As social beings, strong and meaningful friendships are one of the most important things that we need to foster a fulfilling and satisfying life.
These friendships can help you cope with and work through the challenges you face and reduce stress in your life and help you more actively enjoy your everyday tasks and responsibilities. And, in today’s world, with so much negative stimulus from the media, economic atmosphere, environmental impacts of climate change, and much more, anything that helps us inject some joy into our lives is a welcome sight.
Unfortunately, even the best friendships aren’t immune to conflict and worry. And frequently, many of us find ourselves wondering if our friends really feel the same way as we do about our friendships. This brings us to our topic of the day: friendship anxiety.
What Is Friendship Anxiety?
With so much of our own emotional well-being riding on friendships, it is no surprise that many of us begin to worry about whether or not we are “doing them right.” We start getting anxious about messing up or doing something that could jeopardize one of these valuable relationships. Now, occasionally feeling a little nervous about a relationship is very natural — and no relationship (friendship or otherwise) will be completely free of stress or worry.
But what if this worry becomes a constant thought in your mind? What if it prevents you from actually engaging with your friend and feeling fulfilled in the relationship?
This is precisely what we call “friendship anxiety.”
When you constantly feel like you’re walking on eggshells or giving more of yourself than you can sustain in fear of not being good enough, you cannot truly be a part of a healthy and fulfilling relationship. Here, that natural feeling of not wanting to lose someone becomes a burden that weighs on us. And, if left unchecked, this overwhelming feeling of constant anxiety and uncertainty can lead to the exact outcome we fear — the loss of a great friendship.
How Anxiety Affects Your Friendships
As we mentioned earlier, no real and meaningful relationship will be without its fair share of conflict, worry, and stress. These are simply a part of life, and to connect with someone deeply, you need to experience a variety of feelings when you are with them. In other words, a good friendship does not mean only all smiles and laughter (though there should be a good deal of this, of course).
But, if you are experiencing chronic anxiety within your friendship, you may be unable to enjoy the times in your relationship that are all about the fun. And, unfortunately, you may end up drifting away from your friend altogether. Your friend(s) will know when you are tense or anxious. When they feel this from you, they may also begin to worry, causing this tense feeling to eat away at anyone involved and create an endless cycle of anxiety and worry. Eventually, this could cause your friendship to end and you and your friend to drift apart.
What Does Anxiety in a Friendship Look Like
Some common indicators of friendship anxiety include:
- Canceling plans last minute because you are unsure if your friend(s) wants you to be there or not.
- Constantly seeking validation or proof of your friend(s) feelings towards you or your relationship.
- Having trouble reaching out to your friend(s) out of fear of bothering or inconveniencing them.
- Doubting the closeness of your friendship(s).
- Isolate yourself from your loved ones to avoid feeling disappointed or frustrated with them.
- Feeling chronically tense or restless, especially when in social settings.
Tips for Overcoming Friendship Anxiety
Try using the “yes, but” thought reframing technique when you feel yourself beginning to worry or think negatively about a particular situation.
This strategy of thought reframing focuses on taking a negative thought you are having and countering it with a couple of positive affirmations relevant to the situation. For example, if you are worried about going to a social event where you do not know that many people, you could remind yourself that you are a person with many hobbies and interests, and you will be able to find something to talk about with the people you don’t know.
To perform this technique yourself, just follow the simple formula below.
“Yes, I will be [uncomfortable/stressful situation]. But, I am [2-3 positive and relevant affirmations].”
When we feel anxious in a relationship, many of us try to avoid the topics and situations that cause uneasy feelings. Unfortunately, avoiding these situations will only worsen your anxieties over time. The only way to overcome these worries and fears is to practice exposing yourself to them. But that does not mean you have to tackle all your fears simultaneously.
Try starting small and working up to your larger fears. For example, if you have trouble saying “no” to a friend that wants to hang out or go out somewhere, try agreeing, but with restrictions. Let’s say your friend wants to go to a party and wants you to go too. If you feel uncomfortable saying “no” right away, try agreeing to go with them but only for a certain amount of time — for example, half an hour. This is a great way to learn how to set boundaries without feeling like you are suddenly changing everything.
Once that time has passed, you can leave the party without feeling like you have denied your friend or overextended yourself either. From here, you can slowly work up to saying “no” when you don’t want to go somewhere or do something and create the right boundaries for yourself and your needs.
Ever hear the saying, when you ‘assume,’ you make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’? While this is primarily a way to poke fun at the word’s spelling, it does hold some value.
Truthfully, making assumptions gets us nowhere — at least nowhere good. Our minds are extremely good at reading too much into a simple situation and coming up with the worst possible “reason” or “meaning” behind it. So, more often than not, when you assume something, it will be skewed by whatever your mind has decided must be the cause — which, unfortunately, is usually the thing we fear most in the situation.
Agree to Disagree with Your Mind
As mentioned above, our minds are pretty talented when it comes to making us feel bad about something. But, just because you think something negative (often subconsciously) does not mean that that thought reflects what is happening around you. So, learn to disagree with your anxious thoughts in a respectful and non-judgemental way.
There is no need to feel bad about having negative thoughts or judge yourself for them. Simply recognize them when they come up and say to yourself, “I agree to disagree, anxiety.” Saying this to yourself lets you recognize your negative thoughts but not give in to them.
Sometimes you may not know where to begin when it comes to coping with your anxieties. Or, maybe you have tried several techniques, none of which have helped ease your anxiety so far. In either of these cases, or if you are simply looking for extra help, working with a therapist can be an excellent way to begin healing from the root of your anxieties.