Find Similar Activities
As children, we found friends simply by proximity—kids play sports together, learn in classrooms with others, carpool to activities, etc. The same is true for adults, it just takes a bit more effort (especially during a pandemic). Engaging in recreational activities or hobbies with other people is a great way to meet like-minded people (and people who are different from you!). Commonalities and differences can both be helpful ice breakers when meeting new people. For example, if you meet someone who loves to bake like you do, you can chat about your favorite recipes or techniques. Similarly, if you meet someone who has never played soccer but loves running, you can compare how you each warm up and share knowledge of the sports. Do you enjoy cooking? Zumba? Volunteering with children? So do others…and chances are, a new friend awaits.
Make a Commitment
We are often great at making and keeping our doctors appointments or work meetings because we deem them mandatory or at the very least, necessary. Try prioritizing your activity (commitment to yourself should be non-negotiable, too!) by scheduling it into your calendar and treating it like a necessary appointment. Write it down, tell your partner, or make a phone reminder—whatever will help you get to the appointment. Remind yourself of the importance of attending the activity, especially when the thought of canceling or rescheduling creeps up. For example, what makes this activity important to you? How will it help you get to your goal of meeting people with similar interests?
Be a Familiar Face
It may take some time to warm up to an activity or to other people. Researchers who study friendships have found that familiarity can help create a connection between strangers over time (Reis et al., 2011). Choosing an activity that can be done routinely can help you become a familiar face to others and help break the ice over time. Is there a place you could go get coffee once per week? Can you attend a community class/event on a regular basis? Is there a local meet-up group you’re interested in?
Honor Your Feelings
It’s okay to feel nervous about reaching out to new people. While it can be awkward and uncomfortable, know that it doesn’t just feel that way to you. Acknowledging how you are feeling is important. Give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling and label it (e.g., “I am feeling nervous and that’s okay.”). An important thing to keep in mind is that we can feel a negative emotion and still move towards the desired behavior. The mind can trick us into thinking that we have to choose between feeling nervous and engaging in the behavior (e.g., “I want to make new friends but I feel nervous, so I shouldn’t go to the class tonight.”). This kind of thinking can stop us from making new changes by telling us we have to choose either/or. However, both of these two thoughts can be true at the same time—you can be nervous AND you can still go to class and make new friends.
An act of kindness is a boost for both the giver and the recipient, because doing something positive for someone else feels good for everyone—and it’s good for your health. Whether you volunteer for a cause that is meaningful to you, or do something thoughtful for someone else like baking cookies, picking up groceries, or smiling at a stranger, these acts of kindness can help combat the negative effects of loneliness for you and those around you.
There are countless ways we can be of service to others. Here are five ways we use our support of others to build a greater sense of connection in our lives:
Give undivided attention
When we’re having conversations with people or doing shared activities, give the gift of being fully present without distractions. When you’re spending time with someone, try to avoid multitasking with other activities, planning what’s next, or thinking about other things. Giving your full attention not only allows you to enjoy the present moment, it sends the affirming message that, “I’m really here with you.”
Perform acts of service
Acts of service can be divided into two categories: physical and emotional. Physical acts of service include things like cooking or sending a loved one a meal, doing an errand for them, offering to take care of children or pets so they can take time for themselves, or helping less tech-savvy people better understand their phone or computer. Emotional acts of service look more like sending someone you love a note of gratitude, lending a listening ear to a neighbor who is going through something difficult, or telling your partner how much you love them.
There are many ways in which you can donate to support people, specific causes, or small businesses—for example, you can give your time, donate products, offer skills, or give money. Depending on the person, cause, or business in need, your donations can range from simple and heartfelt to financially impactful.
Engage in social change
There are many opportunities to support efforts addressing various causes. Almost anything you can think of has a base of support rallying around it—animals, food insecurities, community culture, or broader social issues. Choose a cause you care deeply about and determine your capacity for helping. Would you like to focus on education, general mentorship, children, animal welfare, conservation, disaster relief, mental health? Are you able to be involved with onsite projects, or do you prefer to help from home with administrative tasks or outreach? Or perhaps due to distance or limited time and resources, it makes sense for you to get involved with “micro-volunteering” through activities like signing petitions, or forwarding educational information via email. Most causes appreciate support in whatever form it comes, so consider what you’re comfortable offering and get started.
Go the extra mile
Maybe you’re already involved in activities or acts of service, but you have the time, energy, and desire to ramp things up a bit. If that’s the case, go the extra mile! For example, if you already make monthly calls for a cause or to a family member, add an extra call sometime within the next month. If someone else is usually the one who reaches out to you, try being proactive by being the one to do the dialing every once in a while. It’s just about giving a little extra where you can, whenever you can.
Extending ourselves to others allows us to get out of our own heads for some time, and put our situations into perspective. Building community and getting involved by supporting someone else can decrease your own experience of loneliness. If you’re in a position of being able to give more, do what you can. When you begin to broaden how you think about and engage in giving—even through a simple (and free) act of kindness—it can inspire others to pay it forward. The result is a stronger community of care, and more meaningful connections to strangers and loved ones alike.