Being alone might make your social anxiety worse

A new study shows spending time with friends actually helps your mental health.

by Douglas Greenwood
02 December 2021, 1:49pm

You would assume the cure to a fear of other people and social situations would be to take time out and make the most of your own company, but a new study has revealed that, actually, that might be making your social anxiety worse. Like some form of exposure therapy, a new paper from the Journal of Anxiety Disorders has suggested that those who work towards successfully curing their social anxiety disorders are the ones who go out and see friends in public.

The scientists behind the study from the University of South Florida, which was revealed today, selected a sample group of 87 adults in the USA. 42 of them had either been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, or exhibited the clinical signs of it. Through their phones, the scientists monitored their moods and their social setting (whether they were out with friends or at home alone) over the course of a two week period.

“Contrary to lay belief, we found that people with social anxiety disorder were happier when with others than alone,” the study concluded. “Feeling anxious or concerned about socialising does not preclude experiencing pleasure while socialising.”

This was what the scientists had predicted: that many living with social anxiety disorder may be generally more unhappy than someone not living with it, but that their mood when around other people wouldn’t necessarily get worse. It’s interesting to think about how our social anxiety disorders manifest. When you think about it, when do you feel the worst: before, when you’re at home about to leave for a party, and are pranging out over who might be there, or how you’ll find someone to talk to, or the actual experience of being there? More often than not, we’re dramatists in that way: picturing the most pessimistic result.

“People with social anxiety are not devoid of the basic desire for human connection; they just have trouble obtaining it in certain situations or with certain people,” the study’s lead scientist Fallon Goodman says. “If we start from that assumption, then we can reduce problematic myths about social anxiety.”

A subsequent study by the group also revealed that we do, however, feel more comfortable when in groups that contain romantic partners and close family and friends, though. So while it might be good to agree to see someone you trust out in public, don’t fret: your excuse for bailing on your mate’s brother’s second cousin’s birthday party still stands.

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