Social anxiety is a fairly common condition where someone is fearful of interaction with other people. Often it is related to fears of being judged in a negative way and can lead to avoidance of social situations. It is estimated that as many as 7% of people in the US suffer from the more severe form of this problem – Social Anxiety Disorder. However, milder forms of social anxiety are extremely common.
So what do you say if someone you know with social anxiety cancels plans? It is sometimes difficult to know if they canceled plans due to their social anxiety fears or if they have a more “normal” reason to cancel.
If you are able to speak openly and the person has acknowledged that they have social anxiety, is it OK to ask them “Do you have any concerns about the event that make you reluctant to attend?”. If they say “No, I just have other plans.” then you can say “I am sorry to hear that, maybe next time.”
However, if you hear them say “It seems like it will be alot of people” or “It sounds like it will be very loud”, you may be able to offer some help. Consider ways in which you could make the person more comfortable in the environment. You could offer “Maybe it would help if you talked with people inside where it is quieter”, or “There will be about 20 people there but I can introduce you to 2 friends who I think you will really like.”
If you hear “I am just not sure…” you could also offer other ideas “Maybe you could just come for the first 20 minutes before it gets busy” or “It would really help me if you could come 15 minutes early and set up some food – then see how you feel when people arrive.”
Basically, you are helping to problem-solve with the person how they can take some baby steps towards attending your social function. Realize that this is hard for them and they are already very worried about being judged negatively, so you need to maintain a positive, upbeat, and non-judging attitude. If they seem too uncomfortable just say you are there for them, and if they change their mind they are welcome to join in.
To learn more about social anxiety or to schedule an appointment, contact our office today.
Live Mentally Healthy
Dr. Jennie Byrne