How to Belong at Church When You Have Social Anxiety

Digital Only: Young Adults

How to Belong at Church When You Have Social Anxiety

The author lives in Arizona, USA.

In a very social church, social anxiety can make things very difficult.

Walking to Church Alone

A few years ago, my sister and I decided to perform in our young single adult ward talent show. We wanted to sing a duet but were nervous about being the center of attention. Since we needed an accompaniment track, I decided to create a video to go along with the music. I spent hours editing on top of practicing my vocal part. Finally, when it came time to perform, our audience was pleasantly stunned.

After the talent show, as we slipped out of the church building where the performance had been held, one of our ward members stopped us.

“That was amazing!” he said. “I had tears in my eyes. And I’m not the type of guy to get emotional.” He invited us to join his group of friends at the bishop’s house for pizza and Ping-Pong, a weekly tradition that had been growing for a while.

I knew it was a rare opportunity to hang out with some of the ward members. However, I turned him down out of fear. Despite having just performed in front of a crowd, I had a lot of social anxiety and didn’t feel like I fit in.

All of us want to belong. I often waited for people to notice I was lonely, but waiting didn’t bring the results I wanted. For years I felt my anxiety and depression worsen as I would quietly attend church and then slip out afterwards to avoid the crowd.

I finally hit a critical low, and I knew I had to take action.

I learned that belonging takes faith—faith that you are worth loving, faith that you are needed, and faith that you can be better with others.

Start with Heavenly Father and the Savior

If you feel like you don’t fit the “mold” of the Church (a mold that actually doesn’t even exist), how can you find a sense of belonging?

Sister Sharon Eubank, First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, said: “Some of us feel we don’t fit the traditional mold. For various reasons, we don’t feel accepted or acceptable. The New Testament shows the great efforts Jesus made to reach out to all kinds of people. … In almost every story, He is reaching someone who wasn’t traditionally accepted in society.”1

For me to feel like I belonged, I had to start with my relationship with Heavenly Father and the Savior. I studied the Savior’s life. I prayed to Heavenly Father and did my best to fill my life with ways to grow closer to Him. And because I made an effort to reach out to Him, He reached out to me. If you feel like an “outcast” for any reason, God is the one to turn to first.

He said, “Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:23).

As you carefully develop a relationship with God, your relationships with others will also improve—as will your sense of self-worth.

Serve in Small Ways

Serving is another way to develop a sense of belonging. But for someone who is struggling, the mere thought of serving in big ways can be overwhelming. Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, Second Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, taught, “To do just as [Christ] did, however, is to minister by giving what we are capable of giving and to trust that the Lord will magnify our efforts to bless our ‘fellow travelers on this mortal journey.’”2

It’s okay to be the kind of person who quietly attracts others, or who serves in small and simple ways that are genuine. You have the ability to influence people whom others might not. You may not always get to see the positive effect you have on others, but in the “small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6).

Join with Others

As an introvert, I enjoy solitude. But I, just like all of us, feel the need to belong. And when we join with others in service and fellowship, amazing things can happen.

Sister Eubank shared this analogy: “Our individual light may be like only one light bulb on a tree. But we still shine our small light, and all together, like Temple Square at Christmastime, we attract millions of people to the house of the Lord.”3

Your individual contribution may seem small, but when you exercise the faith that you do belong, you join your light with that of others in your ward or branch and the effect is amplified. Learn to feel loved, learn to share your light, and watch how your life changes. You will be blessed.