Friendship Anxiety: What It Is and How to Manage It

UPDATED: March 13, 2024
PUBLISHED: March 13, 2024
Shy man with friendship anxiety

Have you ever felt like your friends hate you or don’t want to be friends with you? You might have something known as friendship anxiety. Learn more about it, where it comes from, and how to deal with it.

What is friendship anxiety?

Friendship anxiety is a type of anxiety that triggers feelings of worry, inadequacy and anxiousness related to platonic relationships. It is very similar to social anxiety or social phobia for most people. However, where social anxiety symptoms generally manifest in any social setting, friendship anxiety is tied exclusively to relationships with friends.

Friendship anxiety isn’t typically considered a specific, “diagnosable” condition like social anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). While many people who experience it may have other types of anxiety disorders, feelings of friendship anxiety can happen to anyone.

Some of the most common symptoms and signs of friendship anxiety include:

  • Trouble fully trusting family or friends
  • Physical reactions, such as a rapid heartbeat, when thinking about an interaction with friends
  • Worry that you don’t have enough friends or that your worth is dependent upon the number of friends you have
  • Distorted thinking patterns that have you constantly replaying and overthinking conversations or interactions with friends 
  • People-pleasing and avoiding friends in an attempt to avoid rejection or conflict
  • Seeking constant reassurance from friends, such as regularly asking, “Do you hate me?” or “Are you mad at me?”

Common triggers of friendship anxiety

Research suggests that both genetic and environmental factors play a role in someone’s predisposition to anxiety. In addition to general anxiety factors, friendship anxiety is often tied to a lack of meaningful in-person interactions.

Common triggers of friendship anxiety include:

  • More digital interactions and fewer in-person meetings
  • Obsession with social media and smartphones
  • Past experiences related to rejection or conflict

The COVID-19 pandemic may be one of the main reasons why friendship anxiety is suddenly everywhere. Lockdowns, cancellation of events and a move toward digital interactions have left many people with fewer in-person relationships. This lack of in-person interaction strains relationships, and many people are still recovering.

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Likewise, society’s modern obsession with social media and technology could be contributing to feelings of friendship anxiety. For example, you see a friend posted an Instagram story of dinner with another friend, making you feel left out and wondering if they’re mad at you. While you might logically know that the dinner was just a chance for two friends to catch up (just as you might do with someone else), seeing it on social media can easily trigger friendship anxiety symptoms.

Finally, people who’ve faced rejection or high levels of conflict in the past may be more at risk for experiencing friendship anxiety. For example, someone who was bullied in school or treated as an outcast might have trouble accepting that their friends like them for who they are.

5 tips to overcome friendship anxiety

Friendship anxiety could be harmful to your mental health and your relationships with friends. Luckily, there are several ways to cope with mild friendship anxiety that you can put into practice right away.

1. Challenge negative thoughts

Anxious feelings are commonly rooted in emotions, which can be unreliable when working through a problem. If you’re feeling friendship anxiety, the first step is to take a step back and look at a situation logically.

Putting an objective lens on your interactions with friends and challenging any negative thoughts can help you identify when your anxiety is taking control. Once you start having negative thoughts about your friendships, push back mentally and challenge those negative thoughts.

2. Be open and honest with friends

One of the best ways to cope with friendship anxiety is to be honest with your friends about how you’re feeling. This can lead to open conversations about anxiety and how you and your friends can support each other in the relationship. In many cases, friends who share their anxieties learn that they’re not alone in feeling friendship anxiety. Ultimately, having honest conversations with friends about your anxiety struggles can help you build trust and connection with others.

3. Practice mindfulness and self-care

Anxiety tends to leave us feeling overwhelmed by things we can’t control—such as overanalyzing past interactions or worrying about what will happen in the future. Try to practice mindfulness to help counteract the effects of friendship anxiety.

Mindfulness is the process of living in the moment and taking in what’s happening around you without judgment. Some ways to practice mindfulness include:

  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Going for walks
  • Mindful eating

4. Define your friendship values

Part of reducing friendship anxiety is defining and living according to your friendship values. Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • What kind of friend do I hope to be?
  • What do I want to offer to my friends? What do I hope they offer me?
  • What does the relationship stand for?

Answering these questions can help you better understand what you want out of a friendship—and what you can offer your friends in return. Then, by living these values authentically, you’ll naturally grow deeper connections to your friends, which can help curb anxiety.

5. Build your self-esteem

In many cases, friendship anxiety can come from feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt. Working on your self-esteem and confidence can help you reduce friendship anxiety.

Try these methods for improving your self-confidence:

  • List the things you love and admire about yourself.
  • Practice saying “no” to others.
  • Set challenges to step outside your comfort zone, even something as small as going to see a movie or having dinner alone.
  • Try a digital detox and step away from social media.
  • Start each day with a positive conversation with yourself.

If anxiety is harming your friendships, consider professional help

Are you trying to manage your friendship anxiety but feel like nothing is working? It might be time to reach out to a professional. While the five methods listed above can help you cope with some aspects of anxiety, it’s never a bad idea to speak to a professional if the anxiety persists or interferes with your daily life.

In fact, most mental health professionals advocate for therapy or related mental health services even if you’re not diagnosed with a mental health disorder. A mental health professional—like a licensed therapist who specializes in relationships—can help you work through friendship anxiety triggers and develop a management plan.

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