A lot of things about being an adult are hard, but one of the hardest is making new friends.
It's not like back in school where you were practically forced into social situations every day. It was much easier to make a friend just by hanging out at recess or eating at the same lunch table complaining over last night's homework.
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Once you're out in the world, most of your time interacting with other people is limited to work. And if you work from home, those interactions are curtailed down to video conferences.
What's worse is that, thanks to the internet, we've gotten lax about forming relationships in real life because it seems like we already have a bunch of friends online. Those "friendships," however, can easily devolve into nothing more than peripheral acquaintances you only interact with by liking or commenting on their posts.
This isolated existence — where very few relationships are cultivated offline — seems to plague millennials most of all. It's why they're often called "the loneliest generation," which is way more dangerous than it sounds. Studies have shown that loneliness has a mortality rate that's on par with smoking. It causes depression and anxiety to spike, taxing the body as much as the brain.
It's even worse if you're an extrovert, because extroverts feed off the energy of other people. When you don't get that regularly, you're left depleted.
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What can you do if you're feeling lonely but don't have a clue how to make new friends? Ask therapist and YouTuber Kati Morton.
Kati is a licensed therapist who's been creating mental health videos for YouTube with the help of her video producer husband since 2011.
She became interested in psychology because she's always been fascinated by human relationships and communication. In fact, that's why she started going to therapy herself as a teenager — to learn how to better communicate with her family. And her respect for sharing feelings only grew as she studied psychology in school.
"You realize people do have the power to change and control how they respond versus react to things," says Morton. "I think that’s really empowering."
It's no surprise that several of her videos focus on how to connect with others and open up.
Morton says she's seeing more and more patients struggling with in-person connections because they don't know how to initiate them. She recalls one guy commenting, "I try to engage with people, but when I go out, I find it difficult because everyone’s on their phone."
Sound familiar? Smartphones enable us to put up walls without even realizing it — which, in turn, cuts us off from forming new, meaningful relationships, platonic or otherwise.
Morton's advice for how to break through all these barriers might sound counterintuitive, but it really does work: You have to turn your attention to yourself first.
"You need to figure out what’s important to you and who you are first, and what kinds of people you want in your life, before you go out looking for friends," explains Morton.
Say that, for work, you have to move to a new city where you know absolutely no one. You might feel compelled to go out and make friends with the first people you meet. However, if they're not people you truly resonate with, you could end up feeling even more lonely than before.
Once you feel like you have a clear idea of what's important to you, get out there and find a group that speaks to your interests.
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Morton suggests checking out the MeetUp app, which connects people via a number of different group activities. It's available in most cities and lists new events every day.
If you don't happen to live near a city that offers it, check and see if there are community activity boards (online or in-person) for your area and sign up for something that sounds fun. If you like to run and have a dog, you might sign up for a dog-walking group and meet someone in your neighborhood who loves to binge-watch the same TV shows you do. Boom — friendship!
Taking this first step might feel particularly daunting if you have social anxiety, but remember, there are other people joining these groups who are just as nervous. It's certainly not as easy as joining an online forum, but it can lead to friendships and experiences that are infinitely more rewarding.
"Make a commitment and go," urges Morton. "It’s hard, and I find that’s where people tend to drop off, but with a little effort, we can make change."
And that change can add up to a whole host of emotional and physical benefits. Several studies have shown that maintaining close friendships helps us be smarter, healthier, and less stressed, especially later in life.
For people who really struggle with socializing, Morton suggests therapy — but only as a temporary stepping stone.
Therapy is not a crutch to lean on when things get hard; it's about acquiring tools so you can learn better ways of coping and reacting to things. It's one of the reasons Morton has a 24/7 chat on her website where members of her online community can reach out and help each other instead of relying only on professional help.
And the tool really works: Members have formed meaningful friendships online and have even flown across the world for various get-togethers. While some go on elaborate vacations, others who've relocated to a different city might just meet up to solidify a new friend base.
Whatever their goal, they're stepping outside of their comfort zones and learning to savor moments with people in real life. It might take some effort — but life's most rewarding endeavors always do.
For a more comprehensive look at making friends as an adult, check out Morton's video: