Loneliness has increased during the pandemic, but it’s never too late to make friends. Here are our tips for making friends during COVID-19.
When you were young, it’s possible making friends felt easier. All it took was a fun game, a shared interest, or a class project, and before you knew it, you maybe had a best friend.
As an adult, it can be tougher to maintain friendships. The responsibilities of life often get in the way. Before you know it, years go by, and you may have lost touch with your closest friends.
It’s also a lot harder to make newfriends, especially now that the pandemic has significantly changed our lives.
“In adulthood, friendships are more likely to develop naturally in an atmosphere, such as the workplace, which provides the necessary ingredients in friendship: proximity, similarity, and repetition,” explains Rebecca Phillips, a licensed professional counselor and operator of Mend Modern Therapy in Texas.
But with social distancing, work-from-home, and stay-at-home orders, spending time together has gotten infinitely more complicated.
“Think about all the canceled trivia nights at the local bar or weekend co-ed soccer matches,” says Pauline Yeghnazar Peck, a licensed psychologist from California.
“People have been under a tremendous amount of stress due to financial struggles, career setbacks, disrupted life events, unavailability of child care, health complications, and worry over or loss of loved ones,” she adds.
All of this has left us exhausted — sometimes so much so that reaching out to friends seems too hard. But when we let those friendships lapse, we become more lonely — and many of us were already lonely before the pandemic started.
A 2018 report by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation said 22% of American adults reported “always” or “often” feeling lonely. And a 2019 Cigna survey found that 61% of adults reported loneliness.
Then a November 2021 phone survey of 11,000 Medicare enrollees found that 40% felt less connected to family and friends. Of those, 22% felt more lonely or sad than they had the year before.
One report found that close personal connections, including those among friends, were key to feeling happy.
“At a fundamental level, friendships are important for us to feel a sense of belonging and purpose,” explains Phillips.
Friendships also have a genuine impact on our mental and physical health.
For example, several studies — including a 2017 study and a
But friendships can help us build resilience.
“Individuals who have reached out to friends have likely experienced lower stress levels and higher resiliency during the pandemic than those who have not,” says Phillips.
Our friends give us the support we need to get through difficult events.
“When we feel alone and alienated, we not only face the current stressor but our body’s survival mechanisms are kicked up as it searches for support and comfort from others,” Peck explains.
“We are social beings by nature, and our bodies and brains are designed to live life connected to and in sync with others,” she continues. “Our nervous system — where we feel the fight or flight response — is calmed when we are listened to, understood, and cared for.”
Knowing you have a community to help support you during a difficult time can help you get through, says Peck.
“The pandemic is actually a great time to make friends because many people are starved for connection,” says Peck.
Here are a few ideas to consider:
Look into online communities
The pandemic has made it even easier to meet people online. Platforms like Meetup.com or Facebook groups offer opportunities to meet new people with similar interests.
Consider reconnecting with old friends
“Many of us have reservations when considering reconnecting with old friends,” says Matt Glowiak, a licensed clinical professional counselor.
“We may find it awkward reaching out, worry that the distance occurred due to something personal, or have a fear that the other will not respond in kind,” he adds.
These feelings are typical, but just because you’ve lost touch doesn’t mean they’re necessarily upset with you, says Glowiak.
“You may be surprised how a text, instant message, or phone call may be immediately reciprocated and the very thing your old friend needed as well,” he adds.
Turning acquaintanceships into friendships
Is there someone at work you think you might have things in common with but just haven’t gotten the chance to talk with outside a work setting?
“A simple way to deepen a connection is to change or broaden the context of connection,” says Peck. “[So] suggest that you connect outside of this usual setting.”
This could mean chatting in a private slack message about a TV show you’re both watching or, if you live nearby, asking whether they want to go for a walk in the park.
“Changing the context allows us to see the person more three-dimensionally and offers us a new look at some of their traits, hobbies, and personality,” Peck explains.
No need to rush
Friendships — in-person or online, pandemic or no pandemic — take time to grow.
This means being patient.
“Some people may still be hesitant to hang out in person, and respecting boundaries and remaining flexible will be helpful,” says Lena Suarez-Angelino, a bilingual licensed clinical social worker and intuitive empowerment coach.
It’s OK to have different kinds of friends for different settings, like work friends and hobby friends.
“Accept that some friendships will only be about a shared hobby, while others will transcend time and space in special ways,” says Peck.
Friendships can be an excellent remedy for pandemic stress, and they can help us feel happier in our day-to-day lives. That’s why it’s worth investing the time and energy into fostering them.
Still, making new friends takes time. It may not be fair to expect your new friends to be there for you all the time, right away.
If you’re managing loneliness, anxiety, depression, or you’re just not sure how to make new friends and could use advice, consider reaching out to a therapist.
You may also want to consider joining a support group.
“For those struggling emotionally or with other aspects of mental health, attending support groups — whether live or in-person — can make a substantial difference,” says Glowiak.