By Katie Bailey, MA, LPC
Loneliness catches all of us at some point in our lives. However, none of us can escape the reality that we were made to have relationships with other people. Life is a team sport, y’all. “Love and belonging” is in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Neuroscientists know that the “bonding hormone” Oxytocin produces positive feelings of connection, demonstrating our brains are made for relationships.
However, closeness with others is something most of us don’t have. Prior to the pandemic, loneliness was a problem, afterwards it has skyrocketed. Simply being around people isn’t enough – we need to actually be known and know others. For some of us, this is terrifying. People have hurt us in the past, and it’s just too scary to think about trying to open up to anyone else. For others, making friends is simply awkward, and something to be avoided. And still others, try to build new relationships, but come up empty.
The effort required to build friendships is worth the pay off. Research is clear that a lack of social support negatively affects our mental and physical well-being. So in a world that seems to be growing in hostility, isolation and broken relationships, how do we even try to make new friends?
1. Prioritize time with others.
Change never happens just by wishing for it. You have to make it happen. Stop waiting for other people to call or text you to hang out. Take the initiative and create opportunities to be with other people. Host a dinner party, invite others over to watch the Eagles game, or ask people to go hiking with you in a local park. The activity isn’t important, but prioritizing time with others is the only way to have an opportunity to make new friends.
2. Try new things to meet new people.
In order for things to be different, we have to do different things. If you don’t have places in your life already to naturally meet new people, you have to go to new places. Join a book club at the library, a local running group, take an art class, or volunteer at an animal shelter. Find something that interests you, and go do it. You will easily meet people with shared interests when you try new activities. They might not all turn out to be your best friends, but you won’t ever meet that best friend if you don’t get out of your comfort zone and try new things.
3. Ask for help.
This one is a real challenge for most people. In our society we value (actually over value) being independent. While some independence is good, we can swing too far in that direction and end up isolating ourselves from others. The truth is that other people WANT to help you more than you realize. Only they can’t read your mind, so you need to tell them what you need. Dropping your car off at the mechanic and needing a ride home? Desperately need someone to watch your kid for a few hours? Feeling super sick and would love a home cooked meal? Whatever you need -and we all have them – let your needs be known. Give other people the joy of helping you out. You will return the favor one day. That’s how this game of life works – we all support each other.
4. Say no to people who drain you.
We are learning about making new friends, but the truth is, you just won’t click with everyone on the planet. And that’s okay. If you realize someone you know drains your energy, creates conflict, is challenging for you to be around – there is freedom for you to say no to time with that person. Your job is to be polite, respectful and set boundaries in an appropriate manner. And maybe you can’t totally eliminate time with that person (a co-worker maybe) but you can say no to some events that limit your time with that person. Save your energy for the friendships that do in fact, feel like a good fit.
5. Balance listening & sharing.
Here’s a hard truth: life isn’t all about you. If you are one of those people that tends to talk about yourself more than others – work hard to stop it. Ask other people questions about themselves, and truly LISTEN to their answers. On the flip side, if you are one of those people who clam up and never say anything about yourself – start talking! People can’t connect with you and really know you if you don’t share anything. You don’t have to share your deepest secrets – start with your favorite Netflix show, what sports you like, places you like to travel. Trust is built over time, but none is built if we don’t share anything at all.
6. Practice empathy.
Empathy is the key to all good relationships. Empathy is the ability to understand and feel what someone else is feeling and experiencing. When someone is sharing with you that they just got laid off from their job, try imagining what that would feel like, while remembering the conversation is about the other person. Say something to let them know that you understand such as, “This must be so upsetting for you.” Or even simply, “Yes, this really stinks.” We feel connected to others when we feel understood. Empathy is the way to demonstrate you understand.
Lime Tree Counseling is a group of skilled therapists who want to help you be the best version of you. We offer a number of services such as grief counseling, anxiety counseling, drug and alcohol counseling and christian counseling. It’s easy to get started, just reach out and we’ll walk you through the process of scheduling. Let today be the start your new tomorrow!