When was the last time you picked up the phone to call a friend or made plans for brunch? Do you always mean to, but it seems like you just never have time for it? Or maybe you’re like me where trying to make brunch plans involves a tetris-like planning session to figure out the one time everyone is available? Because life is so fast-paced, it’s hard enough to make new friendships, much less maintain the relationships we already have.
It’s easier than ever to feel lonely. A recent study on loneliness found that 46 percent of Americans report feeling lonely sometimes or always, and only 27 percent reported that they felt like they belonged to a group of friends. Those in Generation Z and Millennials were the most lonely generations, according to the same study.
I see this in real life in my work as a psychotherapist. Many of my clients tell me how lonely and socially isolated they feel. Many feel intimidated at the thought of attending a social event for the sole purpose of making new friends and lament that they don’t have the time they need to devote to cultivating friendships. Feeling lonely can have serious consequences. Researchers found that loneliness can increase the progression of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory disease and can worsen mental illnesses like depression. Your common cold symptoms might even get worse when you’re feeling lonely, according to the American Psychological Association.
Friendship (and dating!) is an important part of life. Friends and family are the people who help us feel connected in the world and give us a sense of purpose and place. They are also excellent sources of stress relief according to social scientists. So how can you avoid the loneliness trap and make the time to reap the benefits of being in healthy relationships? Keep the following tips in mind.
One of the toughest adjustments to life after college is how spending time with friends changes so dramatically. It used to be so easy to grab coffee with friends after class or walk across your dorm room hall to chat with your best friend. But now, with crazy work and life schedules, and with friends living across the country (or world), it’s much harder to make those coffee chats happen.
It’s easy to lament this shift in your life, but try instead to see it objectively. Life will never be like college (and that can be a good thing) so that means making friendships thrive will look different too. Work with these changes instead of fighting against them. Which leads us to the next tip.
Think Quality Over Quantity.
In one of entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss’ recent blog posts, he talked about how he went through his calendar and noted the people and activities that cultivated positive energy and those that were draining (negative energy). He then made plans to spend more time with those people and engage in those activities that cultivated positivity and to spend less time with the people and activities that did not.
You can apply this principle to your relationships as well. Focus on cultivating quality friendships with the people who add positivity to your life, and focus less on those who drain that positivity. When your time is precious to begin with, it’s important to be wise about who you choose to spend your limited time with. Why spend it with those people who drain you and fill your life with negativity when you could spend it with those people who are uplifting.
Focusing on cultivating meaningful relationships despite your busy schedule means that you have to be creative with how you use your time. If you don’t have time for a two-hour-long phone call, find less time-consuming ways to stay in touch. For example, start a group chat to keep updated on each other’s lives between your monthly coffee dates; call just to chat for ten minutes; or email an interesting article that makes you think of them.
Take advantage of pockets of time to catch up with friends. I’ll often call a friend on my ride home from work. You could also meet up with a friend for a quick lunch (we all have to eat anyway, right) or call a friend while running errands.
Make It a Priority.
When something is important to you, you make time for it. Whether you want to cultivate deeper friendships or make more time for dating, make this a priority and you will find the time. It’s a simple strategy but there’s a lot of power behind it. Think about it, if you want to make your lifestyle healthier, you make eating well and exercising a priority (even if you don’t always feel like it).
It’s normal for life to get in the way sometimes, and there will be times that are busier than others; but even in those crazier times, try to plan ahead with your friends the next time you can get together when your schedule calms down. When something matters to you, hold it sacred and make the time for it. Treat your relationships as priorities and you will find time on your schedule no matter how busy you are in the moment.
These are just a few of the ways you can maintain connections even when time is short. What pockets of time do you have that you could use to catch up with a friend?