A recent report by the U.S. Surgeon General stated that even before the global pandemic hit, almost half of American adults reported feeling markedly lonely. The effects of isolation and loneliness can be detrimental to one’s health and are believed to increase the risk for stroke, dementia, and heart disease, amongst other ailments.
Having connections through friendship with others, aside from being fun, can help safeguard against these health risks and boost our quality of life.
Making and maintaining friendships as we grow older has its fair share of challenges; past the age of 25, adult friendships begin to fall away, and we do not have the same exposure to peers as we once did back, like when we were kids in school. On top of this, making friends takes a lot of time, one of our most precious commodities that we could always use more of.
On average, it takes about 200 hours of spending time together to establish a friendship. Despite these roadblocks, having meaningful connections with others can be one of life’s greatest joys and is worth pursuing.
In making real-life friendships in adulthood, having a positive and open-minded attitude is key. Believing that you are worthy of friendship and being open to meeting folks from different walks of life and backgrounds than your own makes it more likely that you will form lasting connections.
Conversely, if you believe that you are incapable of making friends and are overly concerned with rejection, you probably won’t be uber-successful in making connections. Social anxiety and low self-esteem can hold people back in the quest to make friends but fortunately are treatable issues.
Challenging negative self-talk with positive or even neutral thoughts can change how you view yourself and increase confidence levels. This may look like replacing a sentiment such as “I hate this” with a gentler “I don’t prefer this” and remembering that feelings do not make fact. In other words, your feelings about yourself or a situation do not make something factually true – we are often our own harshest critics! If you find that you need extra support with managing social anxiety, working with a licensed mental health professional can help.
Another important tip in making and keeping friendships is to prioritize them. Setting aside time regularly to meet new people and communicate with existing friends is necessary. Whether you schedule time for socializing on a physical calendar or set reminders on your phone to call the fellow moms you connected with in yoga class, choose a method that will help keep you accountable.
Saying yes to invitations is another way to boost your chances of cultivating friendships. Even if you tend to be shy or have a set after-work routine, try your best to make it to that event and see it as a way to make positive connections with others and have fun!
Now that you have decided you are ready and motivated to make friends, where can you go to find them? Start with your existing circle of friends and acquaintances and look for ways to connect with them. Whether it’s the neighbor across the street, a new coworker, or your best friend’s sister, take a chance and extend a coffee or lunch invitation. Or, if you know that you both have a shared love for an activity like barre class or kayaking, you can suggest an outing around that.
Leading with your hobbies and interests can be an exciting and fun way to meet new folks. Love martial arts? Consider joining a dojo. Always wanted to run a half-marathon? Look for local running clubs and organizations. If you are a person of faith, getting involved with your place of worship can open doors to meet other like-minded individuals. If you enjoy being of service, seek out organizations or events that need volunteers. Whatever your passions and interests may be, there are bound to be others who share this with you and could make great friends.
Once friendships have been established, one must remember that it is necessary to nurture these connections.
Take an active interest in your new friend’s lives by making a consistent effort to stay in touch through calling, texting, and meeting in person. While finding a meaningful relationship can take time and a willingness to go outside of one’s comfort zone, the benefits of a good friend can last a lifetime.
Melissa Ortiz-Sinclair is a therapist based out of Fairfield County, Connecticut. She is a part of the private practice The Power to Heal, LLC, and is passionate about serving individuals with PTSD and trauma. Outside of learning about the human mind, she is a martial arts enthusiast and has practiced karate for over a decade. She also enjoys birdwatching and spending time with family, friends, and pets.