How can I want to make plans
June 7, 2012 7:12 PM   Subscribe

I have social anxiety that psychs me out about making plans. I moved to a new city about seven months ago and still haven't seen old friends and extended family members that I really should see. Even though I enjoy hanging out with them, thinking about hanging out with them can feel like a stressful chore. I'm trying to get it together to see them and start being social, but a) how do I explain that I DO like them and am not trying to be a dismissive jerk and b) how can I stop having this problem?

When I'm in social situations, I generally enjoy them, seem to be well-liked, and feel pretty confident. But making plans, especially with new people or people I haven't seen for a while, is something I rarely do and almost never want to do. I've really been struggling to make friends in this new town because I never want to go out and meet people. I like people, I'm not stressed out by social interaction in the moment, I just never seem to want to do it. This has always been the case but has gotten much worse since I moved, since the friends that used to seek me out and get me socializing are still in my original city.

When I plan social interaction, I'll often start to subconsciously tell myself that no one will like me, that I won't have a good time, that I'm awkward... standard negative self-talk. I've talked to a therapist about this a bit in Old Town, but the only therapist I've seen in New Town was pretty horrible and alienating, so I haven't gone back (this opinion of the therapist is not a result of social anxiety, but a result of how weird the therapist was. I've had many other good therapy experiences with depression and non-social anxiety). I plan to go back, I'm just looking for other solutions and help to supplement therapy and help me get over this. I'm lonely in New Town, end up watching a lot of TV and spending a lot of time on the Internet for lack of other things to do, and it's really the anxiety that seems to be the root of the problem.

I'm fine telling friends that I've been depressed (this is true: I have dysthymia) and that's why I haven't seen them much, but I'm not sure if it's appropriate with the extended family I've been ignoring. Are there other ways to communicate this in a way that doesn't make people feel like I'm just a flake who doesn't want to hang out with them?

And how can I stop having all these struggles with going into the world and seeing/making friends?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Just do stuff, even if you don't want to. Chances are once you're out and about, you'll be glad you did. Right now you have nothing but your anxiety to associate with going out--develop some positive associations and it will probably seem less intimidating.
posted by elizeh at 7:18 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Through therapy I got a lot better about my social anxiety. I still dread social events, even though, like you, I almost always enjoy them. As much as I can, I've made standing dates - so I try to see my brother's family every other weekend, my one friend for a pub night once a week, another about once a week. The structure of it means I do it more often, even when it feels like it'll be a chore.

With extended family, I think you can just tell them you've been immersed in move stuff and all, you're sorry you didn't contact them, but you're really looking forward to seeing them now. Sure, it feels like a chore, but everybody's busy, and you probably will be glad to see them when the time comes.
posted by ldthomps at 7:25 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Set yourself a couple of goals weekly or monthly and make yourself do it. Something like "the first weekend every month, I will invite X never of people over for potluck" and "once a week, I will meet someone for lunch. "
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:25 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I feel like this too... very often, actually. To get out of this pattern, I start small: "I'll go, say hi, have a coffee and leave. 15 minutes, tops. No big deal."

And so far... that's helped a lot. Once I can cross that initial hurdle, I find that I can enjoy peoples' company to the max; sometimes I find myself staying out for the whole night with friends! Always worth a shot :)
posted by raihan_ at 8:06 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

First-time poster chiming in to say I could have written a great deal of this myself. I enjoy people in the moment but I suffer from serious anticipation anxiety making social plans, and, like you, I always worry when friends are finally going to notice the one-sidedness and just stop bothering.

For me, I've found it's the prospect of one-on-one, 100% socializing, let's-just-sit-down-and-conversate which sets me off the worst. I've had success with arranging defined activities or group outings instead, where conversation is kind of secondary/it's not all about you. So, playing some badminton, going skating, mountain biking, seeing a movie, whatever. I find it defrays a lot of the anxiety because it's no longer all about YOUR social performance and being CONSISTENTLY INTERESTING AND ENTERTAINING AND JESUS GOD WE HAVE NOTHING TO TALK ABOUT and you can relax and enjoy it more.

