Blue and green dots with the text "Mental Health Is... Connection"

Making friends as an adult can be challenging, especially after living through a pandemic for a year. More so, the way we connect with people and make friends may feel different now than it did before the pandemic started. If you’re feeling isolated or are struggling to cultivate new friendships on campus, you’re not alone. Humans are social creatures. Our desire to connect, make friends and socialize with others is a shared experience. However, it may feel intimidating to be vulnerable and put ourselves out there.

While it may feel challenging, finding those connections is important for our mental health. Socializing with peers, mentors, friends, family and community can improve a number of areas of mental health. In fact, those who are closely connected to their friends and family tend to have lower rates of depression and suicide (including suicidal thoughts), higher self-esteem, more empathy and more trust in others. Additionally, feeling connected gives us a sense of belonging, support and purpose throughout our lives. 

Here are some tips that can help you make meaningful connections now, throughout college and into the future.

Ease your expectations

Sometimes when we are in search of new friends, we tend to expect one person to have it all. However, it’s important to keep in mind that it can be unrealistic to expect a single person to meet all of our needs. For example, you may have a friend who is great to study with or watch sports with, while another may be better as a confidant. Managing expectations around what people are able to bring to a friendship (or relationship in general) can help us create a more robust social network that we can rely on for different things.

It’s also important to ease your expectations with yourself. Many of us may feel pressured to make as many friends as quick as we possibly can, and that may not always be realistic. Instead, remember that it’s okay if it takes time to build relationships or find the right friend group. Show yourself compassion throughout the process, and know that relationships can take practice to form.

Work with discomfort

When we meet new people, it’s normal to feel nervous, awkward or anxious. Learning to work with and overcome those feelings is key to allowing ourselves to meet new people and develop relationships. 

  • Physical tension: If you experience physical discomfort, practice grounding techniques such as reporting factual news about the present moment. In your head, state your name, age, today’s date, your location and other details to bring you back to the present moment.
  • Nervous thoughts: If you struggle with nervous or worried thoughts, consider ways that you can acknowledge and recognize these thoughts without acting on them. One way to do this is to separate yourself from your thoughts through labeling. 

    For instance, if you are feeling concerned that the other person may not like you, try labeling it as, “I am having the thought that this person may not like me.” Separating yourself from your thoughts can be a good reminder that just because you’re having the thought doesn’t make it true. It’s okay to be yourself and let yourself be seen.

    Additionally, if you have stressful thoughts related to COVID-19, it can be helpful to plan your meet-ups in a way that makes you feel more safe and comfortable. For example, you may feel better hanging out outside, limiting your group size or opting for something virtual. Creating an environment that helps you feel more at ease is key, as it allows you to focus more energy on getting to know the people you’re with instead of focusing on those thoughts.

Become a regular

Sometimes it may feel like if you’re not studying or working, you’re doing something wrong. However, setting boundaries around work and school can help you have a more vibrant and meaningful life outside of work and academics.

Scheduling time throughout the week to do something social can be helpful, especially if it feels like you have limited time or there is a lot on your plate. Whether you’re interested in joining a fitness class, book club or student organization, getting involved on campus and becoming a regular is a great way to meet new people and form friendships. In fact, the more you show up, the easier it may be to connect with other people who are regulars as well.

It’s also important to remember that it’s okay to seek out social opportunities without feeling pressured to create deep connections. Sometimes, it’s just as nice to attend an event or hang out with others for an hour before returning to your normal schedule. Thinking about activities and events this way can also help alleviate the pressure that comes with trying to make friends as quickly as possible. 

Looking to become a regular? Check out this article on how to meet people with similar interests and socialize safely.

Take advantage of opportunities for small talk

There are plenty of reasons to not like small talk. For one, it can be uncomfortable or awkward, especially if you’re on the shyer side or don’t know someone that well. However, it also offers a surprising number of benefits when it comes to forming friendships. In fact, small talk plays a significant role in paving the way for more meaningful connections.

Whether you’re talking to a casual acquaintance or a total stranger, small talk can help us build up to more meaningful conversations and connections. For instance, asking someone about their weekend plans may help inform us about their hobbies or interests. These insights can be helpful in moving the conversation forward. Take advantage of these moments to bond over common interests or learn more about someone by asking follow-up questions. 

Small talk can also be beneficial for those of us who may feel out of practice. In many ways, it’s the perfect opportunity to practice conversation skills. Most people expect small talk to be awkward or challenging, so it’s the perfect time to test out subjects, questions and other strategies to get to know someone without the pressure of a formal conversation. 

Try new approaches

There is no one way to make friends, and that’s okay. Trying out different approaches to meet people can help you find what works best for you. Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Group activities: While it would be nice to get to get to know people individually, group activities can be a great alternative. For example, inviting someone to a group chat may feel less intimidating than directly asking for their number. Additionally, socializing in small groups can help reduce the pressure to engage with someone one-on-one.
  • Everyday conversations: Practice conversation skills during everyday interactions. This can help you feel more comfortable making conversation (and keeping the conversation going). For instance, it may be helpful to practice on a cashier or customer service representative. Ask them questions about their day and allow yourself to briefly connect.  
  • Things to talk about: Learn about things to talk about or bring up in conversation. It may be helpful to watch others, read or increase your range of activities and experiences. Having a few go-to conversation starters can help you learn more about people and connect with them.
  • Self-disclose: It can be tempting to give details about ourselves or explain a story in-depth. However, it’s also important to know that getting into nitty-gritty details can be overwhelming for some people. When disclosing things about yourself, do so skillfully by keeping your level of disclosure close to that of the other person. This can help relieve nervousness about how much you should be sharing.
  • Social apps. Apps can be a great tool to help you talk and get to know people in a low-pressure setting. Bumble BFF can help you find platonic connections, whether you’re looking for a workout buddy, roommate or new best friend. Patook allows you to make platonic connections with people nearby who share common interests (no flirting allowed). Finally, MeetUp is a free service that organizes online groups that host in-person events for people based on location, hobbies, causes and more. They also allow you to start groups of your own!

Connect with other Buffs and resources

There are a number of resources available at CU Boulder that can help you feel more connected, whether you’re looking to join a student group, attend social events and activities or find additional support.