Help me overcome my lifelong social anxiety
March 26, 2014 6:02 PM   Subscribe

I've struggled with pretty severe social anxiety most of my life, and I've now finally started to get a grip on it. Over the past year, I've gone from laying in bed thinking of reasons not to kill myself to getting a job, having a very small social life with some coworkers, and gaining some optimism finally. But I just don't know where to meet people to practice interacting with, particualarly girls. I'm a 24 year old guy and live in Nassau County, NY. I need some recommendations of places to go or groups to join. And by that I mean I really need you to hold my hand and be specific. Like not "join a yoga class" but "here's xyz yoga, join this class." If it helps, I'm interested in reading, writing, music, nature, history, art, religion, new foods. Thanks for any help or advice.
posted by theshire to Human Relations (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do you drive or have access to public transit? Is NYC manageable for you - both in terms of scheduling and anxiety?
posted by bunderful at 6:25 PM on March 26, 2014

Yes,I drive and NYC is manageable for me, and to start with might even be preferrable since I wouldn't be worried about running into someone I know from the dark years....aka high school. :P
posted by theshire at 6:45 PM on March 26, 2014

Start by practicing at the store/bank/post office/bus etc. Not the ones that you go to every day, go to new ones where they don't know you. Do not practice on people you are attracted to, just talk to the ordinary people you run into everyday. Smile.
Watch how other people do it. You know that person who just talks effortlessly to everyone, who always seems glad to see Everybody? Pretend you are them. Make believe you are an actor and it's a part you are playing. Do it somewhere it doesn't matter and keep doing it until it comes other words, fake it till you make it. And smile, seriously, force it till it comes naturally. These are not long conversations you have to have, practice in short bursts. And smile.
posted by BoscosMom at 10:37 PM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

I suggest joining BookCrossing and go to the meetups that are held regularly in NYC.

Book people don't expect you to be very outgoing, it's okay to be awkward; plus there is already a subject on the table (literally). And many of us are women.
BookCrossing meetings aren't formal, there is no programme, you can come and go as you please; if you feel you've had enough interaction after half an hour, you just get up and leave and no one will consider that weird.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:12 AM on March 27, 2014

As for the interacting with girls bit, I'd keep two things in mind:
- at your age, it's okay to call them women. They're adults.
- interacting with women is not very much different from interacting with men, until/unless you actually want to flirt with them.

I'd start with thinking of it as interacting with people, and don't think about the specifics of interacting with women until you feel very attracted to someone. And even at that point it's still fine to interact with her as a person, not as a woman. In fact, for many women that's the most attractive way to interact with us.

Don't treat us as an alien species, is what I'm trying to say.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:20 AM on March 27, 2014 [8 favorites]

I might recommend you consider OkCupid. Your purpose is to practice getting comfortable dating and talking with the opposite sex. I've had several friends approach OkCupid as a means of doing just that. At first it'll be like learning to ride a bike - there'll be some minor bumps - but the payoff is that you'll develop your style and start to learn what you do well and what you need to work on.

Find a book like "How to Win Friends and Influence People" or "How to Talk to Anyone," and read it. Most of the advice in these books, however, is basically: Ask people about their lives, and be interested in their answer. This applies to dating, too.

You'll do great and the fact that you're working on it means you're on the right path!
posted by glaucon at 5:56 AM on March 27, 2014

Take a First Aid class. This site seems to list classes in your area.


- They're a good opportunity to practice interacting with different types of people, since they attract people of different ages, genders and social backgrounds.

- They're structured and led by a trained instructor, so they're less intimidating than something that's purely social with no set timetable or guidelines.

- You get to practice holding conversations. Seriously, one of the things you will be specifically taught to do is to talk to a stranger in a calm, friendly voice. (What's your name? Has this happened before? How much does it hurt on a scale of 1-10? What were you doing before the accident happened? Is there anybody I should call? Have you eaten today? Are you cold? Is that more comfortable? Do you have allergies? Etc. Etc.)

