Once a week, at a local retirement community, I run a support group for eighty and ninety year olds. I was asked to do it because of the inevitable loss and loneliness that happens when a person lives almost a century. Many of these people struggle with health conditions and have lost husbands, wives, children, but what strikes me, despite their loss, is their commitment to not being lonely. This generation recognizes how crucial social connection is and will attend every ice cream social and Bible study (and support group) anyone's willing to put on. Despite the tremendous loss, they keep putting themselves out there as if their lives depend on it.
Then I come back to my office.
In my practice, I see lots of 20-somethings and 30-somethings. And one of the biggest complaints is how lonely and unconnected they are. This is unsurprising, of course, given that these generations developed socially just as screens pervaded our society. Now, I'm not a screen nay-sayer. I've seen a lot of people develop deep and meaningful friendships and romances online. But we have forgotten how to talk to people face to face and how simply to introduce ourselves to a stranger...and ask questions about people we don't know. We don't want to pry!
Social anxiety, of course, compounds the natural loneliness that all of us feel these days. If you have social anxiety, there's no way you're going to force yourself to go to a happy hour to get to know your coworkers better. There's no way you're going to join a Meet Up group to chat with people of similar interests. If you find yourself lonely but refusing to push yourself into social situations (no matter how awkward), you may have an anxiety disorder. (And yes, there is a difference between introversion and an anxiety disorder. Not all introverts have an anxiety disorder! A good therapist can help you navigate the difference, or check out this social anxiety quiz.)
But the good news is, social anxiety is very treatable. After one therapy session, you will walk away with specific tools to try that very day. It only requires being open-minded and a little uncomfortable at times, but the rewards of meaningful friendships and romantic partners are undeniable. It really does become a cost-benefit analysis, a risk-reward scenario. If you want to overcome social anxiety and beat loneliness, contact a qualified social anxiety therapist today!