Making friends used to be just for fun but in adulthood? It’s a must for mental and physical well-being but uh, how do you even do it? In primary school, you just walked up to potential besties and straight out asked “wanna be friends?” and they either said yes or no. Sure, the no would invariably hurt but overall? Knowing where you stood was a breath of fresh air.
Fast-forward to this fun time referred to as adulthood - complete with dependants, a mortgage and a side-serve of anxiety - well, it gets a bit trickier. The fear of rejection is real. Time constraints are never-ending. We’ve been around the block and dealt with our fair share of mean girls ( BTW - F you, Tenille!) and we’re wary of shady characters.
And then, the restrictions that come with crippling anxiety. The crushing overwhelm that can overtake you at any moment. Don’t even get me started on Covid and what a number that’s done for the motivation to get amongst it…I mean has no one heard the word PANDEMIC? Hmpf.
Before we get into the how. Let’s have a good look at the WHY.
Loneliness + Your Health
Here’s the thing though: loneliness is the new smoking. Seriously. Studies have shown prolonged social isolation and loneliness are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. *virtual cough*
So it’s bad for your physical health but for those of us with less than ideal mental health? It’s toxic is what it is. Cue depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function and shonky immunity.
Before you reach for your phone to DM a few friends and get it over with, reliance on social media alone has been shown to be the least satisfying method of cultivating friendships. And, here’s the clincher, using technology as your primary method of connecting with friends is associated with increased anxiety.
Step 1: Say YES
How many times have you received a stray invite, only to turn it down pronto? It’s my signature move and it’s not a good one. The art and craft event with your annoying SIL might not be your idea of a good time but it will help you brush up on your social skills. The BBQ at your friend of a friend’s house might be tedious but it could also lead to you finding your new favourite person.
Limiting opportunities for connection limits your ability to make friends. If you’re having an anxious day, try a spot of exercise before you go to calm your nervous system.
Step 2: Make a move
Now, this is where it gets a bit sticky. Say you meet a super authentic cool person - how do you even ask said cool person to be your friend without making it weird? Ok, I’ll be honest, there is no guide for this but what I can tell you is vulnerability is a muscle and the more you use it, the less weird it becomes.
Start small. Ask that amazing human if they are interested in going to a local market with you. Keep it casual. Friend request them on socials so you can interact. If you both have dogs/children, suggest a park hang.
You don’t need to make a huge song and dance but one thing you need to do is TRY.
Step 3: Follow-up
So you’ve stepped up your social game, initiated connection and now…you have to keep that ball rolling. So many adult friendships fizzle out because we’re time-poor. Make a point of connecting here and there.
Forward an article (like this one) they might find interesting, rather than a luke-warm Facebook message call them on their birthday and make an effort. This will look different for everyone but don’t skip it.
Step 4: Honesty
Once you’ve reached a level of friendship where the filters have been discarded, consider radical transparency. Anxiety isn’t anything to be ashamed of and of course, the last thing you want to do is burden new-ish friends but honesty about your anxiety will deepen the friendship.
Tell them you struggle with x or y and how this manifests in your life. That way when overwhelm and rejection sensitivity kick up a notch, your cool new friend won’t take it personally.
And there you have it, a realistic guide on making friends as an adult…with anxiety. I hope this helps you form those connections that fill your cup rather than drain your soul.
Anxiety & Loneliness Source: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0265407521998459