5 Ways Making New Friends Can Benefit Your Mental Health
By Rebecca Deczynski
Making new friends isn’t always easy, especially as you get older—but nothing quite compares to the excitement of a budding connection. Even if you already have a solid inner circle, new friendships can enrich your life in different ways, helping you to foster a greater sense of community, expand your worldview, and even connect better with yourself. (Find tips on how to make new friends here.)
Especially when you’re feeling down, new platonic relationships can have a real benefit to your mental health. “People are wired for connection; we’re not wired to be alone,” explains self-care and mental health educator Minaa B. Although it can understandably feel challenging to put yourself out there, taking steps to download Bumble BFF and make new friends can give you a greater sense of community and improve your overall well being—so the challenge may be well worth it! Just remember that if you feel like you’re not mentally up to making new friends, that’s totally fine, too. It’s perfectly acceptable to wait until you’re in a more social mood to put yourself out there again.
Here are some of the benefits that new friendships can have on your mental health, according to experts.
It boosts your self-esteem
Your self-esteem is one of the critical building blocks of good mental health—it plays a huge role in how you feel about yourself. One way you can boost your sense of self-worth is by surrounding yourself with people who can empathize with your experiences. “Sometimes we feel like we’re alone in our struggles or issues, so being able to get a sense of validation from others can help with self-esteem,” explains Minaa B.
As you change and grow over time, you might find that old friends aren’t able to relate to your life experiences anymore. In that case, you might gravitate towards new friends who can. That doesn’t mean your old friends can’t empathize with you, but new connections may be able to offer a deeper sense of understanding and validation, explains psychologist Dr. Kelly Vincent. “Those are the core pieces that we humans need to feel good about ourselves, our lives, and our sense of purpose,” she says. If you’re in a new place in your life—for example, maybe you’ve started a new job or became a parent—and feel like your existing friends don’t totally “get” what you’re going through, making new friends who do can improve your overall self-esteem.
It fights loneliness
A relationship you have with a person you’ve only known for a few weeks or months may not be as deep as the connection you have with a childhood best friend. Still, newer friendships can actually be more beneficial in fighting off loneliness. “There’s a lot of research that supports the idea that it’s actually not our best friendships, but rather our less established ties, that increase our sense of connection to other people,” explains therapist Jake Ernst. These kinds of relationships contribute to a greater feeling of belonging because they expand your sense of community beyond tight-knit groups.
It can feel hard to open up to others, particularly when you’re going through a tough time—so be gentle with yourself and don’t feel pressured to meet a ton of new people if you’re just not feeling up to it. Instead, try small gestures, like giving a compliment or making small talk with the other regulars at your coffee shop or yoga class, which can make you feel less lonely. “It’s helpful to turn towards others even when things are hard, because when we turn away, that’s when feelings of loneliness increase,” says Ernst.
It builds confidence
Especially if you’re not a natural social butterfly, making new friends can be an intimidating process. It takes a lot of vulnerability to put yourself out there! But doing so can lead you to feel more confident by proving to yourself that you can do it. “Adults often prevent themselves from building healthy connections because we get stuck in our heads,” Minaa B. says. “We have to reframe that negative thinking.” Instead of psyching yourself out, remind yourself of all the reasons you’re a great friend.
It’s all about having a growth mindset over a fixed mindset, she explains: “A fixed mindset says, ‘If this goes wrong, I’m never going to have friends.’ A growth mindset says, ‘If I keep putting in the effort, I may actually make a new friend.’” By taking the latter approach, you’ll feel more motivated to keep trying to meet new people and develop new relationships—which will help to boost your confidence and improve your overall mental health.
It helps you manage stress
Mental health challenges can, unfortunately, make it harder to do the things that will ultimately make you feel better—like forging connections with other people. “When you’re in situations of high stress, like anxiety, the part of your brain that lights up to make you more socially engaged can turn down,” explains Ernst. “It’s a little bit like a dimmer switch.” Even though you might feel more withdrawn when you’re stressed—which is completely valid!—connecting with friends, even in little ways (like sending social media posts back and forth or just having a nice, long hug), can help you to regulate those racing thoughts and worries.
By making new friends, you’ll grow your support system. This won’t prevent your stress levels from rising now and then (unfortunately, that’s an unavoidable part of life!), but will help you to deal with it. When you’re stressed, doing something simple with a new friend, like taking 15 minutes out of your day to grab coffee, can help lift some weight off your shoulders.
It expands your mindset
When you’re making new friendships, differences are something to celebrate. Especially if you weren’t exposed to different cultures, backgrounds, or ways of thinking as a child, making new friends as an adult can introduce you to new ideas and experiences. “When we see the diversity in how people were raised or what they believe in, it brings more diversity into our own thinking,” Dr. Vincent says. “That exposure to new things can also lead you to understand yourself better, and maybe even connect deeper to yourself than you had before.” When you know yourself better, you can gain a greater sense of self-worth, which is important for your overall mental health.
Ultimately, making new friends can help you to expand your sense of community, grow your sense of self-worth, and improve your overall mental health. And while it may feel scary or stressful to put yourself out there, just know that it’s fine to take things step by step: Saying hello to a new Bumble BFF match can be the start of a wonderful friendship.