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Why Friendship and Wellbeing Go Hand in Hand

6th July 2023 is International Friendship Day, where we celebrate the joy of having that connection with a person or people who understand us, who we enjoy being around, and who are there to support each other in challenging times.

But not everybody finds it easy to make friends. This can be for a multitude of reasons such as:

  • feeling shy or awkward

  • suffering anxiety

  • changing life circumstances such as getting married, having children, coping with a bereavement or ageing parents or moving to a new place

  • not having enough time

  • a lack of opportunity due to disabilities or other physical or mental health issues

  • developmental disorders such as autism that can make social interactions difficult

  • worried about being rejected or judged, or fearing opening up to new people.

Maybe it's not important? Maybe we don't need to make the effort to build social connections, friends aren't the be all and end all - are they? Perhaps not for everyone, but social ties are incredibly important to our emotional wellbeing. Loneliness can cause anxiety and depression, and have negative impacts on our physical health too - in fact, studies have found that it is as bad for us as smoking. Having positive social relationships can reduce anxiety and stress, help build confidence and self-esteem, provide the security of emotional support during challenging times, and can encourage you to push yourself to be your ideal self.

Whatever the cause, it can feel very daunting to set out to make friends, especially as an adult, so we’ve put together our top tips for making connections:

1. It all starts with you

How we treat ourselves is of vital importance to the way we behave, which in turn influences how others feel about us – if we feel confident, we act confident, which makes others view us in a positive light. Conversely, if we feel small and useless, we act defeated and downbeat, which projects a miserable outlook to others. Reframing your internal monologue to be more positive can really help you feel better about yourself, which those around us will pick up on.

2. Show Up

Even if it’s a bit daunting, try to make yourself go to parties, work events, social gatherings – anything that you’re invited to. You might not feel like it, and you might worry about it in the lead up, but half the battle of making friends is being visible. You don’t have to stay for the whole thing, but you definitely won’t meet new people if you don’t go. Whenever you have the opportunity to see other people, take it!

In a similar vein, it can also help to start going to the same places regularly. Try going for a run in the same place, or returning to the same café – you might start seeing the same faces, and this familiarity creates casual social ties that help boost our confidence.

3. Try new things

Whether you’ve got a hobby that you’ve been doing your whole life, or you try something for the first time, finding an activity you love ticks two boxes at once: you get to do something you really enjoy, and you meet other like-minded people that you can share it with. Having a common interest can provide a sense of belonging that creates an instant connection.

4. Go online

Wherever your interests lay, there is likely an online community who would love to welcome a new member – and if not, you could try setting up your own. This allows you to build up social skills and connections from a safe distance, in the comfort of your own environment, before taking the next step of meeting face to face. Just take care if you do meet someone you’ve been speaking to online – always let someone know where you’re going, and make sure to meet somewhere public.

5. Change the context

You probably already have people in your life that are potential friends, you just haven’t looked at them in that way before. For example, you most likely have neighbours, work colleagues, parents of your children's friends, members of your church, or friends of friends that could all be opportunities to make new connections. They probably won’t all be your new best friend, but if there is anyone you think you would get on well with, try inviting them for a coffee to see where it goes.

6. Volunteer

Helping others is a great way to make social connections while also doing some good – many volunteering positions are for short periods of time, which will allow you to build up your confidence slowly. You will also be surrounded by people who likely share the same core values as you.

7. Befriending Services

This is a service that matches you with an individual who becomes a supportive and reliable person in your life. You can usually engage with befrienders in a variety of ways, such as over the phone, online, or face to face, so it can be a great option for those with limited mobility or other restrictions.

Once you have made some connections, it’s important to maintain them. Friendships are like plants – if you don’t nurture them, they’ll die. Keep in touch with your new friends, even just a text message to see how they are and show an interest in their life is enough. And consider expanding the friendships outside of the context in which you met – if there is a work colleague you get on well with, invite them out for a coffee, or ask the friend you’ve made at yoga if they’d like to go for a walk sometime. It shows you care about them outside of the setting in which you usually see them.

It's worth adding a note of caution – not all friendships are beneficial, especially if you might be vulnerable to being taken advantage of. If you haven’t already, have a read of our last blog post on recognising a good relationship from a toxic one.

The key is to be kind to yourself and take things slowly. Don’t do too much at once to avoid becoming overwhelmed, and instead try little and often. The more you see or spend time talking to others, the easier it will become.

So this International Friendship Day, see if you can do one thing on the list above to start the journey to friendship and boost your wellbeing at the same time.

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