Not a long-term solution, but it does allow me to put something in on my end of the relationship once in a while. 24/7 avoidance is exhausting and, like you, I have no idea how to communicate this problem in a positive, constructive way.

I've also joined a number of organized group activities (mostly sports-based) which get me out of the house and interacting with others on a regular basis. Again, socializing is secondary and there's no big pressure to perform. It's really nice to have those casual friends: no social expectations or obligations, just show up and have a good time each week.

No advice to offer beyond that, just solidarity and best wishes. I've lived with this issue for years. I now recognize how it's limiting my personal and professional life and that I need help overcoming it. Finally making a doctor's appointment this week.
posted by eldindeer at 8:39 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Exposure based therapy is extremely effective for this. Find a good therapist in your area and if you're committed you'll see results in weeks. Also: fake it til you make it. Go along, do it because you know "its good for you". You'll find you enjoy yourself more than you expect, and that your dread is an overestimate of any trouble you experience. As you confront and trudge through that anticipatory anxiety, you'll find it decreases. Also, check out the Anxiety and Phobia Workbook if you're more of a do-it-yourselfer. Great book, great strategies.
posted by gilsonal at 11:17 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do recommend therapy. Most good therapists will give you a free first meeting and negotiating payment during it, so you can see if you're a good fit. Don't feel bad about interviewing several therapists, it's pretty usual.

One motivational technique that sometimes works with me is something called "turtle steps". You set a goal, then break it down into teeny, tiny steps. After you accomplish a step, however so small, you praise yourself extravagantly (it helps for me to get goofy at this step). After a while, it gets easier to get started.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:20 AM on June 8, 2012

I have moderate social anxiety. What works for me is a set rules I worked out with a therapist about social interaction -- rules that I'm not allowed to break. My particular rules are:
1) I accept all social invitations, unless I already have something else scheduled. No exceptions.
2) I am only allowed to cancel plans 12 hours or more in advance. 12 hours or less, I have to go, no matter how I am feeling (my panic usually starts within that 12 hour window).
3) Once at an event, I must stay for a minimum of an hour.

Those seem really rigid, but I find them incredibly helpful. They get me out of the house, and even if the other person wants to do something I'm not interested in, I get to talk to people and see people and make connections. Also, the rigidity helps me deal with the anxiety and panic before something. When I start to think "OMG, I can't go, what will we talk about? I'm such a freak, no one likes me" I tell myself "it's too late, you can't cancel you're meeting so-and-so in 3 hours. You only have to hang for 60 minutes, you can do that." And of course, I usually end up having fun and staying a lot longer than that, but I can't go in with that expectation.
posted by OrangeDisk at 4:40 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

One thing that really helps me with a similar issue is standing arrangements. With one group of friends, we take it in turns to pick a new restaurant every six weeks or so. With another close friend, we agreed to meet up on the first Wednesday of every month. (It almost never happens that way but we always managed to find time to catch up around then.) With the responsibility for initiating and arranging social engagements shared, and with semi-regular events already established, the paralysis that I usually experience at the prospect of making plans just doesn't exist.
posted by londonmark at 5:55 AM on June 8, 2012

I often set myself deadlines by which I need to contact a specific person to do a certain thing or to "catch up". Usually deadlines are a day or two from when I set them, so I can think through what I'll say and what the outcomes might be, while putting a firm stop on how long that can go on. I don't have more than one of these deadlines going at once, that's too much for me.

In a new town, I also had good experiences forcing myself to go to meetups. I figure, if I horribly embarrass myself, I won't have to see them again, and I can figure out how to better handle whatever went wrong. Much, much more frequently, I have a nice time and remind myself that hanging out with people is nice and I should do it more.
posted by momus_window at 8:59 PM on June 8, 2012

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