What's Your Experience with Making Friends?
It's a common belief that making new friends gets harder as we get older. But it doesn't have to be that way! With some effort and intention, you can make meaningful new friendships at any stage of life. Like with many other things, it's a skill one can learn and improve on. Research shows that around 30% of people report feeling lonely. We are living in an epidemic of loneliness, which can profoundly impact our health. Loneliness raises levels of cortisol, weakens the immune system, and increases blood pressure and risk of heart disease. It's been found to be as detrimental to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! Making social connections is vital for both our mental and physical wellbeing. However, many of us do find it challenging to put ourselves out there and meet new people, especially after school or college. Our social circles shrink as friends move, get married, start families, or become engrossed in careers.
It is something we need to reflect on as making new friends is so important for our wellbeing. It's social connections keep us happy and healthy.
How do you find it?
Is it hard to put yourself out there and meet new people?
What obstacles do you face when meeting new people?
Why do We Struggle so Much with Making New Friends?
As adults, expanding our social circles can feel daunting. According to research, many factors hold us back from connecting with new people. Our brains are wired to emphasize past painful experiences over future rewards. So we may fixate on past social rejections or disappointments rather than imagining positive new connections. Our thought patterns also undermine us - we catastrophize potential outcomes or assume we have nothing in common with strangers. Additionally, studies show we often default to isolating routines for efficiency. It takes effort to put ourselves in new situations and engage with unfamiliar people. It's easy to stick to a routine and not make an effort to connect with new people.
Many of us also feel shy or awkward about trying to make new friends as adults. We may fear rejection, or worry that we won't have anything in common with new people. We may battle shyness, social anxiety, or low self-esteem when stepping outside our comfort zones. But we have to push past these barriers to avoid chronic loneliness. As we go about our busy modern lives we often fall into the cognitive distortion of overgeneralizing, where we assume one bad experience means we'll never make a new friend again. Our brains are wired to emphasize past social pain over future pleasure, so we may focus on disappointing past experiences rather than imagining positive future ones. Mental habits like rumination can also get in the way, as we endlessly rehash our worries rather than take action. Being aware of these unhelpful thought patterns can help us challenge them. If we notice our inner critic or perfectionism hindering us, we can actively shift to more constructive thinking. Adjusting our mindset is just as important as putting ourselves out there!
What Can We Do to Have More Friends?
There are many ways to meet potential new friends at any age. The key is trying new activities that align with your interests. Joining social clubs, recreational teams, volunteer groups, networking events, classes, or faith-based communities can be a good first step. Meaningful connections start to form naturally as you engage with people who share your passions. When you meet someone you'd like to know better, don't be afraid to initiate spending time together. Making the first move is crucial when forming adult friendships. Also, try establishing consistent plans like getting coffee every month and connections will start to happen naturally Routine interactions are key for bonding but remember to be patient as the strongest relationships take time to develop. It takes time to build depth and trust. Stay positive and open. Reframe thoughts that tell you it's hopeless or not worth the effort. Instead, focus on making each interaction pleasant. With practice, you can improve your friendship-building skills! Remember that others struggle and get shy too! Don't assume you are the only shy one out there.
What about the ''Inner Work''?
Practicing self-acceptance can help us become more open to new friendships. When we acknowledge our weaknesses and imperfections, we are more likely to be understanding of others. Judging ourselves or others too harshly makes it harder to connect. Practicing self-compassion allows us to take social risks without fearing failure. We can embrace that making friends involves trial and error. With an open and tolerant attitude, we're more likely to persevere through awkward moments and find people with whom we truly resonate.
Friendship at any age is not just about filling a social need. It’s about creating treasured memories, laughter, and support to sustain you. Reach out, be kind, and embrace the joy of connection. Life is richer when shared.