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What To Do When Therapy Isn’t An Option

What To Do When Therapy Isn’t An Option

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It’s no surprise that we are big advocates of therapy here at Connecte. Therapy can help us manage stress and anxiety, improve our mood and well-being, and cope with life’s ups and downs. It can also be a powerful tool to help us meet our personal and professional goals and reach our potential. Above all, therapy provides a way to feel seen, heard, and understood.

That said, we’re also aware that therapy isn’t always a realistic option. It can take a financial toll, especially when money is tight and insurance coverage is limited. In the public sector, there are often long waiting lists. Therapy also involves a substantial commitment of our time and energy (contrary to expectations, therapy isn’t “just talking’ and it can be hard work!). And sometimes, we’re just not in a place where we’re ready to face past experiences or discuss the things that are weighing heavily on us.

There may come a point when you feel like you could benefit from taking matters into your own hands and taking ownership of your mental health and well-being. Whether you’ve been in therapy before, plan on trying it out for the first time, or are just looking for some strategies you can use to help you cope and maximize your potential, read on to learn how you can move forward when therapy isn’t an option with a few tips from some of the psychologists here at Connecte.

1. Develop a self-care routine

Self-care isn’t selfish, and it isn’t a passing trend or fad. At Connecte, we’re always striving to find ways to incorporate little acts of self-care into daily life and encourage our clients to do the same. It’s a great way to practice #lifetherapy. Coming up with a sustainable self-care routine can help us cope with distress and improve the overall quality of our lives.

One of my favorite ways to help clients come up with a personalized self-care plan is to brainstorm priorities and activities across different domains, including our physical health (e.g., walking outside, attending a yoga class, coming up with a bedtime routine, eating regular, nourishing meals), our emotional well-being (e.g., mindfulness, meditation, journaling), our need for human connection (e.g., seeing friends and family, appreciating small interactions with strangers), and our thirst for creativity (e.g., painting, drawing, reading, interior design). Maryann Joseph also highlights the importance of pursuing creativity: “Take your pain, take your feelings, and make something with them. Channel them into something creative: write, play music, do some wild, cathartic bedroom dancing, plant something, grow something, build something, repair something, make a fiery tomato sauce.”

Self-care ultimately allows us to learn about ourselves, lead a more fulfilling life, and take care of our basic needs and values. Finding ways to incorporate it into your routine can therefore give you a head start for therapy if or when you’re ready.  

2. Create your personal library

Self-help books and resources that guide us through specific therapeutic exercises or approaches can be really helpful. Like anything, this works best when we actually stick with it. If being consistent is a struggle, it can help to set aside a time each week to check in with yourself and catch up on some reading material or exercises. You can even check in with yourself at the same time each week, much like the way you would in therapy. Finding a therapist who can support and guide you through your own self-help exercises can also be extremely beneficial. Luckily, there are so many great resources available, both online and in print. Some of our favorites include Mind Over Mood and Self-Esteem. Danit Nitka also recommends Reinventing Your Life, which is a schema-therapy based read that is aimed at self-guided change. Online, AnxietyBC and the Centre for Clinical Interventions have many helpful handouts and worksheets for coping with anxiety and depression, building assertiveness, cultivating self-compassion, and targeting self-critical views of ourselves and bodies.  Looking for more? You can always find some of our other favorite resources here.

3. Turn to technology

There seems to be an app for everything these days. And while this can make it easier to incorporate things like relaxation and mindfulness into our routines, it also means putting in the time to find the right apps that will work for you. With the increasing evidence that mindful breathing and relaxation are helpful for treating depression, it really is worth it. Some of our favorites include breethe, Headspace, InsightTimer, and Simply Being. Expectful is another resource to guide you through struggles related to fertility, pregnancy, and motherhood. There are also apps and online resources to help you make new friends and expand your support system, including Meetup, MeetMe, Bumble BFF and Peanut (for new mothers).

At the same time, it’s a careful balance. And sometimes it helps to remember to “disconnect to reconnect”. Making an active effort to check our phones, e-mails, and social media less often, or to unfollow accounts, blogs, or posts that may be triggering for a variety of reasons can do wonders for our mental state and our ability to focus on the things that truly fulfill us in the long run.

4. Attend a group

Group therapy can be a really helpful way to work through issues and, in many cases, is often recommended as either an adjunct to or starting point for individual therapy. Maeve O’Leary Barrett and Stéphanie Landry recommend looking into free support groups or workshops that are available through AMI-Quebec, REVIVRE, ANEB (for difficulties related to eating disorders), or the Mont Royal Cemetery (for grief counselling).

