If you're like the average American, you spend about seven hours a day online. That's about one-third of your life! And with most of us turning to our devices for work, shopping, and researching, our relationships have had to adapt as well.
Despite the misconceptions, being online isn't inherently synonymous with poor social skills, isolation, or depression. In fact, many people enjoy meaningful relationships both online and in the real world. But it's important to know exactly how to cultivate and nurture these dynamics. Here's what you need to know.
Audit How You Spend Your Time Online
For one week, commit to auditing how you spend your time across various digital devices. This exercise may seem extreme, but it can be helpful for developing initial baseline data. For instance, it may be enlightening to realize you spend several hours a day scrolling through social media- even though you don't particularly enjoy it!
After having this initial information, think about where you want to make some realistic improvements. For example, would it be helpful to try a brief digital detox or set some specific boundaries around how and when you go online?
Set a Relationship Goal
Sustainable change happens over the course of thousands of small decisions. With that, consider a specific relationship goal that you'd like to achieve. Ideally, it should be measurable, meaning you can track whether or not you actually accomplished it.
For example, you might decide to spend one night a week with friends. Or, you might commit to making a standing phone date to call your mother. If, for whatever reason, you cannot achieve this goal, explore the barriers preventing you from doing so.
Improve Your Social Anxiety
For many people, social anxiety hinders their connections with others. They want to enjoy meaningful relationships, but they feel nervous or insecure about their interactions. As a result, they might isolate from others or feel incredibly awkward in social settings.
Overcoming social anxiety requires ongoing exposure. You need to confront the fears directly to combat them. You can do this by:
routinely practicing public speaking (even when it feels uncomfortable)
engaging in routine small talk across various social settings
affirming yourself before and after social situations
practicing mindfulness when you feel anxious
working with a therapist who specializes in anxiety
Initiate Contact With Loved Ones
We often wait for others to reach out to make plans to spend time together. But there's no reason you can't be the one to initiate these events. After all, if you want to be more social, you need to commit to being more social.
So, try to be the one who "makes the plans." And be concrete with those plans- it's not enough to say, We should hang out sometime! Instead, set a specific time and date to actually get together.
Of course, flakiness can be a real problem. If a friend continuously denies or cancels your request, this pattern may signify a deeper issue. If that's the case, it may be worth asking them about the situation directly.
Practice Being More Vulnerable
Meaningful relationships have an inherent sense of depth to them. People feel safe talking about sensitive issues with one another. There are implicit feelings of trust, security, and safety.
Vulnerability, in many ways, is the driving factor for this depth. It's fine to have surface-level conversations from time to time, but if you want to experience emotional intimacy, you need to dig below that.
Remember that vulnerability is an ongoing process. You may need to test the waters to see how comfortable you feel opening up to specific people. Subsequently, if someone rejects you, it may not have anything to do with you- it may have more to do with their capacity for emotional intimacy.
Be Open to Making New Friends
In reevaluating your friendships, you may realize that your current support system can't provide you with the meaningful support you need. That's okay. It's normal to outgrow people and have different needs at different points in your life.
Making new friends often requires that you take social risks, like joining a new group, taking classes, or volunteering. If you feel nervous or insecure, remember that most people also want to make friends. During those initial interactions, there's a good chance they feel just as anxious as you do.
Find Connection Online
Spending more time online has advantages. In some ways, it's easier than ever to connect with like-minded communities. The key is looking in the right places. Here are some apps that might be worth a try:
Meetup: Meetup is a free platform that encourages friendship and community. You can join different groups based on age, region, or specific interests.
Bumble BFF: Bumble is a dating app, but it also offers options to expand your social circle and find new friends.
Peanut: Peanut is an app for new moms to connect with other new local moms.
Meet My Dog: Sometimes, it's easier to connect when you have another friend with you. This app connects dog owners with other dog owners.
Atleto: Atleto connects athletes with other athletes, and you can arrange to meet up with one another based on your favorite physical activity.
Twitch: Twitch connects gamers and streamers around the world to one another. In recent years, Twitch has extended beyond gaming into beauty, makeup, and wellness communities.
Of course, simply showing up to events probably isn't enough to make meaningful relationships. You need to make an active effort to talk to people and follow up with them.
Despite our digital world, connectivity is still essential for optimal mental health. It's important to feel like you can depend on others for support, validation, and general company.
At The Resurface Group, we help people enhance their social skills and improve their relationships. We want you to enjoy your life and feel connected to your loved ones. Regardless of your circumstances, we are here for you. Contact us today to learn more!