I wish I could tell you exactly what percentage of clients I work with report feeling lonely in their day-to-day lives. If it’s not 100%, it is at least close to it. About a year ago, I wrote a post It’s Not Just You: The Epidemic of Loneliness, citing recent articles that describe not only the dangers of loneliness and isolation, but the prevalence of it. In a technologically advanced world where we have the potential to be more connected to one another than ever, many, if not most, people still find themselves feeling lonely.
Where We Find Community
As I’ve continued to hear from clients that they’re lonely and have sat with them in that sadness, as well as brainstormed support-building strategies, I’ve been constantly reminded of the challenge that it is to build up one’s social network from scratch. If you come from a family with siblings, you (hopefully) have a bit of a built-in support network. When you’re at school, you’re forced into group projects and teamwork, or at the very least close quarters day in and day out with classmates. When you get a job, you’re likely, again, part of a team in some form and likely see the same faces daily. Family, school, work – these are all situations in which most of us will end up interacting with others and ideally end up connecting well with some. However, if your family isn’t close, you’ve moved away, graduated school, your job is pretty solitary or you work from home, then these built-in networks don’t work (or maybe don’t even exist) for you. So if you aren’t finding community in those places…what do you do?
Looking Outside a Regular Circle
We know that social support and friendships are crucial. We are wired for connection and extroverts and introverts alike need time with people they feel safe and connected to (just perhaps to varying degrees!). It is one of the first things most therapists will ask about to get a sense of how a client is supported outside of the therapy room. This is because they know how deeply relationships, or a lack thereof, can affect one’s happiness and fulfillment. If the typical places of connection aren’t offering you connection, how do you find that elsewhere? How do we even meet people anymore? It’s not easy!
Suggestions for Connection
I thought that I would compile a list of some of the ideas that have come up as I’ve sat and brainstormed with clients. Connecting with people digitally has never been easier, but in person, it’s becoming less of a priority, so it can take more work to get there. Here are just a few ideas that I’ve heard have been helpful for clients. If you find yourself feeling lonely and lacking community, maybe give one of these a try!
Sports. If you’re active and like playing sports, there are all kinds of intramural type leagues that happen in city park districts, through workplaces or churches. Do a quick google search to see if there are teams you’d be interested in joining, and reach out! If you do not enjoy playing sports, find a watch party. Lots of teams will host watch parties (especially for away games) at local bars or restaurants where you can show up and cheer on your team with other fans.
Take a class. Painting, sailing, yoga, tennis, cooking, meditating… you name it. There’s probably a bunch of classes for it. Sign up for a class on something you’re interested in, and meet others with similar interests. Sometimes, they’ll even have a free introduction class to test it out!
Check out a spiritual community. If you are religious or even vehemently not religious, there is likely a group out there that fits your beliefs. Whether it’s a synagogue, a church or an agnostic discussion group, there are lots of people who find great community from others who are asking similar questions or simply wanting to connect.
Hobbies or interest-specific groups. Bookstores or game stores will often have game nights or book readings! You can show up and meet others who are there to play, listen, or learn. Again, a quick google search could give you way more options than you need!
Go to events. There are always concerts, festivals, food tastings or sports events happening, especially here in Chicago. It can be easy to exist in a crowd anonymously, but maybe challenge yourself to go to one of these events and talk to a certain number of people. Even if it’s just a few words or some small talk in a line, getting yourself back in the habit of starting conversations with someone can’t hurt.
Improv. In Chicago, we’re lucky to have several different comedy clubs that offer all kinds of improv classes. I know several therapists who encourage clients specifically to take some of these classes. In fact, one of the therapy programs at my graduate school requires that counseling students take an improv class for a semester! It is a great way to meet (probably funny) people and to learn how to take risks and get out of your comfort zone.
Find a place to volunteer. You can google your hobbies or interests in your city and see what groups already exists. Put yourself out there by going out to bars, games, dog parks, regular parks or taking public transit. When you’re out there, take the risk and talk to someone. There are apps (like MeetUps) specifically designed to help people find groups of other people to connect with. If you’re feeling lonely, know that it’s not just you and that it doesn’t have to last forever. Sometimes, you just have to take the first step, or maybe even a series of steps. Keep working towards connection- it is so worth it.
If you are feeling lonely or have been stuck in loneliness for a while, give one of our counselors a call. We’d love to join with you in this and help you find your best path forwards and into a community!