As humans, we’re meant to be social creatures. Having friends makes us happier and healthier—in fact, being socially connected is key to our mental and emotional health. Yet many of us are shy and socially introverted. We feel awkward around unfamiliar people, unsure of what to say, or worried about what others might think of us. This can cause us to avoid social situations, cut ourselves off from others, and gradually become isolated and lonely.
Loneliness is a common problem among people of all ages and backgrounds, and yet it’s something that most of us hesitate to admit. But loneliness is nothing to feel ashamed about. Sometimes, it’s a result of external circumstances: you’ve moved to a new area, for example. In such cases, there are lots of steps you can take to meet new people and turn acquaintances into friends.
But what if you’re struggling with shyness, social insecurity, or a long-standing difficulty making friends? The truth is that none of us are born with social skills. They’re things we learn over time—and the good news is that you can learn them, too. No matter how nervous you feel in the company of others, you can learn to silence self-critical thoughts, boost your self-esteem, and become more confident in your interactions with others. You don’t have to change your personality, but by learning new skills and adopting a different outlook you can overcome shyness or social awkwardness, banish loneliness, and enjoy strong, fulfilling friendships.
When it comes to the things that really scare us, you want to face your fears in a gradual way, starting with situations that are slightly stressful and building up to more anxiety-provoking scenarios. Think of it as a stepladder, with each rung a little more stressful than the last. Don’t move on to the next step until you’ve had a positive experience with the step below.