Making friends is something that many of us struggle with, at least some point in our lives. Remember the first day in school or a new job, and you walk in only to be greeted by a number of unfamiliar places. The dread that fills your stomach when awful thoughts run through your head like ‘will they like me?’ ‘how do I approach them?’ and ‘is this going to be awkward?’. Well, that ordeal can be a whole lot more terrifying if you have anxiety.
I will never forget the first day of university (this was when my anxiety was at its worst). I had managed to keep calm most of the journey there and look at the positives. When I got there, I couldn’t believe how many people were there but I went through the motions of registering and getting all the information I needed. I managed to make a friend through the process but then when it was time to go to the dorm room, I was back at square one again. That’s when the anxiety hit. Everybody already had been introduced and it was just me that would have to go and speak to them. That was when it was too much for me. I totally broke down in my room and just couldn’t force myself to go out and speak to people. Sadly, after that incident, I ended up dropping out but then went to a different university the following year; one that I could commute to. Over the years, I learned tips that will hopefully help you and make things easier rather than learning the hard way.
1. Motivational Music
This first step is more to help you get in a more confident mindset. You know when you listen to a certain song, you suddenly just feel ready to take on the world? Well, that’s what we are going for.
I had an exam at university which was one thing that I was dreading as the last time I had an exam, I had to leave because of my anxiety. Although a couple of years had passed, I was still petrified. What I did though, was blast ‘Ride’ by Twenty One Pilots in my car, the entire way there. It made everything seem better and it helped shift my mindset from being afraid to ‘I may as well give it a shot and see what happens’.
If you can find some music that does that for you and leaves you feeling more confident, you will walk into a room with a totally different energy. It’s almost like embodying a different persona for that moment and that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be yourself; it's just a way of unlocking the more confident version of you.
If you are fortunate enough to be able to listen to music by yourself (like in your own car), then singing along would be beneficial as well as that will help reduce the anxiety. It’s almost like a breathing exercise, but one that you don’t have to think too hard about.
2. Ask a question
This is something that I found the best way of striking up a conversation. Asking a question about something work-related firstly gives you a reason to be talking to that person and also gives you an indication of if they want to talk. You could ask about something you’re not sure about or if they have any tips for something you are doing.
Questions are like the key to unlocking a conversation. Just saying ‘hi’ will most likely get a ‘hi’ back and then the conversation just stops.
If it’s the first day on a course or something you could try asking them questions about themselves. How long have they been interested in this subject? What do they think of it so far? It can be tricky to ask personal questions to start with though, as it can seem like an interrogation. That’s why I prefer keeping the questions generic and subject-related, to begin with.
3. Share background information
If someone seems approachable, you could also try and strike up conversation about yourself. If you ask them questions about why they picked the course, you can share why you did. If you share a little more information about yourself, you can quickly see who you have things in common with. In all honesty, I’m not someone that shares information with someone unless they initiate it but it can be a good ice breaker. For example: ‘Hi. You alright? I’m so excited to start this course as beauty has been a passion of mine for a long time.’ As you can see, short and sweet but perhaps also a little cringy. Not one of my strengths but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. Just be mindful not to overcharge.
4. Compliment them
This falls into the category of charming a person. People love to feel good about themselves, and if you can provide that feeling for them, they may gravitate towards you. Think about the film ‘Mean Girls’. The question “I love your bag, where did you get it?” brought smiles to girls' faces. The only difference is that I would be genuine about a compliment. You can compliment, clothes, hair, style, and even their work (or their intelligence). The only cautionary advice is not to go overboard as it can seem like you’re in love with them, even when you’re not.
An opening compliment is a great way to make a first impression as you’re not asking anything from the other person. It takes a certain amount of confidence but that’s what tip number one (listening to motivation music) is for as it gets you in a more confident mindset.
If in doubt, just offer a small smile to people when you pass them or when you first sit down next to them. If you seem nervous or on edge (which is pretty common with anxiety), people often stay away. But if you show yourself as approachable, with some time you can see how things go.
If there’s one valuable lesson I’ve learned in life, it’s that being popular or having a lot of friends is only temporary and it doesn’t bring you that much happiness. The goal is to feel comfortable in your own skin and try to enjoy work or school as much as you can. The right people will gravitate towards you. One of my friends from university approached me first because I kept leaving and he was curious as to why I kept leaving class. You can never really predict who you will end up being friends with.