Friendships allow a safe place for you to vent when things grow rocky and a squad to celebrate with when you achieve your goals. Can friendships help keep you mentally healthy? Absolutely! You just need to know how to make friends who are right for you.
In fact, overlooking the importance of friendship can prove detrimental to your mental health. Fostering strong non-familial relationships, conversely, can keep you mentally healthy. If you’re socially awkward, introverted or both, no worries — by following the tips below, you can learn how to make friends wherever you are.
Find a Support System Built Around Mutual Experiences
If you’re looking to meet new friends, seek out those who have similar experiences. Men tend to do this differently than women do. Male friendships often revolve around shared interests or acts of service. This is not to say male friendships are any less emotionally intense than female ones, but women tend to bond more over mutual hardships.
Think about the stressors and life experiences you’ve survived to date. Maybe you’re a new mom dealing with postpartum depression who craves someone who understands your haywire hormones. Maybe you’re a woman in a STEM field frustrated with the good old boys network in your workplace. Maybe you’re struggling with addiction or grief. Whatever your situation, chances are, others face the same hurdles.
You can find positive friendships in online and in-person support groups designed to help those facing similar circumstances. There is power in numbers, and few things draw people together like working as a team to overcome a mutual problem.
Support groups often pair members with mentors. If yours does, take advantage of this service. Not only can your mentor become a close friend and confidante, she can help advise you of positive actions to take to boost your mood when things get rocky.
Get Your Body Moving
Most people know fitness benefits your physical health, but it provides a mental health boost as well. The right fitness facility also answers the question of how to make friends by introducing you to other fitness-minded individuals.
If you suffer from gym anxiety, phone a friend to go with you, at least a time or two. Those who work out with a friend benefit from greater accountability, as it’s more difficult to make excuses to stay home if someone is waiting on you to arrive.
No fitness-minded friends as of yet? Screw your courage to the sticking point, as Lady Macbeth would say, and go to that class anyway. Stand in the back of the class, and make a self-effacing joke during some of the difficult moves. You will attract a giggle or two most likely — use this as a starting point to strike up a conversation with a friendly mate when the heavy sweating stops (“my heavens, if I tried to do one more burpee, my legs will collapse!”).
Look Beyond Your Partner
If your life partner is your best friend, bully for you. You likely will enjoy a lifelong love, but even people in the healthiest relationships need outside friendships. Not only can these help you find your balance when you face difficulties like illness in your relationship, your friends also give you a break when a partners’ own mental health concerns grow too much to bear.
if you suffer from social anxiety, you can allow your partner to help you meet friends. The next time he goes out with the guys, ask if they can invite their partners or spouses along, too. You instantly have conversation starters — but once you get over discussing your partners, you can use active listening techniques to find other common ground over which to chew the fat.
Seek Out a Workplace Mentor
While close friendships with supervisors may prove inadvisable due to real or perceived conflicts of interest, it’s possible to find peer mentors — and these relationships can bloom into more. Colleagues understand the pressures you face at work at an intimate level and can help you design strategies to overcome them. This benefits your mental health by increasing your confidence in your abilities and growth potential.
While you do want to aggressively seek out a mentor, once you’ve identified one, let the relationship evolve organically rather than trying to force it. Do ask your mentor out for coffee and drinks, but don’t make like a bad Lifetime movie stalker and insist on spending every happy hour clinging to her side. And remember, all friendships are based upon a mutual exchange of support — if your mentor takes the time to help you with a tough project, for example, ask which of her tasks you can take on to repay her for her kindness.
Workplace friendships help you keep your sanity in the office, but they can alienate others when done incorrectly. Avoid forming cliques and triangulating as these behaviors destroy morale and productivity. Yes it’s tempting to join the “cool kids” club, but ask yourself how you’d feel if you were the only one left out. For optimal mental health, focus on building workplace friendships built upon trust and honest communication, not a scenario from an episode of “Mean Girls.”
How to Make Friends and Improve Your Mental Outlook
Strong friendships help you weather the rough patches in life. Friends also celebrate your successes with you. The more you grow your squad with honest, trustworthy and healthy role models, the more your mental health will improve.