The combination of social anxiety and loneliness is devastating, but fortunately, even when it seems hopeless, the problem can be overcome.
Social Anxiety and Loneliness—Step #1. Address self-defeating thoughts
Loneliness can produce extreme distortions in your thinking without you even realizing it. Before you know it, you can find yourself thinking such things as “people don’t like me,” “I’m unattractive,” or “I’m annoying.” Your mind will even create “evidence” to back up these self-defeating beliefs. If this continues, you’ll continue to isolate yourself and back away from opportunities to improve your social life. Ultimately your loneliness may become a monster that plunges you into an abyss of depression and consumes every waking moment.
If this sounds familiar to you, recognize your thoughts for what they are—self-defeating distortions—and nip them in the bud before they demolish your confidence any further. They often come in the form of statements like the examples above, and you can recognize them by the following signs:
- They focus on you and ignore the rest of the world
- They say something painfully negative about you
- They’re extreme, taking a black-and-white position on things
- They offer no course of action to remedy the problem
If your thought patterns pass this simple test, it’s time to stop them in their tracks. “Flip the script” by turning them into something positive, or tagging something on to them to address the perceived problem. You may even want to write the new, better thoughts down so you can reaffirm them to yourself on a daily basis. In this way, the statement “people don’t like me” can become:
- “People do like me, and I can give even more people a chance to like me by becoming more social.”
- “Some people may not like me, but nobody likes everybody. There are people out there who will be a natural fit for me.”
- “People seem not to like me, but maybe it’s because I’m not showing enough interest in them, expecting them to do the work of befriending me. I should learn how to take more social initiative.”
Turning your self-defeating thoughts into positive catalysts for action is an important first step. It’s the quickest way to identify steps you can immediately take towards overcoming loneliness.
Social Anxiety and Loneliness—Step #2. Extend yourself socially
Now that you’ve cleared the way to take positive action, it’s time to do just that. If you have social anxiety, this might be the hardest step. The very thought of extending yourself socially might cause you anxiety, but the key is to start small and do the things you know you can push yourself to do. The idea is to expand your social opportunities and expose yourself to situations that will actually help you meet people you’ll click with.
Some of the things you can do to extend yourself socially are as follows:
- Making small talk with the cashier before you leave a store
- Attending the next meeting of a local social group built around one of your interests
- Locking eyes for a brief second and smiling as you walk by people
- Asking your colleagues or classmates how their weekends were, and sharing what your own activities were (It’s perfectly fine to say that you just “relaxed and didn’t do much” on a particular weekend, as long as you’re not being a hermit every Saturday!)
By taking the baby steps you feel comfortable with and building on them over time, you’ll find that your social confidence will grow. Interacting with people will slowly lose the sense of terror you’ve associated with it for so long as socializing becomes natural for you. As a result, your loneliness will dissipate as well.
Social Anxiety and Loneliness—Step #3. Continue to get social practice and take risks
Loneliness has a way of creeping back into your life if you’re not actively keeping it at bay. The way to do this, of course, is to keep getting out there and putting your social confidence into practice. Take bigger steps, such as organizing a small party or, if you’re single, approaching someone you’re attracted to and striking up a conversation.
If you slack off with socializing, you run the risk of the all-too-familiar loneliness returning; suddenly, you’re back in the same rut you worked so hard to escape from. However, if you fortify your social life, you’ll have a buffer that won’t allow you to slip back into feeling all alone. You’ll know there’s a friend you can call to talk to for a few minutes, if not hang out with. You’ll know that you can meet people wherever you go, with much less effort than you were used to.
You don’t necessarily have to fill your calendar to the brim with social activity. Chances are you’re already fairly busy with other obligations. The idea is simply to keep going, to keep pushing yourself until you’ve arrived at a state of satisfaction and left your loneliness behind—whether that means having three or four buddies, a group to root for your favorite sports team with, or a person you’re dating and enjoying some time with. At that point, you can choose to take a break from social practice or push towards higher heights, within reason. The sky is the limit, and you’re in the driver’s seat.
Social anxiety and loneliness can feed on each other and suck a person into a vortex of depression and immobility, but you don’t have to let this happen to you. When you follow the simple plan above, you’ll leave loneliness behind and become a socially satisfied person before you know it!