The meetup craze is taking the GTA by storm.
If you’re into ballroom dancing, you can join a meetup group that gets together to dance. Say you’re into poker, you can join a group that likes to meet and play Texas Hold ‘em. There’s even a meetup group for vampires and their enthusiasts.
Any type of meetup group can be created by anyone who is interested in doing so on websites like meetup.com. Each member who wants to join a meetup group must create a profile. Members can chat amongst themselves on the meetup site where future meetup dates, activities and locations are also posted.
“I’ve been to meetups with as many as 80 people, but the average turn out is around seven to 10 people,” says Raymond Gonzales, 41. Gonzales has been attending meetups since 2005 and belongs to several groups.
Meetup groups can be useful for exchanging goods, ideas or just for a little social interaction. But there is one crucial personality trait that members must maintain in order to be an effective member of the group: sociability.
However, feeling comfortable with perfect strangers, who often meet in unfamiliar places can be nerve-racking for some — especially for those who are extremely shy or social phobic.
But guess what? There is even a meetup group for those who struggle with social shyness or anxiety. The group is called Social Club for the Shy Ones! and has nearly 80 members from all over the GTA.
Magda Masden, 35, created the group this August and has organized five meetups since.
“I’ve been to some of the other meetup groups for socially shy people and it really makes you realize that you’re not so bad compared to some of the other people,” says Masden. “I wanted to create this group to attract others who are around the same shyness level as myself.”
Recently Masden faced a difficult reality. She realized that she was only socializing with her husband and her sister because she felt very uncomfortable in social situations. This prevented her from new social activities and from meeting new people. She knew she had to change before her situation got worse.
“These meetup groups for socially shy people are a great idea,” says Mireille Huneault, a therapist with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). “It’s very much like the exposure technique that therapists use to help patients overcome their social anxiety.”
The technique introduces the patient back into social or public situations that they fear in hopes they’ll eventually become more comfortable in them.
“When a person experiences heightened levels of social anxiety they should try to overcome it on their own if they can,” says Amanda Beaman, a cognitive behaviour therapist at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.
“In many cases, we’ve seen social anxieties turn into social phobias and disorders if they are not treated which can be a much larger hurdle to overcome.”
This is the case for Peter Millar, 34. The anxiety that builds up within him while considering attending a meetup is overwhelming, he says. Millar was diagnosed with acute generalized social anxiety disorder 10 years ago. He’s just finished an eight week program at CAMH for mood and anxiety disorder treatment.
One of his therapists at CAMH suggested he try attending a meetup which he could check out at meetup.com.
“The first meetup I tried RSVPing yes to, I had intended to go to,” said Millar. “But the venue changed to a restaurant, where there would likely be a noise level that I often have trouble with. I had still intended to go, but that day my anxiety level peaked and I was extremely self-conscious. And I wound up cancelling.”
Although some people like Millar may feel too anxious to attend a meetup, those who do attend often yield positive results.
“The whole reason why I joined this meetup, and a few others, was to overcome my shyness,” said Gonzales. “I don’t consider myself shy anymore. Now I like to go to shyness meetups to help other people.”
So if you’re thinking of joining a meetup group but you’re too shy, or you just want to work on getting over your shyness, try a starting with a shyness meetup like Magda’s, comprised of members who share similar anxieties in a very welcoming environment.
Once you feel more comfortable, explore meetup.com to find different meetup groups that may spark your interest.