Being socially connected with people we care about and whose company we enjoy can help us cope with stress and reduce feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. As human beings, positive social connections are really important to our mental and physical health.
However, until we have a COVID-19 vaccine, physical distancing is going to be a key factor in limiting the spread and keeping our friends, family and community safe. To help slow the spread we need to stay physically apart, which means that it’s even more important for our wellbeing that we stay socially and emotionally close to our loved ones. Now is the time to work out other ways to connect and schedule in some regular time with friends.
There are lots of ways we can stay connected with each other. Phone call, video chat, text messaging, email and social media are some of the more commonly used ways, but there are lots of other ideas to explore. Here are just a few:
Don’t let these ideas intimidate you. You don’t have to have an elaborate plan to connect with people. Even a simple text message or email, or tagging someone on a social media post with a positive message can help people day to day.
Even when we’re physically isolating, there are ways to meet new people. Community groups can provide a way for people with common interests to connect, so if you’re looking to make new social connections in your area and are not sure where to begin, start with your local council. Here are a few other suggestions:
The simplest way to make new friends is to get back in touch with old ones! As you get older it’s easy to let friendships drift, but if you have an old friend you’ve been wanting to reconnect with for ages it’s never too late to pick up the phone. Perhaps you feel guilty or embarrassed about how long it’s been, but chances are they’re feeling the same way and will be pleased to hear from you.
If you’re not sure how to start a conversation when you haven’t spoken in years why not try sending them an old photo of the two of you together with a message harking back to old times? Alternatively, you could use their birthday or Christmas as an excuse to send well wishes and ask them what they’re up to these days. If those don’t work for you a simple ‘Long time no speak! How’s life?’ can do the trick.
Proximity is important when it comes to forming friendships. The further away you live from someone, the harder it is to meet up regularly enough to stay friends. With that being the case, where better to look for new buddies than right on your doorstep?
Next time you bump into your neighbour, why not try inviting them round for a cup of tea? The app, Nextdoor, is also a great way of starting a conversation and meeting new people in your local area.
Work colleagues can make great friends – after all, you have a lot in common! So why not make the effort to get to know them better? If you’re back at work, you could try asking a colleague to join you for a lunchtime walk on a sunny day, or, if you’re all working remotely, how about organising a picnic?
If you don’t have that much in common with the people in your office, try making friends from another department. Many companies organise social events for employees and some even have company book clubs, sport teams or other hobby groups. See what you can get involved with socially at work and if there’s nothing there already why not try and organise something yourself?
Online dating and dating apps are a common way to meet potential partners, and recently developers have started to create apps to help you find platonic friends as well. Friendship apps allow you to match with people in your area specifically to make friends. It can make it a bit easier to put yourself out there when you know that the other person is actively looking for new friends too.
When it comes to building a friendship it’s important to have things in common or it will be difficult to keep conversations going for long. A great way to meet like-minded people is to start a hobby or volunteer for a cause you believe in. Not only will having a shared interest give you lots to talk about, but also the regular activity meetups will give you an excuse to see someone repeatedly over a long period which will make it easier to establish a friendship.
If you’re not sure where to start, Meetup has lots of groups you can join covering a huge range of interests. For guys, Men’s Sheds is a great way to hang out with other men whilst developing practical skills and if it’s volunteering opportunities you’re looking for, Do-it.org is a great place to start.
Dogs are great way to make new friends. They get you out and about on walks where you’re likely to regularly run into other dog owners. They also make you more approachable and provide an easy talking point. Research shows that people are more likely to start a conversation with someone who has a dog, with the average dog owner having three friends as a direct result of their canine companion.
Of course, not everybody can afford the time or money required to own a dog, so please be responsible and only get a dog if you can commit to them in both time and money! But don’t worry if you aren’t able to have a dog full time, you can still benefit from the sociable aspects of dog walking. Why not try out a site like borrowmydoggy.com to find animals to walk in the local area? Alternatively, you can volunteer at your local dog shelters, which are always looking for people to help them walk their rescue dogs. Just do a search for dog rescue centres / shelters in your local area.
Often, when we’re feeling lonely, we start to withdraw and cut ourselves off from other people which only makes us feel more isolated. Instead, we should try to be more open to opportunities and get out of our comfort zones. Saying yes to one social opportunity will often lead to more. So next time a colleague asks you to go for a walk or a neighbour invites you round for a drink, swallow that excuse and say yes.
Meeting new people can be scary but if you put yourself out there you’ll soon see that the world is bursting with potential new friends! Reach out today. Don’t put it off until you’re feeling upbeat. Friends don’t expect you to be on top of your game all the time. When you’re feeling sad or flat it’s even more important to reach out and let someone you trust know how you feel. A friend can help you talk through a problem and see things from a different perspective.