How to Make Friends While Coping with a Mental Illness
Written by Thomas Lee
Making friends can take a lot of time and effort, even more so for those coping with a mental illness. So why bother making friends and maintaining relationships if you constantly feel burned out dealing with your mental health? As it turns out, making friends is extremely beneficial to your well-being. When you make friends with the right people, you will find it much easier to cope with your mental illness and proceed on the path to recovery. Continue reading to find out how you can earn an acquaintance in your battle to overcome a mental illness, as well as some friend-making tips if you suffer from social anxiety.
Friendships and Mental Health
When coping with a mental illness, it can be instinctive to isolate yourself from others, even those close to you. However, this is the last thing you should do. Research shows that people who maintain close relationships tend to live longer, healthier lives. Furthermore, friendships can help you overcome mental health challenges and isolation. Of course, making friends with the wrong people will do you more harm than good, so it is important to determine who you can trust; good friends don’t criticize, gossip, or judge each other.
While you don’t need to reveal your mental illness to all your friends, it can be helpful to get it out of the way so that your friends can be more understanding of your coping mechanisms and behaviors. Before sharing your mental health struggles, consider a time and place that is convenient for both you and your friend (you can fit in a relaxing activity if it helps). Don’t be surprised if your friend reacts negatively as mental health problems are not well understood; they may feel shocked, awkward, or dismissive at first. Give them time to process this information and you can even help them better understand your condition by sharing an article or video. More often than not, your efforts will be rewarded and you will develop a stronger relationship with your friend.
Friendships and Social Anxiety
For those suffering from social anxiety, making friends is a whole different story. Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is the excessive fear of being judged by people. Afflicted individuals may experience anxiety when talking with established friends, and they may feel paralyzed or harshly judged when meeting new people. Despite knowing their fears are irrational, they have little to no control over the onslaught of anxiety symptoms that make it a burden to socialize. If you are one of these people, don’t worry because there are many things you can do to ease this burden and make new friends.
Before Making New Friends
One reason why some people find it hard to make friends is because they need to spend more time working on themselves. By expanding the scope of your interests and your knowledge of current events, or by simply accepting who you are, you can get to know yourself better, which in turn makes it easier to find like-minded people.
Finding Potential Friends
Once you have worked on your identity, the next step is to find potential friends. Remember to never judge a book by its cover, so as you are meeting new people in school, the workplace, friend-circles, organizations, etc, treat everyone as a blank slate and build your relationship from the ground up. However, forming new relationships is easier said than done. Here are some tips that help to curb your anxiety when meeting new people.
People with social anxiety are all too familiar with the flood of negative thoughts that quickly overwhelms their brain in a social interaction. To stay composed, you must learn to agree to disagree with this negativity. Instead of obsessing over these thoughts, simply acknowledge them without judgement and put them in the background. This frees up your mind and makes it easier to engage in the conversation.
Gradually expose yourself to the situations that you fear rather than avoiding these situations altogether. Over time, you will find yourself feeling more comfortable in these situations. It is important to start small and work your way up to situations that put you in an all-out panic. For example, asking someone for directions or giving someone a compliment is a good place to start.
As the pandemic gets under control and public spaces start to reopen, millions of people are struggling to socialize in-person; their reliance on technology to avoid social situations is a trick that can only work for so long. In-person connections are actually more fulfilling than those online, so we must learn to take our eyes off the screen and behold the beauty of our mask-covered faces.
As you form new friendships, make sure that maintaining them is a mutual effort. This can be achieved through both accepting invitations and making plans with others. If your social anxiety makes this difficult, it is ok to decline a few invitations as long as your friend understands why (a benefit of telling them about your anxiety).
Making friends is an investment that can yield beautiful results. Keep these tips in mind as you begin to revamp your social life, but prepare for lots of trial and error. In the end, you will be grateful for pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone and you may have some lifelong friends to thank for helping you overcome your mental health challenges.
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