Loneliness epidemic: here's how to make friends as an adult

Over half of UK adults say it has been a long time since they made a new friend? [Photo: Getty]
Over half of UK adults say it has been a long time since they made a new friend? [Photo: Getty]

Question: How many friends have you got? No we don’t mean the 150 friends the average Facebook user has, we’re talking about actual, real life, pop-round-for-a-cuppa friends?

Lets put it another way, how many new friendships have you made since adulthood?

If you’re anything like recent research, your answer will likely be not that many.

Campaign to End Loneliness, teamed up with YouGov to find out how often we make new connections in adulthood, and the results make for some pretty sad reading.

The online poll of more than 2,000 UK adults revealed that over half of UK adults (54%) say it’s been ‘a long time’ since they made a new friend, with 63% citing work as an obstacle to connecting with others.

Other barriers to not making new friendships include chores (65%) and ‘busy lives’ (49%).

So what’s going on? Have we forgotten how to make friends?

“Life happens the older you get, you get more responsibilities, whether it’s your job or your family, this leaves you with fewer opportunities to connect with people that you don’t know,” explains Tori Boughey founder of TBalance, Holistic Health Coaching Service.

“Secondly, it’s been many years since playground-friendships were formed and your confidence especially when you meet new people will not be as it once was.”

Karen Dovla, CEO of No Isolation, an organisation dedicated to eradicating loneliness, believes social media and technological advancement could be to blame.

“In this time of incredible innovation, we have never been more connected. Major advancements in technology mean that with one swipe of a smartphone, we can instantly cross oceans and time zones to communicate with someone on the other side of the world,” she says.

“The sad irony however, is that as communication becomes increasingly effortless, people are actually getting lonelier.”

Are we facing a loneliness epidemic? [Photo: Getty]
Are we facing a loneliness epidemic? [Photo: Getty]

According to a recent study by the Red Cross in partnership with Co-op, more than nine million adults in the UK are often or always lonely.

The Government is so concerned about the loneliness epidemic, that Theresa May has taken the dramatic step of appointing Tracey Crouch as what some have dubbed the “minister for loneliness” to try to tackle the issue.

A further found that parenthood can be a trigger for the onset of loneliness.

The poll, which was conducted by the charity Action for Children alongside the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, questioned around 2,000 UK parents, and found that just over half of first-time mums and dads (52%) feel lonely or “cut off” from family and friends.

Nearly a quarter of those polled (24.3%) say being lonely is a problem for them, with a further 27.6% saying it has been a problem in the past.

“Big changes in our lives make us particularly vulnerable,” explains Karen. “Whether that be because we have moved to a new city to study or to work, or because we have started to have children. It is not a shock that 68 per cent of parents surveyed by Action for Children said they felt they had become cut off from friends and family since having children. It is the sad reality.”

“Recently, The Red Cross found that life transitions, and particularly role transitions, are the kinds of disruptive moments that increase the risk of loneliness amongst individuals of any age. It is easy for us to apply these findings to senior groups, who face retirement or the loss of a loved one; it is harder, though, to comprehend how transitions that we see as ‘positive’ – such as the birth of a child or the start of a career, can trigger loneliness.”

Over half of UK adults say it has been a long time since they made a new friend [Photo: Getty]
Over half of UK adults say it has been a long time since they made a new friend [Photo: Getty]

So what can we do about it?

In light of the Campaign to End Loneliness research, the organisation has launched a new initiative called Be More Us, a movement to bring people together.

The campaign includes a website with tips on how to make small connections, while friendliness will be celebrated and encouraged on social media, using the hashtag #BeMoreUs.

Commenting on the project Laura Alcock-Ferguson, executive director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, said: “Big national events, like the Olympics or the World Cup, give us an excuse to connect. The royal wedding is the perfect way to start to Be More Us. Get involved with your community by going to a street party, or invite your neighbour who lives alone out for a drink. Let’s come together and Be More Us.”

The campaign could well be onto something because a recent study, published in the journal Personal Relationships, found that investing in close relationships has been linked to better health, happiness and wellbeing. So making new friendships in adulthood could be key in giving our physical and mental wellness a boost.

Making grown-up friends may not be quite as simple as marching up to a fellow five-year-old to ask if they want to be your friend, but it’s totally do-able.

Take a lunch break

“The socialising that happens during a lunch break with colleagues can have a positive impact on your enjoyment of the workplace, helping individuals develop friendships and encourage information sharing, which are beneficial to individuals as well as the workplace as a whole,” says Dr Dimitrios Paschos, Consultant Psychiatrist at Re:Cognition Health

Find your thing and do more of it

“My best advice would be to start thinking about what it is that you yourself like doing, then do more of that,” says Tori Boughey. “Whether it’s cooking, playing bridge, exercising, by surrounding yourself with like-minded people, you will then be in a better frame of mind to welcome in friendships from people who have similar interests.”

Don’t people please

“As cliché as it sounds avoid ‘people pleasing’ and just be you!” says Tori. “This is hugely important and it’s really staggering to see how the energy changes between the people around you when you are able to be yourself, not trying to say the things that people want to hear. Ultimately, this is the best way to create more genuine and long-lasting friendships.”

Make an effort

Like good relationships, new friendships take time to grow. “Friendships do take commitment and it’s important to invest the time in friendships on a regular basis,” Dr Paschos advises.

Find people in the same life moment

“Finding new friends as an adult is difficult, because unlike children, we have already developed a sense of self, and what it means to be rejected,” explains Michelle Kennedy, co-founder and CEO of Peanut, the app the connects mums. “That self preservation kicks in, and we’re less likely to put ourselves in a situation where people can hurt us.”

“Yet throughout adulthood there are life changing moments where you need peer support, and if you don’t have it from people experiencing the same thing, isolation can set in.”

Michelle recommends finding people who are experiencing that same life moment. “Whether it’s becoming a parent, through apps like Peanut, or whether it’s starting a new job (are there other new joiners?), or even moving to a new city (can you go to a networking event and find someone else who is settling in too?).”

Be open to new experiences and opportunities, it’s important to explore things out of your comfort zone – this could open a whole new world ofpossibilities and friendships

Reconnect with old friends

“There could possibly be a ready made friendship circle ready to reignite,” says Dr Paschos.

Follow us on Instagram and Facebook for non-stop inspiration delivered fresh to your feed, every day. For Twitter updates, follow @YahooStyleUK.

Read more from Yahoo Style UK:

Here’s how to spot if you’re in a toxic friendship

Here’s what happens to your body when you’re happy

Buying free time (not material stuff) is the key to happiness