- If you've been isolated for a long time, it can be a safe space in which to re-acclimatize to physical closeness with other people. You and your classmates will take it in turns to practice bandaging each other's arms and putting each other into the recovery position.

- Even if it doesn't end up reducing your anxiety much, you will still gain a useful qualification and may even save somebody's life one day.
posted by the latin mouse at 6:07 AM on March 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

I just want to second Too-Ticky. If you dig literature at all, for real, you can't go wrong. (Unless you go to a lesbian book club or something.) Go to slam poetry events, or book readings, everyone there will be the type of mildly social but not hugely social (reading is a solitary activity after all) person it will be easy to intimate with relatively quickly, and it'll probably be at least 1/2 to 2/3rds female, depending.
posted by quincunx at 1:12 PM on March 27, 2014

I have a lot of social anxiety too. It sounds like you are well on your way, so good for you. This sounds a little crazy, and might be, but for me, it was really helpful to recognize that part of my identity and permanent Who-I-Am-ness was that I am a little neurotic and hand-wringy. At some point it just clicked that I am those things but I am loveable anyway and do not need to be more perfect or together than I presently am and if I choose to expend energy on something it needs to be being happier rather than being more acceptable to others, likeable, competent, etc. (things I worried about). Once I accepted it was there, it was easier to recognize that I was essentially walking around with this 200 lb beast on my back of worry and that it was getting in the way of my enjoying life. I still will sometimes get all antsy in the middle of, say, driving or something and start thinking, "Oh my god, I am doing it wrong! The person in the car behind me hates me." But then after that I can be like, "Oh yeah, there is the beast again. Haha, I am kind of nuts." And then the worry part is just kind of over and I move on to the next thought. Anyway, it's kind of hard to explain. Since coming to this mindset I have been enjoying my life more and connecting more to others, though. I guess for me, my anxiety was based on the belief that I had to measure up more than I currently measured up to be acceptable and I think I get around all that by remembering that I can just enormously be a mess and that's still all right.

Also I got a workbook from the library called the Anxiety and Phobias Workbook. Honestly the most helpful advice I got from it was to practice mindfulness meditation and exercise, which I started after reading. I also liked the Mindful Way Out of Depression by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
posted by mermily at 4:36 PM on March 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you join okcupid as suggested above, check out their events. Trivia night is a lot of fun and there are generally more women than men. I think they also have cooking classes, improv, etc.

Dance Manhattan has dance classes (you say you like music). Most of those will be the sort where you switch partners regularly. So that could be a way to practice social interaction in a fun and structured way. Also, if you stick with it and become a competent dancer - well, many women appreciate a man who is confident enough to dance and has the skills.

The Art Students League has some great classes if you are interested in drawing, painting, etc. They are a bit less social - you spend more time working and occasionally talking quietly with the instructor, and less time talking to other students.

The Guitar School has classes which are pretty good.

There are several Toastmasters groups in the area - they can provide opportunity for friendly interaction with men and with women, plus the the chance to build confidence in your public speaking skills.

I can't recommend specific book groups that might appeal to you, but it seems very much worth checking out given your interests. There are also volunteer opportunities at various parks - that would give you an opportunity to be close to nature. Hiking groups might also be of interest to you. Try meetup, volunteermatch, New York Cares.

For any group you decide to try out, give it 2 or 3 chances. Allow yourself to be anxious. Remember that other people may be anxious as well. When I am in a new and scary social situation I will sometimes set myself a goal of meeting one new person on the first visit - learn their name, ask them a few questions related to the setting - goal accomplished. And the next time I meet one more new person. And by the third and fourth visit it starts to feel a lot easier. So you might try something like that.

Sticking with one or two particular groups allows you to gel with them and become more confident in your role there. It's a great feeling when you are the one warmly welcoming newcomers to the group that you shyly entered a few months ago.

Always be friendly to all of the humans in the group.
posted by bunderful at 6:50 PM on March 28, 2014

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