Loneliness. While it’s not a fun feeling, everyone experiences it from time to time. In fact, research has shown that people’s social connections have gotten smaller over the past 35 years, so you’re not the only one reading this who feels lonely from time to time. Whether you started a new job, moved to a different city, or graduated from school, major life changes can mean that you can’t see old friends as often as you would like. Even if you know you’d like to expand your social circle by making some new friends, you may be unsure how. And, in the meantime, you feel a little (or a lot) lonely. Don’t worry! You don’t have to feel lonely and there are easy ways to stop feeling like you are stuck in a rut. Here are a few ideas:
Beware the Social Media Trap
Social media can make feeling lonely even worse. It is easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others as you scroll through your news feed and see a group of your friends at a fun party or a coworker’s perfect picture of her and her boyfriend at an amazing restaurant. It might seem like everyone else is out having fun while you are sitting on your couch watching a movie and eating takeout. After all, the “Fear of Missing Out” is a real phenomenon. But before you get caught up in those lonely feelings, remember that you are only seeing part of the story on social media. Most people only post the positive things that happen to them. They carefully stage their photos to showcase the “perfect” cup of coffee or the amazing party they went to. That latte may have looked beautiful, but it might not have tasted that great. Or, maybe they really did have fun at that party, but they also had a really stressful day at work. So when you catch yourself feeling sorry for yourself and lonely, remind yourself that you are only seeing a filtered version of your friends’ lives and not the real one. Of course, you should celebrate the fact that your friends are doing well, but don’t let that cast a negative reflection on who you are. If it does, maybe consider limited social media time.
Quality Over Quantity
According to research, strong friendships are associated with having a stronger immune system, reducing stress, helping protect against depression, and is even linked to living longer! The key word here is strong friendships. This means focusing on developing quality friendships rather than trying to make as many friends as possible (regardless of the strength of your friendship). Psychologist David Shern told the Washington Post, “Simply having 1,000 friends on Facebook is much less important than having a few friends with whom have a very high-quality, mutually supportive relationship with integrity — meaning that you can count on people to be straight with you, and…to rely on when you find yourself in need.”
Philip shared with I Believe in Love a few months ago how he experienced this first hand in college when he surrounded himself with friends who did not have his best interests at heart. So it’s not the number of friends you have that matters but rather the quality of your current friendships.
Join a Group
If you are feeling lonely, one of the best things you can do for yourself is put yourself in situations where you are likely to meet new people. Think of activities you enjoy doing. Do you enjoy playing volleyball or basketball? Consider joining a league with your town, city, or parish. Are you interested in cooking? Sign up for a cooking class. Interested in volunteering? Join a service organization. Monica Gabriel wrote for Verily that she found volunteering and planning her social calendar in advance to be helpful when she was feeling lonely. Find a group that matches your interests and you’ll increase your chances of finding people who are similar to you and who you’d like to be friends with.
But it’s also important to live out your commitments. The American Psychological Association recommends being consistent (meaning make a commitment to go to the group for a certain amount of time, say 2 months) to give yourself a chance to become a familiar face and to see some familiar faces in the group.
Be Open to New Opportunities
Making new friends takes time. You might feel impatient and wish for an instant best friend or two but give yourself time to form meaningful friendships and you’ll be glad you did. And in order to start the process of making new friends, you need to be open to new opportunities. Shannon shared with I Believe in Love a few months ago how accepting one acquaintance’s invitation to hang out helped her to turn her life around. From her story, her willingness to be open to new experiences helped her to move from feeling lonely to having quality friendships. So being open to new experiences and being willing to try new things can help you feel less lonely. Sometimes, when people are feeling lonely, they are tempted to isolate themselves and be alone with their sadness. Fight that temptation and instead try something new or say “yes” to that party invitation that you were planning on turning down. If someone invites you to hang out, say “yes” even if your first reaction might have been to say “no.” If it winds up not working out, that’s okay but at least you tried, and you never know who you could meet!
Being lonely can be overwhelming but you can fight back. All it takes is some motivation and creativity. Identify a new hobby, volunteering opportunity, or sport you’d like to try and join a group. Join your church’s young adult program. Be brave and open to new opportunities. Over time, you’ll find that you feel less lonely and are enjoying your new friendships!
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