I’m sorry to report we are caught up in an epidemic of loneliness. It seems these lovely, socially connected donkeys along my morning walk have it all figured out. While they have each other, there are now more people living alone than ever before in history. In fact, with all our modern conveniences (think mail order groceries, telecommuting jobs, social media “friends” and followers, mail order EVERYTHING), we could technically survive adulthood without ever seeing another human! But even though that possibility exists, it doesn’t mean it’s good for us. Heaps of scholarly evidence point toward our innate need for human connection and the emotionally, mentally, and physically protective factors associated with these connections such as decreased risk of depression, increased trust in others, improved positive affect and emotions, and diminished blood pressure reactivity and better recovery following blood pressure fluctuations, among others. Hm. Those sound nice.
I frequently hear from my clients that even if they live communally or work among other people, they feel very unsatisfied with the quality of their social connections and still feel lonely. In addition, as our society has become so socially mobile and folks must often relocate for employment, those lost connections from childhood or college have significant impacts on mental health. The question comes up over and over again: “How do grown-ups make friends?” Based on my own experiences moving throughout my adult life and the successes of my clients, I’ve arranged a short list of some ways to get out there and make some meaningful connections.
Bear in mind, for some, social anxiety in conjunction with the desire to achieve our birthright for quality human connection can be a bit more challenging. In such cases, I recommend making a list of values (i.e. what’s important to you or what you believe would offer your life greater vitality) and learning some skills to increase mindful awareness of unhelpful thoughts that can limit action. Fresh Air Counseling specializes in helping folks with social anxiety by teaching strategies and skills that can promote change in the direction of creating new relationships.
Four Free (or Almost Free) Ways to Build New Social Connections
- Join a Club. Yes, a club. Websites like meetup.com have made it possible for anyone, anywhere to find like-minded folks in the realms of everything from running clubs to music clubs to book clubs and so on. This is terrific, it’s technology actually helping us move away from technology and back into human connection!
- Take a Walk. Whether taking a lunch time stroll (hey, maybe even invite a co-worker you’ve been meaning to get to know) or an early morning spin around your neighborhood, your chances of meeting someone new improve greatly.
- Volunteer. Volunteering is great way to get out of the house without the huge commitments of paid labor. You can often set your own schedule of availability and fill positions that speak to your passions, skills, and talents. Think about what you truly enjoy. Music, nature, animals, knitting, social justice efforts, the environment? Chances are there is a non-profit dying for your time. Check out volunteermatch.org for local opportunities to contribute. Not only will you reap all the feel-goods of helping your community, but you’ll meet other folks who share your interests.
- Host a Potluck. This can be as big or small a gathering as your comfort, culinary skills, or take-out options permit. Invite a core group of friends and ask each to bring a dish to share. Extra points for suggesting each friend bring someone you don’t already know. This increases everyone’s chances of meeting someone new and growing this group abundantly.
- Get a Dog. This goes along with “taking a walk.” Not only will the healthy endorphins of getting out in nature with your furry companion improve your mental health, dog people just find each other–whether walking in your neighborhood and meeting other neighbors out for a stretch, or trail walks that help us disconnect from all the hustle and bustle, technology, etc. I suspect the main reason many people visit dog parks is not only to offer Fido social opportunities, but also to meet other humans with a built-in “wing-dog” to ease the awkwardness. *Not into dogs? Perhaps a cat, small animal, fish, or other is more appropriate for your schedule or ability to care for another life right now. Petfinder.com is a tremendous resource for adoptable animals available through local shelters and rescues.
If social anxiety or another difficulty prevent you from venturing outside the comfort zone of what you know or where things feels safe and these suggestions just aren’t for you, please reach out to Fresh Air Counseling and we can collaborate on other ways to help cultivate more meaningful relationships in your life.