For those with social anxiety, meeting new people online and communicating digitally is the best way to learn how to navigate social interactions in a safe space.
These days, the people who know me the best are those I’ve never met in real life. Times have certainly changed, haven’t they? For the older generations, this is probably unacceptable, although if we look back at the past few decades, everyone should have seen this coming.
With the advent of social media, dating apps, remote work, and zoom meetings (too many of them!) is it any wonder that distance isn’t a factor anymore when building positive and fulfilling relationships? Also, let’s not forget the fact that we’ve gone through a pandemic, which has significantly shifted our entire online/offline behavior.
People have moved on to other avenues of communication and experiences without needing to meet in person.
In a post-pandemic world, meeting new people online is the norm
Whether people choose to move from online to offline socializing is still up for discussion, but overall, we’ve normalized making friends and finding partners online. 14% of people that meet on a dating app eventually get engaged or married, and 57% of teenagers have made a new friend online (this number is from 2015, so you can imagine how much higher it is right now with Gen Z overtaking all social platforms).
For those with social anxiety, meeting new people online helps them handle it more confidently. As a coach for socially anxious introverts, these two areas of difficulty come up the most on my radar: making friends and having conversations.
If you have social anxiety, you’ll most likely complain about not being able to do these things at the level you (and society) expect. This is where digital communication becomes a great playground that facilitates friendships and conversations.
Imagine these two scenarios
In the first scenario, you’re invited to a party/event by a friend and decide to go. After all, avoiding social outings will only worsen your social anxiety, so you make a point to get out of the house. You might know a person or two there, enough to get you going, but the moment you arrive, you feel out of place.
People congregate in groups, your friend is off to the side doing their thing, and you’re left stranded trying to make small talk. The horror!
If you haven’t gone by now, you’re brave. Conversations are superficial, people are talking about things you’re not interested in, and you’re not sure what to say. Your social anxiety is rising, and you tell yourself, “Never again!”.
At this point, you’ll probably enter what I call the “avoidance loop.” The “avoidance loop” happens when you want to stay in your comfort zone (alone), but the longer you stay there, the harder it is to show up confidently again.
Now, here’s the second scenario
You join an online community of people who love gaming and meet weekly on a discord channel or a Jaumo voice chat (you can also substitute this with any social platform you’re on and the bubble you find yourself in). You “run” into the same people weekly and get to know them at your own pace.
You’re not forced to make conversation, and you certainly don’t need to make friends with them, but your social anxiety is manageable. You’re not placed on the spot to answer questions, you don’t have to worry about how much eye contact you’re making (or not), and you certainly don’t have to think about what they think about you.
The best part? You feel comfortable talking to them and make genuine friendships with people who get you. Your confidence starts to pick up, and you’re excited about meeting them in real life. You don’t even think twice about whether or not your social anxiety will show up.
This is the beauty of meeting people online and using digital communication; it will help you handle your social anxiety
You don’t have to leave anything to chance, and you can be more at ease when it comes to feeling like you’re being judged. Sure, you’ll still feel the social anxiety to a certain extent, but it’s significantly lessened, which allows you to create relationships you might not have been able to offline.
An essential caveat to meeting new people online is to understand that a balance needs to occur where you’re also making time to interact and talk to people in real life. This is not a black-and-white situation where all your friends and interactions happen online forever.
Digital communication is a way to help you learn how to handle your social anxiety in a safe environment, but it’s not a means to an end. Your goal with meeting new people online is to feel more comfortable talking to people, sharing your stories, and bonding with others so you can use those skills offline.
If you haven’t considered taking this route, here’s why meeting new people online will help you handle your social anxiety
Reasons why meeting new people will help with social anxiety
1. Communication is asynchronous
This means that you’re not placed on the spot to react or reply immediately, as the case would be when you’re face-to-face with someone. You can take your time to think about what you want to respond with and have more control over the conversation.
2. You can skip the small talk
Small talk can be a significant impediment in forging relationships with people, especially if you have social anxiety. You don’t have to do small talk in an online forum – you can go straight into deep and meaningful conversations without feeling like you’re overreaching.
3. The physical elements won’t get in the way
If you exhibit physical symptoms due to social anxiety, these will be minimized in a digital environment. Blushing, sweating, and trembling probably won’t show up when you’re meeting someone new online, allowing you to feel more at ease with yourself.
4. Practice your people skills
In a face-to-face encounter, it’s the reaction from the other person that can trigger your social anxiety, making you doubt everything you say and do. In a digital environment, it’s not as easy to notice someone else’s reaction (you might notice their tone), which gives you space to practice your people and social skills neutrally.
Before you dismiss meeting new people online, test it out for yourself. The reasons are there for it to work out. Be open to the idea and see it as an experiment. The worst thing that can happen is that nothing comes out of it, and you have to go back to the drawing board.
See it this way: if meeting new people online helps you get a handle on your social anxiety, isn’t it worth a try?