm Your Worries: Unlock Your Secret Code to Lasting Stress Relief and Self-Confidence.

This article was originally published at Ingrid Y. Helander, LMFT Blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.