Our twenties can be summed up into two feelings: excitement and dread. From the very beginning of this new phase of life, we are faced with the harsh reality, adulthood is hard.
While maneuvering through childhood, many of us clung to the illusions created by mainstream media and Western culture that adulthood would be liberating. Somehow the internal challenges or struggles we may have faced would somehow dissipate and we would emerge into this age of social abundance and occupational success. What happens though when our reality does not align with our expectations?
One of the most challenging aspects of crossing the threshold into this stage of life is socializing.
When stepping into this uncharted territory, socializing becomes a lot more nuanced. In our twenties, the structure of having our community within close proximity suddenly shifts. As loved ones start venturing into different avenues, it can be difficult to maintain or build new friendships/relationships.
Not only are there external factors that contribute to the difficulty of making new connections, several internal factors are there too.
Shyness, social anxiety, and social differences are an added obstacle that stand in the way of reaching the expected social peaks during our twenties. If we allow ourselves to succumb to the social expectations of society, this can lead to depression.
For those who have social anxiety but want to make new friends, here are some techniques to try that may help during these new interactions.
- Recognize cognitive distortions
When we feel socially vulnerable, our defense mechanisms kick in. The process of our brain building a wall of biased perspectives is one of the most common ways we are our own worst enemies in social situations.
Learning to recognize these thoughts, giving yourself grace for having them, and practicing how to keep them in the background can help ground you back in reality.
- Get out there and try it
Psychologist, Dr. Victoria Shaw from Psychology Today says, “The more we expose ourselves to the situations that we fear, the more comfortable we become navigating them.”
Avoidance may instinctually be what you want to do however, that will only increase your anxiety as time goes on. Practice small exposures such as making eye contact with a stranger or sharing a smile with someone at the park before diving into introducing yourself or even giving someone new a compliment. Gradually stepping outside of your comfort zone will increase your social success in the future.
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy can help
When it comes to social anxiety, CBT is the most effective treatment. Working with a therapist can help equip you with the tools to practice recognizing unhelpful thought patterns and create a plan of managing your fears.
Our twenties are a time of learning who we are and how to construct our social life; but society’s expectations and what is best for us may not always align. To get us closer to our goals, there are things we can do to increase our comfort but try not to buy in to the external pressures if that doesn’t truly work.
Remember, every exposure is a win. As Claire Eastham says, “You did something that makes you feel anxious, but you didn’t let it stop you. That is something to be proud of.”
About the Author: Rudairo Segbeaya is a Behavior Therapist and Pacific CBT’s Office Manager. She is currently interested in understanding the relationship between race and mental health specifically within the African American community as well as finding possible solutions to healing intergenerational trauma. Rudairo received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of San Francisco and is currently undertaking a Master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University.