“I feel like I have been losing my social skills. I live alone, so I’m not hanging out with people. I don’t know what to say to people anymore. My mind goes blank. What can I do?”
Meeting up with people after a long time of being alone can be disorienting. You may find yourself on edge the whole time, wondering if it’s going well. Maybe you even ask yourself, “What do people normally talk about?”
We need to develop social skills over time, like any other skill. No one can draw like Picasso the first time they pick up a paintbrush. Just like artistic skills, we need to learn and practice social and conversational skills. The following step-by-step guide can help you when you feel like you’re losing your social skills.
1. Have compassion towards yourself
Many of us have a harsh inner critic and tend to judge ourselves quite often. When we’re struggling with something, we beat ourselves up with thoughts like, “I should be better at this by now.” We have high expectations of ourselves and see ourselves as failures if we don’t live up to them.
We think that we need to push ourselves to get better. But in fact, the opposite is true. We want to move away from what feels bad. Having no friends is difficult, but it’s worse if we’re calling ourselves a loser. The constant mental attacks are exhausting, and we’re left with no energy to change. Often, we try to make the feelings go away by distracting ourselves with food, video games, drugs, or alcohol. We end up feeling worse in the long run.
On the other hand, using self-compassion can lead to increased goal mastery and positive emotional coping skills. Being kind to ourselves can help us achieve our goals.
2. Remember that others are in a similar boat
You’re not the only person who feels like they’ve lost their social skills. People worldwide have gone through months of not seeing, talking to, or touching another human being during quarantine. Stress and depression can also cause people to want to isolate for long periods of time. And due to technology and social media, many have gotten out of practice in talking on the phone or starting a conversation with someone new.
As a result, many have been reporting that they’ve become more nervous about talking to people. They feel less interested in talking to people and feel exhausted after video calls and Zoom meetings. People often report that they don’t know what to talk about anymore since they feel like there isn’t much going on, leading to awkward interactions. Psychologists say that increased social isolation is making it harder for us to relate to one another.
Knowing that others are going through similar things can help us feel less alone. And when you meet up with people again, you won’t have to worry as much if they think you’re strange. They might be worrying about the same thing!
3. Pinpoint which social skills you’re missing
Ask yourself which social skills you’re struggling with in particular. Approach the topic with curiosity rather than judgment (remember self-compassion).
Is it that you don’t know how to start talking to new people? Or perhaps you can’t figure out how to move from small talk to more personal conversations. Maybe you’re not sure if your jokes are landing or if you come across as rude. The more specific you’ll be about what you want to improve, the easier it will be.
4. Read up on developing social skills
There are countless articles, books, courses, and videos that can help you develop your social skills.
For example, you can get tips on how to be funny, always have something to talk about, and get comfortable with eye contact. Then, slowly start to practice what you’re learning.
5. Connect with online friends
The internet can provide a fantastic opportunity to connect to friends who are far away or make new friends who you may not have met otherwise.
You can get to know people online through mutual interests or hobbies. Search on Reddit, Facebook, Discord, or other social media platforms for active groups dedicated to your interests. It may take a while to find an active group, but when you do, you can meet like-minded people who are looking to talk about topics you’re interested in.
Consider subreddits dedicated to people looking to make new friends, like r/MakeNewFriendsHere/ and r/CasualConversation/. There are also support groups for overcoming depression and trauma, like r/cptsd and r/eood (a group for people trying to use exercise to help with depression). Some of these subreddits and groups have a Discord server where people can chat at any time of the day.
6. Join a support group
Support groups are a great way to connect to others who are going through similar struggles. In support groups, we practice listening to others without giving advice and feel how it is to be vulnerable and heard.
You don’t have to worry that your problems aren’t “bad enough” or “too big” for support groups. Everyone is welcome.
You can try to find a support group in person through a website like GoodTherapy or try free online support groups.
Livewell is an online support group for people struggling with depression. Hope4Recovery focuses on helping adults coping with PTSD, abuse, trauma, and eating disorders. Adult Children is a Twelve-Steps based group for those who grew up in an acholic, dysfunctional, or otherwise unsupportive home. Codependents Anonymous is a Twelve-Steps program centered on learning to build healthy relationships for those who tend to put others’ needs before their own.
7. Consider taking a dedicated course
Taking a course focused on improving social skills can help you regain your social skills. A good course will help you recognize your strong points and the specific places you’re struggling. You can learn examples tailored to your specific situations. In addition, taking a course along with others can give you a safe, low-stakes space to practice social interactions with people who won’t judge.
Look at this article on social skills courses to find one that suits you.
8. Cut down on technology
The internet and social media can help us connect to people, especially when we don’t have the option of seeing people in person. And video games can be a fun hobby and even help develop certain cognitive skills. But we often use the internet, smartphones, social media, and video games as a distraction.
As a result, we don’t spend as much quality time with ourselves. Extensive social media use can also lead us to compare ourselves negatively towards others because we see the best moments of their lives.
Try to limit your screen time to productive activities such as having meaningful conversations, developing skills, and learning new things. Take a break from video games and social media to invest your time in activities that will nourish you and develop meaningful skills.
9. Train yourself to focus externally
Often, we don’t know what to say to others because our attention is inward-focused. We’re so busy thinking that we don’t notice what’s going on around us. An inward focus is common with depression and anxiety and can develop after long periods of isolation. When we spend time by ourselves, we train ourselves to focus on ourselves.
Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you recognize and let go of your thoughts instead of getting lost in them. In your day-to-day life, make an effort to notice what’s going on in the present moment.
Make it a habit to ask yourself what you can see, hear, feel, and smell around you during the day. Practicing this type of focused attention will help you do so automatically when you talk to people. As a result, you’ll get better at being interested in people, noticing things about them, and asking questions.
10. Get help for your anxiety
Trauma and anxiety can make us feel numb. We often think that the things we go through aren’t “bad enough,” but nearly all of us experience trauma at one point in our lives. Losing someone we care about, becoming unexpectedly unemployed, dealing with difficult family members, being in a car accident, and struggling with our physical health, for example, can all take severe tolls on our mental health.
A therapist can help you understand and process significant events in your life. You can also choose to work on specific challenges during your sessions, like making new friends.
Many therapists offer online sessions. You can find an online therapist through a website like BetterHelp.
Common questions about losing social skills
Why do I keep losing my social skills?
We improve our skills by practicing them. If you go through long periods of isolation, you get out of practice. If social skills don’t come naturally to you, you will need to practice consistently until they begin to feel natural.
Is it too late to develop social skills?
No. It’s never too late to learn something new. It may be helpful to remember that it may take longer than you’d like, but that doesn’t mean you cannot grow and change.
Can you lose your social skills?
We don’t really “lose” social skills, but we may feel that we’ve forgotten them. After a long time with zero or minimal social interactions, we can feel awkward and out-of-practice. Since we’re wired for connection, we can re-learn these skills later on.
How do I get my social skills back?
The best way to regain social skills is to put yourself in social situations. Start to challenge yourself slowly. If you stay in your comfort zone, you won’t grow, but going too fast can make you want to isolate yourself. Take small steps to increase your confidence.