Do you ever get this weird feeling that your friends secretly hate you, even though they’ve never given you any reason to think that? Or that they think that one thing you did last weekend was super weird, and now they have a secret group text to laugh at you? These thoughts weigh on you and eat away at you, making you second-guess and overthink all of your closest friendships. But that’s all they are—they’re just thoughts caused by anxiety. And they’re thoughts that a lot of people have, including me.
There have been many times in my life when I’ve worried that my best friend hates me and that we’re not actually friends. Spoiler alert: we’ve been best friends for 20 years, and she has never hated me, despite what my anxiety tells me. This specific type of anxious thinking has a name: Friendship Anxiety. Ahead, we’re digging into this, dare I say, annoying anxiety symptom and discussing the tactics we can count on to keep these thoughts under control.
What is friendship anxiety?
Many people will experience friendship or relationship anxiety throughout their lives. While there are many causes and symptoms of social anxiety, friendship anxiety seems to encompass one particular symptom of social anxiety. According to Healthline, a physiological symptom of social anxiety is “intense worry before, during, and after a social situation.” Friendship anxiety is similar to social anxiety but not entirely the same, and it’s important to note that this “feeling” of friendship anxiety is not an official medical diagnosis.
Haley, @YourAnxiousTherapist on TikTok, gives examples of friendship anxiety in a video, sharing, “Friendship anxiety can look like the feeling of always being the ‘replaceable’ friend, always being worried that they’re mad at you or think you’re annoying, being worried that you’ll be left out and not invited somewhere, or fear that one day they will realize they don’t want to be your friend anymore, and they will walk out of your life.” In sharing these relatable examples, Haley shares that nobody is alone in feeling this way.
What causes friendship anxiety?
Anxiety has a wide range of causes and triggers. For some, it may be genetic, but for others, social media use or past life experiences can trigger anxieties. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “The causes of anxiety disorders are currently unknown but likely involve a combination of factors including genetic, environmental, psychological and developmental.” Anxiety differs from person to person, with varying causes and coping mechanisms for everyone. That’s why some people may feel anxious before a social situation (social anxiety) whereas others may overthink their interaction after spending time with loved ones, experiencing what we’re calling friendship anxiety.
How to deal with friendship anxiety
Here’s the good news: friendship anxiety is totally manageable! You just need to give yourself some grace, take extra care of your well-being, and try out some coping mechanisms like the ones we’re sharing next.
Challenge your thoughts
This is one of the biggest tips I learned from my therapist, and it really helps when I find myself overthinking, especially when it comes to relationships. When you find yourself overthinking about the state of your friendships or a specific interaction you had with a friend, take a moment to pause. Reflect on the event, think about what actually happened in that moment, and challenge your anxious thoughts.
For example, if you’re wondering if your friend had a good time hanging out with you or if they were just pretending, take a moment to pause. Did your friend give any signs that they weren’t having a good time, or did they say they weren’t having a good time? Or did they tell you they had a great time, hug you when you said bye, and text you when they got home? If the second scenario is more realistic, reiterate to yourself that your friend really did have a great time and you have a strong friendship.
Remember that these thoughts are just thoughts. Until someone actually tells you that they are upset with you or goes so far as to say they don’t want to be your friend anymore, these thoughts stem from your anxiety, not necessarily reality.
Seek support from your network
Therapists are trained to help us work through these anxious thoughts and provide us with strong coping mechanisms, and I can say from personal experience that seeking help from a professional helps immensely.
It’s also a great idea to reach out to your friends. While their support is different from a professional, they can likely offer reassurance and help you feel more positive about your friendship. My friends and I talk about this all the time, and while it doesn’t make my anxiety disappear, it helps to know I’m not alone in feeling friendship anxiety. Tannia Duenas, The Healing Therapist on Instagram, says, “Reach out to trusted friends, family, or professionals when needed. Share your experiences and fears, knowing that you don’t have to face friendship anxiety alone.”
Mindfulness plays an essential role in our general well-being. It’s a great skill to practice daily, but it can especially help you stay grounded during moments of friendship anxiety. Meditating, journaling, or choosing an affirmation to repeat to yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed are all effective ways of incorporating mindfulness into your life.
Try implementing a mindfulness practice that you can lean on before or after you spend time with friends. You can try something small like looking in the mirror and repeating your affirmation, journaling to get your thoughts out on paper, or even engaging in a quick 5-minute meditation. These small acts can leave a big impact on your mind, allowing you to feel more positive and confident heading into an interaction or helping you curb feelings of friendship anxiety after a social interaction.
Engage in value-based actions
Be authentic in friendships and show people what makes you, you. Duenas says, “Clarify your values in friendships and align your actions accordingly. Act in ways that are true to yourself, focusing on the quality of connection rather than perceived judgments or expectations.” Maybe you pride yourself on being a good listener, supportive, kind, or loyal. Whatever your core values are, remind yourself who you are and what you bring to a friendship. For example, if you value support in a friendship, make sure that you bring support to them. This could look like being one of the first to wish your friend luck before a big interview or asking them how their day was when you can tell something is wrong. By being your authentic self, not trying to impress anyone for the sake of being “liked”, and being a good friend to others, you can attract the kind of friendships that are true to you and keep the creeping feelings of friendship anxiety at bay.