10 Ways Friends Can Help Ease My Social Anxiety


I was diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) a while back, and that comes with a lot of social anxiety. Luckily, I also have some amazing friends who have always been there for me.

Here are some things my friends do:

1. Give me a free pass when I need it.

There are days when just existing with anxiety is exhausting. If I feel anxious about going to work, then spend all day at work worrying, I’ll be exhausted by the evening. This means I may have to pull out of things, sometimes at short notice. This makes me feel awful, but my friends have been generous and accepted I won’t always be well enough to do the things I want to.

2. But still, invite me out.

I may not be able to make everything, but I’m still on the guest list. This helps me feel included and reminds me people do care. This helps.

3. Be understanding when I don’t want to be in group photos.

I know people like to take group photos, and if I’ve been invited out, people will want me to be in said photos. But the thought of photos makes me feel ill, and any photo I’ve been in under these circumstances has been terrible, with a forced smile and awkward posture. So, please don’t make it a big deal when I duck out of the frame. Or, you know, I can take the photo and let you be in your group photo. Problem solved.

4. Give me hugs.

Sometimes I’m not able or ready to explain myself. But my friends will offer hugs when needed. It says a lot and allows me to take some comfort without feeling I’m burdening them. This won’t work for everyone, or every time. Some people need space. But sometimes a hug just works.

5. Listen.

I tend to bottle things up for far too long. As such, when I do talk, there tends to be a lot and it seems urgent. I recognize this can be overwhelming for people, but if I’m shot down, I’ll just bury it all and may not be able to talk later. I have some great friends who will just listen to what I say, even if it seems totally irrational. Most likely, it will be irrational; my brain tends to do that. Sometimes just saying it out loud can give me a sense of perspective. Even when this doesn’t happen, knowing someone cares enough to let me talk always helps

6. Don’t force a compliment.

I find it incredibly hard to accept a compliment, even when genuine. Sometimes something will get through, but often I’ll accept it for a short while until I see something that makes me disbelieve it. As a defense mechanism, I tend to just discount compliments. I will often appreciate people are trying to make me feel better, though. Many of my friends have found a middle ground when they will only be entirely genuine, and not push it if I disagree with them.

7. If I do have a meltdown, know it’s not about you.

This is a hard one. It may seem like a tiny thing they said or did triggered a flood of tears, hiding in the bathroom for an hour or refusing to take down my hood. In reality, 101 things that happened before are still swimming around in my head. It doesn’t help anyone if my friends feel guilty for something that isn’t even their fault.

8. Let me be weird.

Sometimes I need to wear a bit of a mask, so I’ll hide behind rainbow hair or wear a hat with cat ears. Or, I don’t know, go to a party and hide under a table for my own amusement.

The author hiding under the table.
Karen hiding under a table.

9. Tell me what I need to hear, especially when I don’t want to hear it.

A good friend is one who tells you the tough stuff — like when you really need to get yourself to a doctor. Or when you need time off work. Or when you need to stop looking in the mirror. When I’m at my least rational, common sense doesn’t sound at all sensible. So they may need to say it more than once. Eventually I will listen because, well, they’re right.

10. Expect the same from me.

Mental health problems or not, I’m still their friend. And friends will provide the above as it is needed. Everyone may need some or all of these on different occasions, healthy or not. There may be times when a face-to-face meeting is still out of the question, but I may be able to communicate via messenger or text. I secretly suspect I’m a terrible person, so even if my friends are only doing it as a chance to prove the opposite, we all benefit.

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