two female friends playing pool

How to Move Past the Anxiety of Making New Friends

By Jessica Hicks
June 14, 2024

Good friendships contribute to good mental health and well‑being. Think back to the last time you belly-laughed with your best friend, reminisced with your old college roommate, or caught up with your next-door neighbor—you probably felt the benefits of friendship firsthand.

A 2020 study suggests that those who have social support and friends to confide in are less likely to have depression, and it turns out that having three to five close friends is plenty to feel fulfilled. But with so many of us working remotely or having a hybrid work schedule and spending more time interacting online than we do in person, making new connections is becoming more challenging.

Why Is It So Hard to Make New Friends?

The technology that makes it convenient to make and maintain friendships on our phones can be a double-edged sword, as research suggests that those who use social media to maintain relationships might actually be lonelier.

It’s also difficult to make new friends because it requires putting ourselves out there.

“Making friends can cause anxiety because it requires a level of vulnerability, intimacy, and trust that we often don’t need in other interactions,” says Jessica Ayers, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Boise State University who studies friendship. “There’s always the risk of rejection or misjudging the intentions of potential friends, and this social pain hurts.”

That social pain, Ayers says, activates the same neural pathways in the brain as physical pain—which is why we might go to great lengths to avoid that rejection altogether.

6 Tips to Take the Anxiety Out of Making New Friends

The risk of rejection is scary, but the joy of meaningfully connecting with a new friend makes it well worth it. Use these tips to make your journey to forging new relationships feel less stressful.

Figure Out What You’re Looking For

It can be easier and more fulfilling to make new connections when you know what you’re looking for.

“Do you want a lifelong bestie to whom you will tell all your secrets and treat like family? Or someone you can simply do activities with?” Ayers says. “These kinds of friends are not mutually exclusive, but you will meet people who are looking for these different kinds of friends in different places.”

By knowing what you’re looking for ahead of time, you can be more intentional about where and how you seek out new connections.

Know—and Be Honest About—Your Strengths

“Research shows that we’re more likely to be friends with individuals who are similar to us in terms of the value they bring to the relationship,” Ayers says. In other words, if you’re a deeply loyal friend, you’re likely to befriend someone who exhibits a similar trait.

“Being honest about who we are, what we have experienced, and why things are important to us will help us be more transparent with potential friends and assess if there is a possibility for a relationship,” Ayers says.

Let Your Interests Guide You

Janice M. McCabe, Ph.D., a sociology professor at Dartmouth College who studies friendship networks, suggests that one way to meet new folks is by simply doing things you like. That way, you have something in common to bond over, and you’re doing something familiar and enjoyable, which may help lessen anxiety.

Join a running club or recreational league, volunteer at your community center or a local food bank, or sign up for a group exercise class. “If you’re looking to make new friends, go for the weekly yoga class over the drop-in class—you’ll see the same people over and over again and are more likely to form relationships with these people,” McCabe says.

Don’t Take Rejection Personally

“You have to depersonalize the no,” McCabe says. If someone turns down your invitation to hang out, remind yourself that their reason for saying no could be completely unrelated to you. If you catch yourself wondering what you did wrong, try reframing to: “I feel upset that [person] said no, but I’m proud that I put myself out there. I’m a good friend and will find someone who reciprocates.” Positive reframing exercises are helpful in managing stress and anxiety.

Be Patient and Consistent

To make new friends, you must give it time and put in time. Remind yourself that a strong friendship doesn’t take shape overnight. It can take months or years and requires patience. Put in time by making a concerted effort to get together in person on a regular basis.

Move from Small Talk to Meaningful Conversation

Moving beyond “How are you?” and “How’s work?” is what allows you to progress from acquaintance or friend-of-a-friend to a close connection. Whenever possible, strive to spend more time talking about what’s important or interesting to you. The key is to remember that it doesn’t have to be so serious—you can ask lighthearted questions or engage in silly banter.

“Recently, I was with a group of friends; some I’ve known a long time, and one person I didn’t know as well,” McCabe says. “That one person asked, ‘If you suddenly had a billion dollars, what would you do with it?’ With that simple question, I felt like I knew her better in those five minutes than I would’ve had we just talked about the weather or our jobs. Meaningful conversation can go a long way.”