Ask the Experts

Dear Organizing Coach: Can I Help Ease My Girlfriend’s Social Anxiety?

When a loved one avoids social interaction, it can be isolating for his or her partner as well. Anxiety disorders, which occur frequently in people with ADHD, require professional treatment. But here’s how friends and family can take small steps to help.

Q: “I live with my lovely girlfriend, who has ADHD and anxiety. She’ll be graduating college this year, and while her parents have been encouraging independence, I don’t think she’s prepared. She’s home much of the time but forgets to do things like pick up clothes and put away dishes. She gets anxious when she doesn’t have her cell phone in her hand and tends to ignore me when she’s on it. Her friends and family invite us to events, but she rarely wants to go out. I understand that anxiety isn’t easy to manage, but even people she’s comfortable with can’t get her out. When we do, she pays attention to her phone instead of us. I’ve tried talking her into a simple walk, but even that doesn’t work. We’re young, and there’s so much world to explore. What can I do to help her? —Blitzy22

Hi Blitzy22:

I truly applaud you for being so concerned for your girlfriend. It’s not always easy to identify the right course of action or the appropriate steps to take when you want to help someone.

I grappled with answering your question, since there might be underlying issues at hand that I’m not trained to address. You mention that your girlfriend has social anxiety. She might be using her phone as a “lifeline.” I see this a lot in the students I coach: They might have trouble navigating a group of friends or peers in person, but they’re able to participate and socialize through social media and text messaging.

[Self-Test: Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Adults]

My advice to you is to start small. See if she’ll agree to a “Black-Out Hour” — time that you spend together every day discussing your day, watching a television show, or preparing and eating dinner phone-free. As time goes on, perhaps you can increase the time spent without your phones.

You also mentioned that your girlfriend has a hard time getting out. Is she willing to have friends over to your home? Could you plan a few group date nights with a no-phone rule where everyone checks their devices at the door? Maybe in the security and comfort of her own home, she’ll be more likely to disengage from her phone and re-engage with her real-life friends.

Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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