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Making Connections when You Have Anxiety or Depression: Three Tips on Building a Strong Social Network

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If you’re using this site, you likely believe that family support is essential for managing a mental illness. And you would be right, for all the reasons cited in this article.

And yet, most children and young adults crave some connection with peers and may suffer from loneliness if they do not have a social life outside the home. Studies show that having a social network (even a small one) can significantly add to the quality of our lives and help us manage our mental health.

For those dealing with anxiety and depression, meeting new people and being sociable may seem outside their reach or not worth the effort. However, there are plenty of welcoming people outside the home who you can get to know in emotionally safe environments, even if you have little to no practice socializing. Below are three tips to make getting out there less intimidating:

Tip #1: Do what you enjoy with like-minded people

One of the most terrifying things about trying to meet new people is that it’s impossible to tell if they will even want to talk and, if they do, whether you will have anything to talk about with them. To get past that issue, consider what you enjoy doing at home and seek out ways to do those things in social settings.

Even if your interests are more solitary, there are still ways to enjoy them with others. For instance, if you like reading, joining a book club or going to author talks may be up your alley. If you like drawing, look for local art events or check out apps like Meetup to look for groups that draw together. Video games your thing? See if there are video game lounges nearby. It’s also okay if you’re not that great at any of these things. As long as you enjoy them, social groups like these will be happy to have you.

Many people with hobbies like these might also be out of practice talking to strangers. You don’t need to feel that you’re the only one who’s anxious, but it DOES mean that starting a conversation might be up to you. Since you’ll be in a place where everyone has at least one commonality, start with that and build from there.

Tip #2: Strategize beforehand to prevent panic and burnout

If the thought of trying to meet new people makes you feel panicked, you are far from alone. However, it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for enjoying other people’s company. You are probably just imagining some worst-case scenarios, which likely stem from bad experiences you’ve had in the past.

I used to act like a caged animal around new people because my middle school experience was so traumatizing. And yet, when I started to calm down, I realized that there were plenty of people who didn’t see me the way my peers used to see me.

To manage your nerves, plan ahead. Consider what your limits might be for social interactions. If you promise yourself you’ll stay for 30-60 minutes, or you’ll start a conversation with at least one person, you can go to your event without feeling trapped. Even though meeting new people is no longer a nightmarish concern for me, I still find that setting my limits ahead of time helps. Knowing I need to gather my energy for only 1-2 hours allows me to go out, put in the effort needed to get to know people, and then before I’m too tired, I get to go home. Sometimes, by giving myself permission to leave after an hour, I’ll end up staying significantly longer because I’m focusing on who I’m talking to and enjoying myself, as opposed to frantically watching the clock.

Tip #3: Focus on connections with compatible people

While anyone willing to have a friendly conversation is probably worth talking to, there will be plenty of people who won’t seem suitable as future friends. So, practice conversing with anyone who seems nice, but focus your energy on people you can talk with somewhat easily and share commonalities. The more you feel that you can be yourself around someone, the more promising your future with them will be.

One way to make connections is to go places where people already share your interests (see Tip #1). That can help you start conversations and evaluate whether it’s worth investing more effort in the people you meet. You’re not going to vibe with everyone, but when you enjoy talking to someone, end the conversation by asking to trade contact information or go to another event with you. Try not to take it personally if he or she says no, as some people are simply not comfortable at first. It may take more than one event and multiple conversations before someone is ready to go beyond the present interaction.

The above tips will help you develop a social network, mostly on your terms, so you do not have to experience even more stress and anxiety than you already face. You deserve to have a rich and rewarding social life, which will eventually help you with the day-to-day management of depression and anxiety. Give these tips a try and see how much you enjoy socializing!



About the Author: Dr. Rebecca DiVerniero is a Communication Coach who helps socially anxious young adults meet new people. She manages her own anxiety by reading, petting every cat she sees, and watching Jim Carrey movies. More information about Rebecca’s coaching and services can be found on her website.

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1 thoughts on “Making Connections when You Have Anxiety or Depression: Three Tips on Building a Strong Social Network

  1. Anxiety Treatment CT says:

    It’s been shown that having even a small social network can significantly add to the quality of our lives and help us manage our mental health. These three tips on building a strong social network will help guide you towards better mental health. Thanks for sharing!

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