Men are feeling more disconnected as the pandemic wears on

Worried that the pandemic has damaged your friendships? A third (38 per cent) of men fear they’ve lost friendships over the past year that they’ll never get back, according to figures from men’s health charity Movember.

This is worrying news as the importance of friendships to our mental wellbeing is huge.

“Having strong social connections has a major influence on our long-term health and wellbeing. Spending time with your mates and having people to rely on in a crisis is good for everyone,” says Movember CEO Michelle Terry.

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The charity surveyed 3000 men, of whom 42 per cent said they felt more distant from friends compared with before the pandemic, and 36 per cent said they felt lonely more often. Over half (58 per cent) agreed they’d been experiencing poor wellbeing, with 29 per cent meeting the WHO criteria for depression.

Read more: Why you need Five Good Friends in your life

There is a flipside to this. For some, the pandemic may have been a chance to reassess which connections are actually most important to us. Perhaps some friendships will evolve or drift off as a result, which may not always be a bad thing. But the role of friends and social connections really can’t be overlooked – and there’s science to back this up.

Psychologists at Brigham Young University in Utah reviewed research around this in 2010, for example, and found people with strong social connections increased their chance of survival over a certain time period by 50 per cent (on a par with quitting smoking). Having friends around can also lower our stress responses and, as one study found, their presence makes difficult experiences easier.

The bottom line though, you probably don’t need a PhD to know friends are key for health and happiness.

Is this striking a chord? Feeling disconnected from friends can really get us down, so what next? Here are five things you can do to branch out and make friends.

Read more: How to make friends

Reconnect with old friends
When’s the last time you spoke to your friends from high school or college? Barring a nasty fallout or conflict of interest, it’s never too late to reconnect with old friends. Today there are so many ways to reach out to people; send them a message on social media, an email, or a text.

No matter how awkward it might feel, you will automatically have things in common. And it might feel good to find out what’s been going on in each other’s lives for the past few years.

What’s the worst that could happen? They say no? Then you’re just right back where you are right now.

Men tend to connect more by doing things together rather than just talking. So, calling up an old buddy may be hard because just asking, “Hey, how’s it going?” may not be enough to get the friendship going again. Listen to the things you may have in common now, and suggest an activity.

Forge new connections
Being grateful for cherished old friends doesn’t mean we can’t still be open to new connections too.

Are there people you see every day with whom you’ve never had a meaningful conversation? It takes some courage but engaging a co-worker or fellow gym member in conversation can help you determine common interests, and develop a future friendship.

Strike up a conversation or ask a question, you never know where it might lead. Going from zero to sixty in this way might feel uncomfortable, so try not to think about it like that.

Instead think, “I can do this. Maybe this person is also looking for new connections and will welcome the opportunity.”

Changing your thoughts about approaching such a situation can change your feelings and lead you to feel less awkward and make a better first impression.

Read more: Do you need a best friend?

Meet others through groups or hobbies
What hobbies do you have? Are there ways in which you engage with this hobby that could involve others? Maybe you could join a sports league, a book club or a volunteer group?

There are many resources to get you connected to like-minded groups. Apps such as Meet-up give you updates and info about all sorts of events related to your interests. Whether you go alone or with someone, this can be a great way to make new friends.

Reach out and make plans
When’s the last time you invited someone, or multiple people, to do something with you? Are you waiting on your friends or acquaintances to take the initiative?

Be the one to reach out and suggest an activity.

Band up with a work friend and invite some other co-workers to grab drinks after work. Set up a golf game with old high school buddies. If you’ve found that your romantic partner seems to be your only friend, invite another couple over for dinner. Make it a double date.

Making plans, and trying to involve new friends or potential friends, could lead to establishing more meaningful relationships.

Leave your comfort zone
Putting yourself out there and trying something completely new is a great way to gain exposure to new people. Tolerating that initial awkwardness may feel difficult, but it will be worth it.

Do you have a close circle of friends? Have you successfully made new friends in adulthood? Why not share your advice in the comments section below?

– With PA

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