two friends sitting at a table

How to Feel Less Anxious About Making Friends as an Adult

By Jessica Hicks
January 12, 2023

When we were kids, making friends was easy. You'd sit next to someone at lunch or on the school bus and, boom, you were buddies. But once we outgrow homeroom and become adults, making new friends can be especially difficult.

But, experts say, overcoming the challenges to forging friendships later in life is key to sustaining our health and happiness as we age. Research published by the journal Innovation in Aging states that keeping friends close alleviates loneliness, creates social support, and wards off the negative physical and psychological effects of isolation.

If you’ve been feeling lonely, lost touch with friends, or you simply want to expand your social circle, these strategies will help you scrap social awkwardness and anxiety and be well on your way to making a new friend (or two!) in no time.

Shift Your Mindset

While the rules of friendship we learned in childhood—treat others the way we’d like to be treated, don’t talk behind each other’s backs, and respect each other’s differences—are still solid guidelines, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to forging our relationships.

“There’s no one right way to do friendship,” says Rosemary Blieszner, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech, a researcher who studies relationships and an author of the Innovation in Aging study. “Research has shown that some people think it’s impossible to replace childhood friends who are no longer around; other people don’t want a lot of friends, just a few very close ones that they want to keep ‘forever;’ and others are constantly adding to their friend network.” It’s time to ditch the notion that you need to meet friends or maintain your connections in specific ways. Instead, trust yourself, let go of any preconceived notions, and allow your relationships to blossom naturally.

Focus on Quality Over Quantity

If you’ve ever felt insecure about the size of your network—or felt a pang of envy in the presence of a social butterfly—it’s worth reminding yourself that having more friendships doesn’t necessarily mean you'll be better off. A 2020 study published in the Adultspan Journal found that women between the ages of 31 and 77 who had just three to five close friends reported the highest levels of life satisfaction. The researchers also found that participants who were content with the number of friends they had, despite what that number was, reported high life satisfaction, as well. Bottom line: You don’t need a room full of friends to garner a sense of fulfilment. “It’s not the number that matters, it’s being able to trust a friend and feeling cared about,” Blieszner says.

Find a Mutual Interest and Build from There

One of the best strategies for making new friends as an adult is to simply engage in activities you enjoy. Whether it’s attending a wine tasting, playing on a sports team, or joining a book club, taking the time to do things that bring you joy will lead you to others with similar passions and interests. Blieszner suggests looking into volunteer opportunities, recreational facilities, and faith-based organizations within your community as a way to connect with new like-minded individuals.

Be a Good Listener

We’ve all been there: You’re in the midst of a conversation but you don’t feel seen or heard. The person you’re speaking with may be physically present, but mentally, they are somewhere else. If you’re in the market for a new friend, listening with half an ear is a sure way to disconnect from others. To forge a meaningful, lasting connection, you’ll want to practice active listening instead. “Take time to get to know someone gradually, by listening to them and revealing a little about yourself in a turn-taking way,” Blieszner says. And remember, reciprocity is key. “Friendship doesn’t work if only one person always initiates getting together, always makes the plans, always remembers the important stuff,” Blieszner says. “Give-and-take is important. One-sided relationships don’t go anywhere.”

Remember: You Aren’t Alone in Your Feelings

If the thought of initiating a friendship leaves you feeling anxious or overwhelmed, you aren’t alone. Putting yourself out there and opening up to others, though beneficial in the long run, can feel extremely nerve-wracking in the moment. “Realize that the other person might be nervous, as well, so find the courage to say hi first,” Blieszner says. “Sometimes, that’s all it takes to get a conversation going.” When in doubt, remember a deep breath and a “How are you?” can go a long way. You’ve got this!

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