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9 Tips for Navigating Changing Friendships in Your 20s With Anxiety

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Do your friends hate you, or are you just in your mid-20s and your friends are trying to figure out adulthood, jobs, relationships, bills, and the cataclysmic world we live in?

I’m willing to bet on the latter. 

Do you remember when you were in your young 20s and you were able to see your friends almost every day? Sure, you may have had jobs or internships, but for the most part you were able to see and talk to the people you loved platonically every day, almost all day.

Then one day the responses started getting a little slower and longer. Hours would turn to days and all of a sudden you haven’t seen them in a month when you used to see them every single week.

The shift, as slowly as it can happen sometimes, is still incredibly noticeable, especially when you live with anxiety. Already struggling with the internalized fear that everyone hates you, this transition can be scary as the nature of your friendships change. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they love you any less or that they don’t want you in their life, rather they’re trying to figure out their new life, and their absence has nothing to do with their feelings for you.

If you’ve been internalizing these social shifts, your feelings are completely valid. That being said, there are some ways to handle it.

1. Be honest and talk to your friend.

Tell them how you feel. Don’t let pride get in the way of telling them that you miss their presence in your life. Things aren’t always going to be the same, but one thing that hopefully can remain is an open door policy in your friendship where you can say “I miss talking to you more.”

Let them know how you feel. They care about you and your feelings, so open up.

2. Really try to understand what their life is like, and express genuine empathy and sympathy.

Like I said above, life transitions are hard. Depending on the transition they’re in, they may be having a really rough time themselves with only so much energy to extend towards others. Yes, tell them how you feel, but also listen to what they’ve been going through. It may help quell your own anxiety and any internalized thoughts that they’re intentionally avoiding you. 

3. Ask them if they think it’s possible to talk more often, and if not what solutions work for them?

Some people are good with sending random blurbs about their day throughout the day, and other people like waiting for a more concentrated time (such as a phone call or a hang out) to really tell you everything you’ve missed. Ask them what works best for them, and also advocate for what works best for you to find a common agreed upon solution, and even perhaps a set of expectations.  

4. Define with them what quality time really looks like for the two of you.

You could use love languages here to figure this out, but what does time together well spent really mean? Do you just want to sit in one another’s presence? Do you want phones away as you sit at your favorite burger spot? Define what makes the both of you feel seen and heard so you can make the most of your time \ when you’re together.

5. Maybe this is anal-retentive, but plan your calls and hangouts ahead of time and send them a calendar invite.

I’ve found this to work best. As dismaying as it may be to have to schedule a call three weeks ahead of time, sometimes it’s just what you have to do to connect to the people you love. Schedule that time, and send a Google invite so neither party forgets.

6. Make sure you communicate about how being left on read makes you feel, and ask them for clarity there.

This is huge. Being left on read is hurtful at times, even if it has nothing to do with you. Every day I get texts, messages, DMs, and Tik Toks sent to me that I look at, smirk, and then put my phone down to continue what I’m doing. I almost guarantee you I forget to respond back on top of that. If I leave you on read, there’s no deeper meaning other than I simply didn’t respond. However for people with anxiety it’s easy to misconstrue that as “Did I make her upset?” or “Did I do something wrong?” 

No, you didn’t, I also didn’t hit you back up immediately (or at all). Communicating with your friend about your feelings around a lack of response and what it means for them when they don’t respond could help quell your anxiety.

7. Don’t rely on one form of communication.

Twitter, Tik Tok, Instagram, Meta, Messenger, Snapchat, Tumblr – the list goes on. 

Sometimes a friend won’t respond to a text, but they’ll heart react to a meme I send through IG. Remember that there’s multiple ways to communicate, and that while different people weigh different measures of communication differently, sometimes it’s easier to send a heart react or a meme instead of a prolonged conversation. It still means they care, but also if that’s not enough for you, make sure to communicate that.

8. Have an emergency text code.

This way in case you really do need one another immediately, you can get through to one another. 

I call my friends to talk about anything and everything, but every once in a while there’s an immediate emergency where I need them and I need them now. Having a little code, whether it be “911” or an emoji so they can realize that they’re needed now and it is in fact an emergency.

Do: Use this under agreed upon “emergencies,” and effectively communicate what that means to the both of you

Don’t: Be like me and use it to get your friends to talk to you when the emergency is the latest drama on “Real Housewives of Atlanta.” 

9. Work on accepting that friendship dynamics change with time, but that doesn’t mean the friendship is over.

Any kind of -ship, whether it be platonic or romantic, changes over time. Once upon a time y’all were on the playground together, then you were going to prom, and now you may live across the country and you only see one another in person once a year.

That’s hard, I know it is, but it doesn’t mean that the friendship is worse or over. 

Accepting that your relationships will change is a toughie, especially if you live with abandonment trauma and/or anxiety disorders, but it’s really necessary because the hard truth is that your relationships will continue to change for the rest of your life. Some will be for the better, and some will be for the worst, but adapting to a changing social climate as you mature is integral. 

At the end of the day, honest and genuine communication is important. Your friends love you, and you love your friends, so don’t internalize the changing social landscape. It takes two (or more) to tango, so dance through these new social dynamics together.

Getty image by japatino

Originally published: June 4, 2022
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