How to Have a Great Social Life Even with Social Anxiety

How to Have a Great Social Life Even with Social Anxiety

Research reveals how to replace anxiety with chemistry.

Posted December 22, 2020 | By: Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D.


For many people, making small talk in a group of strangers is the last thing they want to do. Finding superficial chatter more stressful than stimulating, many individuals routinely decline invitations to happy hours, picnics, and even networking events—often at the expense of professional development. In many cases, social discomfort is caused by social anxiety. Fortunately, however, research indicates there are ways to enhance comfort through purposeful conversation.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Source: Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Socially Anxious Socializing

Hasagani Tissera et al. (2020) examined the impact of social anxiety within initial interactions, where feelings of insecurity and anxiety can be debilitating.[i] Consequently, they recognize that socially anxious people have difficulty forming new relationships. Why? As Tissera et al. explain, the “hallmark” of social anxiety is consistent worrying about what other people think of you, and fearing negative evaluation.

Through two large-scale first impressions studies, involving both romantic and platonic interactions, they found evidence to support the notion that metaperceptions, defined as “beliefs about what others think about one’s personality,” may help explain why socially anxious individuals are often less liked, and like others less.

Socially Anxious Dating

Other research indicates that the secret to socializing with social anxiety may be the incorporation of substance. With specific reference to dating, Maya Asher and Idan M. Aderka (2020) examined the impact of anxiety on the desire for future interaction.[ii] Acknowledging that people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) face significant hurdles maintaining romantic relationships, they investigated the impact of both gender and social context (small talk versus “closeness-generating” discussions) on momentary social anxiety during interactions, and on the desire for future interactions.

Within their experimental examination of opposite-sex “getting-acquainted” interactions of people with SAD, they found that people with SAD reported a greater amount of momentary social anxiety during closeness-generating conversations, as compared with small talk. They note this finding is consistent with previous research which found closeness-generating conversations were more threatening than chit chat.

They also found, however, that men with SAD significantly benefited from closeness-generating interactions, leading to a reduction of momentary social anxiety, which in turn led both members of the experimental pair to report a higher level of desire to interact in the future. This result was not found with small talk or for women suffering from SAD.

The Significance of Substance

Asher and Aderka found that partners of people with SAD reporting a greater desire for future interaction within closeness-generating conversations is consistent with prior studies, which found that SAD individuals who reduce self-concealment and increase self-disclosure achieve positive intrapersonal and interpersonal outcomes, including enhanced interpersonal interaction.

Asher and Aderka note that planning longer periods of conversation (such as up to 30 minutes) may lead to reduced anxiety, as they found no evidence of anxiety increasing as conversation continued. In discussing their finding that contrary to previous research, they found no significant difference in desiring future interaction with SAD individuals, they speculate that this may be explained by methodological differences, in that prior research involved partners who were confederates, whereas Asher and Aderka used actual participants. In addition, prior research did not manipulate context, whereas in their study, half of their participants engaged in closeness-generating interactions, which they found increased the desire to interact in the future.

Safe Space For the Socially Anxious

Understanding that discontent does not automatically translate into disinterest may help people with SAD feel more comfortable in social settings. This is important because the better we get to know someone, the less anxiety we will feel. And socially anxious or not, understanding the value of authentic conversation can help everyone form relationships that are relaxed, respectful, and rewarding.


[i] Tissera, Hasagani, Lauren Gazzard Kerr, Erika N. Carlson, and Lauren J. Human. 2020. “Social Anxiety and Liking: Towards Understanding the Role of Metaperceptions in First Impressions.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, August. doi:10.1037/pspp0000363.supp (Supplemental).

[ii] Asher, Maya, and Idan M. Aderka. 2020. “Dating with Social Anxiety: An Empirical Examination of Momentary Anxiety and Desire for Future Interaction.” Clinical Psychological Science 8 (1): 99–110. doi:10.1177/2167702619867055.