Applied Psychology

How to Build Social Connections

Mar 28, 2024 | By Jenna van Schoor

In a post-pandemic world, are we having to rebuild our social connections? The pandemic was a profoundly traumatic time. We all had to dig deep to cope. Did we lose some of our social skills during this time, and how has this impacted us?

Despite the many social challenges we may experience, post-pandemic or even before, many ways exist to build social connections. This post will share tips on making meaningful connections in a complex and challenging world.

How to build social connections

In a previous blog post about the importance of social fitness, we discussed the many reasons why being socially connected is essential. However, how do we improve our relationships in practice?

Here are some ideas for building meaningful relationships and expanding your social network:

1. Dedicate time and energy to being social

Social skills are just like any other skill. We need to practise them to get better at building relationships. For this reason, it’s vital to dedicate time and energy to finding new social connections to ease loneliness and not feel so isolated.

Setting aside time to connect and bond with others can be very challenging if you have a hectic schedule. However, committing to connecting with others as part of your routine can kickstart a habit of reaching out that will soon pay off. 

You can also start small. Being social can be overwhelming for some people, especially if they have felt lonely for a long time. One idea is to volunteer for a local organisation for a specific amount of time each week or month. 

By dedicating time to a cause, you’ll reap the benefits of doing meaningful work. While the focus might not be on socialising per se, you will undoubtedly meet many people in the process. 

2. Connect with people around you

If you’re feeling isolated and lonely, there’s a good chance that many of your friends, family and broader social network feel the same way. 

It might feel daunting to meet new people, but one way to build social connections is to reach out to people in your community. You might think that other people have thriving social lives when, in fact, they don’t and have other obligations or limitations that might prevent them from socialising, too.

One of the easiest ways to get to know new people is to get to know your neighbours. It doesn’t take much effort to start building rapport, just a friendly hello. Getting to know their neighbours is also in their interest, so it’s a win-win scenario.

If introducing yourself to someone new feels far out of your comfort zone, you can test your social skills by spending more time in public spaces, such as libraries or coffee shops. As you become more comfortable, you could increase your social interactions by chatting with the people around you and getting to know the librarian or barista. 

3. Focus on quality and not quantity

Many people are happy to have a handful of solid friendships and connections. In this case, it is about quality over quantity; even one close and fulfilling relationship can make a big difference in someone’s life.

We all need someone to talk to, and while this might be their partner or spouse for many people, it could also be a trusted friend or neighbour who you know has your back. Developing deeper connections that offer mutual support can improve our sense of wellbeing.

If you don’t know where to meet these people, pursuing a hobby can be an excellent place to start. This way, you’ll already have something in common with the people you meet when you engage in the same activity. Some ideas include hiking, walking and running clubs, which can boost physical fitness at the same time.

If you have a particular hobby, for example, photography or birdwatching, there are no doubt many other people in your community who are interested in the same activity. You only need to do a Facebook or Google search to find other like-minded people to meet up with. If you can’t find a club or organisation, why not consider starting one yourself? 

4. Enhance your mental health

Mental health is a widespread issue affecting all societal levels and can adversely impact our ability to engage socially. If we look at the toll that the pandemic took on our mental wellbeing, it’s no surprise that we might be struggling to connect with others, even as our society reaches a semblance of “normal”.

Research also shows that there is a link between mental health and loneliness, which means that it’s vital to seek help and support to deal with both. In addition to challenges with our mental wellbeing, we might also have a negative self-image that affects how we relate to others, which can impair our ability to form close relationships, as we fear being vulnerable, rejected and judged. 

If you have physical health issues, this may be a significant factor that affects how and when you can engage with others. Once again, seeking the proper support can go a long way to ensuring that you can balance your physical, social and emotional needs. 

5. Balance offline and online interactions

Technology can be a valuable tool to help us connect with others. However, online interactions can be stressful if you struggle with social anxiety. Social comparisons online can make you feel like you are not measuring up, making you feel even worse about yourself and your current situation. 

Many people also experience bullying on social media, which can impact their ability to form new friendships. For this reason, while engaging with others online is okay, face-to-face contact is essential to building more profound and fulfilling relationships.

One idea might be to join safe online networks where you can meet and engage with others and then meet up in person once you have developed a rapport with someone. As mentioned above concerning hobbies, building relationships through an online group forum can easily translate into real-life friendships. 

6. Seek support when you need it

We’ve talked about the impact of mental health on our ability to socialise. While reaching out and stepping out of your comfort zone is essential, seeking professional support is also critical when necessary. 

If you or someone you know struggles with mental health, you can call the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) on 0800 567 567 or LifeLine on 0861 322 322. Both numbers are toll-free and offer immediate support if you are feeling overwhelmed with negative or suicidal thoughts. 

Learn more about mental health and self-esteem

For those who want to learn more about how to build social connections but want to enhance their mental health and self-image first, we offer three short courses that may be helpful. 

These include Building Positive Self-esteem, Enhancing Mental Health and Effective Interpersonal Communication. Our short courses provide valuable insights into enhancing self-esteem, improving mental wellbeing and building strong interpersonal skills.

These courses can equip you with the tools to create a solid foundation for connecting more with others. With this knowledge, you’ll empower yourself and learn more about how to offer support, too. 

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