7 Surprising Ways Anxiety Impacts Friendships
Growing up, I never realized the way my mind worked around others actually had a diagnostic label. I would overanalyze every single thing a person said to me, looking for clues they didn’t like me, were silently judging me or were looking for things to use against me later. If a friend didn’t message back, I’d assume the worst and decide they’d had enough of me. Even now, I look for evidence that loved ones are only tolerating my friendship, and when you live with anxiety, it’s easy to find that “evidence” everywhere.
I wasn’t alone in this, though I didn’t know it at the time. Anxiety of all forms — not limited to social anxiety — can affect friendships in a multitude of ways. Friends don’t always understand what we’re going through, especially if we struggle to communicate how anxiety affects us, and this can cause rifts and cracks to form.
What’s important to remember, though, is that you really aren’t alone in this, and this isn’t a judgment on you. Anxiety doesn’t make you a bad friend; it just makes you someone with whom friendship might be a little different to what is considered “normal.” A true friend will understand this, accept this and love you for who you are.
Considering how common it is for anxiety to affect our lives in this way, we asked our mental health community for one way anxiety affects friendships, for better or worse. We hope you’ll find some commonality with your own experience. Remember: You have a lot to offer in a friendship. You’ve just got to find your “people” and, as much as you can, be open and honest about your experience.
Here’s what our community had to say:
1. It makes reaching out a struggle.
“I tend to never call anyone. I’m always afraid I’ll be bothering people if I do. And I have lost many friends because I was too afraid to spend the night anywhere besides my own bed. High school was hard.” — Kate C.
“I’m actually horrible at reaching out and making plans, so when summer comes round and I don’t automatically see them every day, I’m at home worrying about whether they want to see me, and to them it looks like I’ve just gone dark and don’t want to be contacted. It’s so lonely.” – Alyx P.
2. It makes you decline and cancel plans.
“I make plans and then look for any excuse to cancel them. I’m 99.99 percent certain my friends and family know I’m lying about my reasons for backing out, but I get so anxious I’m physically sick.” — Claire H.
“I’m always ‘unavailable’ to do things. I’m ‘busy’ when the reality is I’m just too anxious to leave the house. — Kerry H.
“I don’t go anywhere for fear I may say something out of place. I’m also an introvert. My friend invited me to her house; I did not go. I don’t go to clubs, I don’t go to Christmas parties for my job. I don’t go into crowded places. I don’t go to the movies.” — Danielle C.
3. It can make you become “clingy.”
“It turns me into a clingy mess. My anxiety makes me feel that my friends aren’t my friends, causing me to read into every single thing too much. From a missed message to a declined invite, every minor rejection is a disaster to my anxiety. But, at the same time, I’m too anxious to simply reach out and be honest about my feelings.” — Andrea T.
“The people I do talk to, when they don’t reply via text, I start wondering if I said something wrong ‘dumb’ or if I am talking to much. Or do they think I’m being weird? But if I send another message, will the think I’m being clingy?” —Lauren D.
“I always worry about being too much for others. I had a friend who assured me I wasn’t a bother and then ended up threatening me for ‘relying too much on her.’ So it’s hard when people try to assure me it’s OK after that incident. I isolate myself a lot so people won’t see me at my worst.” — Andrea G.
“I get clingy — so clingy that friends will disappear from my life without a word… especially if I confess being anxious about losing our friendship. That just makes me cling more the next time around.” — Melissa S.
4. It makes you believe your friendships aren’t real…
“I’m afraid my friends don’t actually like me, like it’s all an act because they feel bad for me. I know this isn’t true, but the little voice in the back of my head loves telling me little lies.” — Cynthia T.
“Anxiety convincing you that you ‘know’ they don’t like you. They’re only using you. You’re less than everyone and it’s all a cruel joke. Then, it turns into anger and isolation. You isolate yourself from it all and it still feels like they’ve isolated you. It’s being stuck in this middle place of wanting and not wanting to have these friendships. It’s a vicious cycle.” — Jade B.
5. … or it might make you avoid them entirely.
“I avoid my friends as I feel like they are only including me in a part of the package that comes with my wife and kids. If I go out, I tend to stay in the background to avoid saying something I perceive as ‘dumb’ or inappropriate, which is always a possibility as I lose some sense of boundaries.” — Rod K.
“I tend to isolate myself a lot. I don’t really hang out with people very often because I rarely reach out to them and they rarely reach out to me. I’ve had to get used to my own company and being alone because my anxiety gets in the way of me seeing people. I can’t help it.” — Kerri M.
6. It ends some friendships…
“It kills them. After declining invites, they stop inviting or even caring enough to check on you. I used to think I had a lot of friends. Anxiety showed me that’s not true.” — Melodie K.
“Anxiety tends to push my friendships away because I get very passive-aggressive when anxious. I tend to make snide remarks that make me sound like I think I’m better than them in some way, when I’m really feeling insecure and trying to boost my confidence levels up enough to be able to relax.” — Kristina H.
“I can honestly say I have no friends because my anxiety kills friendships. It’s hard for me to make plans and keep them. When you always cancel or decline invites, eventually people give up.” — Katherine B.
7. …but it can help you find your “real” friends.
“You find your real friends! The ones who are really there for you because no matter what happens in life, a panic attack or a last-minute cancellation, your true friends understand.” — Ruth G.
“The only friends I have left (who are local IRL ones and not online) are those who have some sort of condition where they too tend to sometimes isolate themselves and hide. They understand, and they know my declining an invitation this time doesn’t mean they shouldn’t extend one the next time.” — Stine S.
“Not long ago, I would have said that there is no positive impact. I’ve lost a lot of friends because of anxiety over the years, some of whom I thought would never be out of my life. But now I see those just weren’t ‘my people.’ Anxiety has recently opened my eyes to see the people who really do care, and I realize now how badly I want to surround myself with people like that. I’ve stopped holding on to the people who don’t want to be around me. And honestly, having no friends is better than judgmental friends.” — Lisa M.
Can you relate? Let us know in the comments below.
Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash