We know for a fact that human beings are social creatures. In fact, it was collaboration, not competition, that helped us survive and thrive as a species.
Over our evolutionary past, our ancestors have learned that sticking close to each other is waaay better than being a lone wolf.
As a result, friends (and social interactions in general) became an essential part of life.
We spend time with them, share stories, and seek advice. We have fun and create beautiful memories together, as a group. We invest time and energy into building lasting relationships with people who care about us.
But when anxiety is at its peak, even simple activities such as going out with your friends can sometimes be a real challenge.
When Anxiety Comes Between You And Your Friends
For some of us, the constant worrying, coupled with an intense fear of criticism, can turn a harmless hangout into a worst-case scenario.
Do you feel a sudden rush of fear whenever you hear your coworkers planning a night out?
Do you tend to make up excuses whenever a friend asks you out?
Do you spend most of your free time at home?
Do you find hangouts extremely stressful and uncomfortable?
Do you avoid places like bars, nightclubs, restaurants, or public pools?
If the answer to these questions is YES, then you might be struggling with either social anxiety or agoraphobia.
Before you go ahead and worry more than you should, let’s look at some stats about social anxiety and agoraphobia.
- In the U.S. alone, there are 15 million adults who suffer from social anxiety disorder.
- On top of that, we have 8 million Americans who suffer from agoraphobia.
- The lifetime prevalence rate (the chances of developing a given condition) is about 13%.
The point is, social anxiety and agoraphobia are relatively common.
You’re not the only one who finds social interactions hard to manage.
You’re not the only one experiencing fear and anxiety whenever a friend asks you out for a drink.You’re not the only one who finds social interactions hard to manage. Click To Tweet
The More You Avoid, The Worse it Gets
If there’s one thing I learned – in my personal and professional life – about anxiety is that the more you let it ‘run the show,’ the worse it gets.
Anxiety, as we all know, is a mechanism that signals a potential danger.
But what qualifies as ‘danger’ depends almost entirely on our perceptions, beliefs, and interpretations.
If the mere thought of hanging out with friends is enough to it is because you hold certain beliefs about such events.
Do any of the following rings a bell?
- Everyone will notice me because I’m clumsy.
- I don’t fit in anywhere.
- If I’m nervous, people will think I’m weird and never want to hang out with me.
- If I get anxious at the bar, people will make fun of me.
- If I don’t know what will happen, then it will probably go wrong.
- I’m the only one struggling with this.
- People see that I’m a mess. They think I’m crazy.
- Why do my friends keep asking me out? I make them look bad.
These are just some of the many beliefs that fuel your anxiety and prevents you from having a relaxing night out with your friends.
The worst part is that each time you ignore your friends’ calls or make up an excuse, the beliefs that are holding you back from going out will become stronger.
And it’s not just about thoughts and beliefs.
The brain can learn a dysfunctional pattern just as easy as it learns a functional one.
And since repetition is the key to learning, your brain will learn that staying home equals calm and safety, while going out equals stress and anxiety.
And guess which option your brain will pick.
To put it in a fun metaphor, avoidance is to anxiety what spinach is to Popeye.
But that’s not all!
While avoidance fuels your anxiety, anxiety will “push” you to continue avoiding certain situations.
That’s why, in order break this vicious circle, you need to understand why you don’t feel comfortable going out and then challenge whatever beliefs keep your anxiety alive.
5 Steps to Overcome Your Anxiety and Enjoy a Fun Night Out with Friends
#1: Understand Your Fears and Worries
Have you ever wondered why going out with your friends makes you feel worried and stressed out?
What are you afraid of? What fuels this irrational fear?
As always, the first step in overcoming a problem is taking the time to understand its core.
In this particular case, your anxiety might stem from fear of evaluation or criticism.
In other words, you’re afraid that others will notice your anxiety and label you as “weird,” “crazy” or “awkward.”
By worrying about other people’s evaluations, you end up feeling and acting anxiously, making others perceive you exactly how you think they would.
What I’m trying to say is that the beliefs you hold about yourself will dictate your behavior.
Irrational belief (e.g. I’m weird in social contexts) -> anxiety -> awkward behaviors (e.g. clumsiness, stuttering, etc.) -> other people’s evaluations -> more anxiety …
#2: Challenge Your Irrational Beliefs
Considering that your lack of courage derives from the beliefs you hold about yourself, thought challenging could help you bring down the irrational thoughts that are keeping you back from having a fun night out with friends.
But ‘dismantling’ a belief you have about yourself isn’t easy.
While I was doing my research for this article, I came across an interesting study about entity beliefs (beliefs which dictate that something or someone cannot be changed) people with anxiety hold about themselves, more specifically their emotions.
According to a study published in the Australian Journal of Psychology, those of us who are socially anxious tend to hold entity beliefs about OUR OWN emotions and anxiety than about emotions in general.
What’s interesting is that people who don’t struggle with this problem tend to hold entity beliefs about emotions in general than about their own.
For some reason, those of us dealing with anxiety tend to label our emotions as valid and worth-taking-into-consideration, without one shred of evidence to support it.
In other words, we think that if we’re afraid or anxious, then it definitely must be a good reason behind this emotion.
But not every thought or emotion that you experience is healthy and functional.
In fact, it is the beliefs you hold about yourself (and your emotions) that are keeping anxiety alive, preventing you from going out with your friends.
If you want to know more about thought challenging, check out our guide on how to deal with anxiety.
#3: What is the Worst Thing That Could Happen?
This is one of the techniques that I use whenever a client tends to make mountains out of molehills.
Sometimes, anxiety is so intense that the scenarios which trigger it seem like the worst thing that could happen to us.
But is that really the case?
Truth be told, we tend to throw this expression around a lot.
When anxiety is at its peak, we interpret every potential failure, evaluation, or obstacle – big or small – as the worst thing that could happen.
Next time you label an upcoming event as ‘the worst thing that might happen to me’ try to find an even worse scenario. And another one, and then another one.
The idea is to find one catastrophic scenario after another until you realize that ‘the worst thing’ is merely a label.
The level of discomfort – and consequently the severity of the situation – we experience in a given case depends entirely on our interpretations.
When you’re dealing with anxiety, every new activity or situation that gets you out of your comfort zone is challenging.
One of the common mistakes that people who are fighting to overcome anxiety make is that they rush into doing things that cause far more distress than they can handle.
For example, imagine trying to overcome your fear of heights through skydiving.
It’s too much, and there’s a good chance you will trigger a full-blown panic attack.
If you’re going to use exposure to overcome your anxiety, do it the smart way.
Start small by choosing activities which you enjoy and feel comfortable doing.
Find a group that shares the same hobbies and interests.
Exposing yourself to various social contexts is less stressful when you’re doing something fun, engaging, and motivating.
Overcome anxiety and find the courage to go out with your friends, one step at a time.Exposing yourself to various social contexts is less stressful when you’re doing something fun, engaging, and motivating Click To Tweet
#5: At Some Point, You Just Have to Take a Leap of Faith
Once you begin to build self-confidence and hang out with your friends more often, it’s time to kick it up a notch.
Make a list of all the places and activities that make your anxiety go off the charts.
At this point, it’s no longer about being comfortable, but facing uncertainty head-on.
Your anxious mind will always find reasons to be afraid and hesitant.
You will always tend to look for an excuse to back out of a situation that you interpret as ‘too much.’
In the end, finding the courage go out is about taking a leap of faith.
It’s about being there with your friends in spite of the mind-numbing worry and fear of evaluation that has kept you in your comfort zone for too long.
Go out there and see what happens!
After all, courage is not the absence of fear but acting in spite of it.
It might be unpleasant, stressful, or even tiring, but it’s not the end of the world.
To Sum Up
Getting the courage to go out with your friends can be challenging when you’re dealing with anxiety.
What you need to do is:
- Understand how anxiety works. Fear and worry are the reasons why you keep avoiding your friend’s invitations.
- Identify and challenge the thoughts and beliefs that are holding you back from having a fun night out with your friends.
- The ‘worst-case scenario’ doesn’t exist. It’s just your anxious mind misrepresenting a somewhat stressful situation.
- Hang out with people who share the same interests and hobbies as you.
- Face your fears head-on. They won’t kill you; they will only make you stronger.
So, what do you think about our tips on how to get the courage to go out with your friends? Have you ever tried one of the five steps mentioned earlier? Which one did you find most useful? Are there any other strategies that have worked well for you?
Share your story by leaving a comment below!
Clinical Psychologist, Licensed CBT Therapist.I’m a Clinical Psychologist and a licensed Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy practitioner. My work focuses mainly on strategies designed to manage and prevent the most common mental issues – anxiety, depression, and stress.
When I’m not busy with my therapeutic practice or other work-related activities, I enjoy going out for a jog or hit the nearby gym.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via LinkedIn (link below), or through the Contact Us page.