I grew up in a tight-knit small town where everyone knew one another well, so I never really had to think of making new friends until I moved to a larger town and had to face high school.
I had trouble making new friends due to my shyness and nervousness around new people. I’d go over worst-case scenarios of every new interaction before letting myself actually get to know people, which left me uninspired to make new friends. Honestly, that fear can be justified, as the beginning of high school can be a battlefield for queer kids such as myself.
Luckily, my first year of high school went fine, I made some new friends, and learned some new methods to control my social phobia along the way.
Think of your socialization as a skill. Like any skill, such as learning a new instrument, you need practice to improve. Luckily, you’ve most likely been working on this skill for your entire life, so you already have a starting point off of which to build. Some people may be more or less skilled than you, and that is alright. The only person you need to be better than is your past self.
Go out of your comfort zone. When I started high school, I flooded my schedule with extracurriculars and turned down most invitations to hang out. I stuck to what I was comfortable with, and though there is nothing wrong with that, venturing outside my comfort zone helped me explore new things. I did this by leaving some clubs, and spending some time with different people. Disrupting my usual habits helped me discover new friends and routines that I am grateful to have in my life now, and thanks to this my comfort zone has expanded!
Don’t overthink it. A lot of my social phobia stems from nervousness: “what if this doesn’t go as planned?” Yet, I tend to forget that more often than not, people are too caught up in their own appearances to remember my mess-ups. Also, obsessively comparing yourself to others doesn’t bring you anywhere. You can’t accurately evaluate someone else compared to you, because you both are different people, and that is okay. It’s never a competition about who has more friends or knows more people. It only matters that you are satisfied with yourself.
Ditch your social media. Social media platforms can be a great way to connect with new people, but in my experience, they cause more harm than good. Though it can be nice to see what other people are up to, social media only displays a curated version of someone else’s social life, and by extension makes you feel insecure in your own social life. Social media is designed to feed on your insecurities, and this might make you even less motivated to work on your social skills. You don’t even have to delete your accounts: just limiting time on these platforms can help.
If things go south, just walk out. If a social situation does go bad, remember you can leave an interaction whenever you want. If you are feeling unsafe, uncomfortable or upset, you don’t owe it to someone to be their friend. I have utilized this knowledge many times, specifically when I meet new people and they do or say something out of line. You don’t need to give an explanation to anyone if you don’t want to, because you have agency to make the choice of whether someone is actively worth your time or not.
Social phobia is so common because people can sometimes be scary, but people can also be interesting, kind and vibrant. There is always someone new to meet that could improve your life and benefit you as a person.
There are people that enrich my life that I would’ve never met if I didn’t push myself out of my comfort zone and adjust my mindset. Though I definitely have improved on my social phobia, I still have room to grow. It’s a difficult skill to work on, but as with most things in life, the work you put towards improving pays off.
Who knows, maybe there’s someone out there who would benefit from meeting you.
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This article was submitted by Meghan Mills, youth engagement facilitator, Mental Health Promotion and Education Services, CMHA Waterloo Wellington.
Alba Zalli is a community member and participant in the Youth Talk program.
The “Open Mind” column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. For local mental health resources/information, visit www.mdsgg.ca or call 1-844-HERE247.