Research says most of us feel lonely: Here are some tips on how to change that

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Research says most of us feel lonely: Here are some tips on how to change that

Words by Kaya Martin

Starting with some good ol’ fashion IRL connection.

I know I’m going to sound like your grandpa right now, but really – we spend too much time online. Sure, technology has provided us with a lot of great things. Maybe too many.

With a whole world of videos, memes, games, stories and images a few clicks away, it’s all too easy to stay cosied up in bed with the laptop, especially as temperatures drop. But if you find yourself wondering ‘why am I so lonely?” – like 2 in 3 of us do, this could be your answer. According to a new study by VicHealth, too much time online and not enough face to face fun leaves many of us feeling lonely, disconnected and unfulfilled.

As part of its Future Healthy initiative, VicHealth conducted a survey of Victorians aged 18 to 25. Two-thirds of those who answered said they wanted to limit their time on social media, even though just over half of them agreed that social media can also help build meaningful relationships.

Generally, the survey uncovered that we tend to feel happier when we’re more connected with others: a whopping 87% of young people in Victoria say having meaningful connections is good for their mental health. If you’re struggling to wiggle away from the internet’s tight grip and get out into the real world, we’ve got some tips.

1. Start Small

Young Victorians say some of the reasons they avoid face-to-face meet-ups is because they don’t have enough time, energy or money. Luckily, we’ve got some options that are free, lowkey and easy to fit into a jam-packed calendar.

Running errands with a friend has the double positive impact of making a mundane task less painful and giving you the chance to catch up while not taking any extra time out of your busy schedule. Multitasking! Cook dinner together, wander through a bookshop, grab a coffee or hang out with a friend at the laundromat while you’re waiting for your washing.

Plus, it’s a good way to rope someone into helping you with your annoying chores – you provided the snacks and company; they put together your IKEA furniture. It’s a win-win.

On those days when leaving the house feels like an impossible task, even having someone over for a movie or a coffee can help lift your spirits.

2. Take a swap challenge

During the pandemic, we grew accustomed to switching our personal meet-ups with digital tools. Our work meetings happen over Zoom. We play games with our friends while chatting on Discord. Although we’re still communicating, we don’t actually get to see each other and be present with each other, which means we’re missing out on a lot.

As four out of five young Victorians believe it’s important to have a good balance between online and in-person connections, it can be beneficial to swap out 30 minutes of staring at a screen (like you’re doing right now) with 30 minutes of real-life interaction. Even little things make a difference – make conversation with the barista at your local cafe, or linger in your sharehouse kitchen and gossip with your housemates.

3. Be kind to yourself

If you’re not the most naturally outgoing person, face-to-face interaction can be stressful. Social anxiety is real. Believe me, we’ve all left the party overthinking things we said, vowing to never speak again or to be more “normal” next time. According to the new study, over half of young Victorians share these feelings as well.

Don’t beat yourself up about feeling awkward. Life is awkward sometimes. I know it’s age-old advice, but at the end of the day, most people are more focused on their own behaviour than what you’re up to.

If you’re feeling nervous about a certain event, it can help to bring a trusted friend/sidekick along to make you feel a bit more comfortable. When in doubt, just smile and ask questions – most people love to talk about themselves.

4. Be brave and take the first step

I have a friendship rule: the first time someone asks you to hang out, always say yes, and if you can’t make it, immediately organise plans for another time. It takes guts to ask someone out for the first time (even in a completely platonic way) because friendship rejection often stings even more than romantic rejection.

Sometimes, we miss out on really beautiful connections because both parties are too shy to initiate the friendship. Sad! If you feel a good vibe with someone, don’t be afraid to make the first move.

Of course, common courtesy still applies – don’t text someone 14 times if they haven’t replied. It’s time to move on. But also don’t be too hesitant to suggest a meet-up, because there’s a good chance the other person is interested as well.

5. Tap into your interests

According to the VicHealth survey, more than half of young Victorians don’t find it easy to make new connections, and almost half said it wasn’t easy to find in-person activities or groups they’re interested in.

So how do we make new friends when we’re so busy with study and work? Well, it can be useful to lean into the things you already like. If nothing else, it’ll at least help you get out of the house.

If you’re sporty, join a sports team or a fan club. If you’re music-y (we see you Beat readers), go out to see bands or join a weekly jam session. Even if you’re more into solo activities like reading, art or bird watching, there will always be groups and associations you can join to meet people with similar interests.

Many of us haven’t maintained the hobbies we may have enjoyed as kids, so maybe now’s the time to discover some new ones! Take a Spanish class, learn pottery, get into bowling, or join a pyramid scheme (just kidding!). If it’s not for you, there’s always something else to try. The stats don’t lie: seven out of 10 people agree that connecting with others as part of a group is important.

Victoria is such a rich and diverse state so there are plenty of options for everyone to create deep connections, no matter how small your niche. From community programs to specialised spaces and events, there are plenty of places where you’ll be able to be open with your identity and meet like-minded others.

Need some inspo? Check out the map of free in-person activities on offer as part of VicHealth’s Future Healthy initiative.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, you can contact Headspace or Beyond Blue.

This article was made in partnership with VicHealth. VicHealth is the world’s first health promotion foundation focused on promoting good health and preventing chronic disease.