Lisa Linardatos also recommends taking part in an extracurricular group and making sure we set aside time for the kind of play that is typically only nurtured in childhood. Whether it’s participating in a team sport or even a bounce class, a creative arts or improv class, a public speaking workshop, or a book club, joining a group activity can be a helpful way to seek out meaningful social interactions, improve our energy and motivation, and build confidence while learning a new skill. Regardless of whether it’s group therapy or simply therapeutic, having an activity outside of the home and feeling socially connected can be so important for our sense of well-being.

5. Open up to close others

Speaking of feeling socially connected, spending time with loved ones, including friends, partners, and family members, is so essential for our mental health. Simcha Samuel says: “Consider sharing your feelings with those you trust. Notice if there are a couple of people in particular with whom you tend to feel especially accepted, understood or supported. Make sure to let them know how much their support means to you and what about their support in particular you have found especially helpful.”. If you’re wondering who to open up to, Jodie Richardson recommends watching this video on the difference between empathy and sympathy. She adds that speaking with a friend can also be a really powerful way to learn how to be a “wise, empathic friend to ourselves and our emotions”.

If you find yourself struggling to find new friends or maintain the friendships you already have, you can always learn more about my work on friendships here. And if calling a friend isn’t a possibility, there are phone lines that offer a listening ear, words of encouragement, or suggestions for social and community level resources.

6. Challenge your assumptions

Sometimes, our resistance to therapy has less to do with practical obstacles and more to do with personal barriers. It’s not uncommon to have biases about what therapy actually looks like or involves. This can be true regardless of whether we have past experiences with therapy.

  • For so many, the thought of entering therapy can feel like a lifelong commitment. In reality, the goal of most therapy experiences is to help you find ways to cope in your everyday life and to essentially become your own therapist. And while every person and experience is different, it’s absolutely possible to make progress in a limited number of sessions.
  • If the cost of therapy is prohibitive, it might help to know that some clinics offer sliding scales (often with an intern therapist) where the fee for each session is based on your financial situation. It’s also not uncommon for therapy to take place every 2 weeks as opposed to every week, especially as things progress.
  • Finally, if you’re concerned about not “clicking” with a therapist, know that it’s all about fit. Research actually suggests that the relationship between a client and therapist actually matters more than the type of therapy that’s practiced! It’s perfectly okay to find someone else with whom you are more at ease and comfortable. Just try to recognize if you might be too quick to give up on a new person or experience.

Challenging some of the assumptions and unhelpful ideas and expectations you have about therapy can ultimately free up space to help you recognize whether you might actually be ready to take the next step of seeing a psychologist or therapist. Until then, focusing on self-care and meaningful connections and using the many resources at your disposal can be an important way to prioritize your health and happiness.


Miriam Kirmayer is a PhD Candidate in the Clinical Psychology program at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and a therapist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


References

Cuijpers, P., Donker, T., van Straten, A., Li, J., & Andersson, G. (2010). Is guided self-help as effective as face-to-face psychotherapy for depression and anxiety disorders? A systematic review and meta-analysis of comparative outcome studies. Psychological medicine40, 1943-1957.

Jain, S., Shapiro, S. L., Swanick, S., Roesch, S. C., Mills, P. J., Bell, I., & Schwartz, G. E. (2007). A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation versus relaxation training: effects on distress, positive states of mind, rumination, and distraction. Annals of behavioral medicine33, 11-21. 

Lambert, M. J., & Barley, D. E. (2001). Research summary on the therapeutic relationship and psychotherapy outcome. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 38, 357-361.  

Shakya, H. B., & Christakis, N. A. (2017). Association of Facebook use with compromised well-being: a longitudinal study. American journal of epidemiology185, 203-211.

How co-rumination turns healthy relationships toxic

How co-rumination turns healthy relationships toxic

Who do you turn to when you’re going through a challenge or difficult time? What do your conversations sound like? Do you know what you actually find helpful? And can you spot the difference between helping and hindering?

Research has shown time and time again just how important it is for us to feel socially connected to and supported by the people around us. In fact, what matters more than the number of friends we have, or even how realistic their advice may be, is that we feel as though we are supported. That is, that we are satisfied with our perception of the input or encouragement we receive. Yet not all forms of support are created equal. And sometimes, the line between helping and hindering can be blurred, especially when conversations veer towards venting.

As comforting as it may be to have someone to turn to when we need to vent or debrief, it can be a slippery slope towards co-rumination. It’s possible you’ve never come across the idea of co-rumination, but chances are you’re familiar with rumination. When going through a difficult time, it’s not uncommon to repeatedly mull over events that took place (as well as those that have yet to happen) and the things that were said (or not said). Sometimes this process can be helpful—it’s a way of thinking things through, weighing our options, and figuring out new, creative solutions. But it can also make us feel stuck and be less inclined to actually do anything constructive about the situation and our associated distress. The deeper we are in a cycle of rumination, the harder it can be to recognize it’s happening and dig our way out.

This process can be even more difficult to spot when it happens in the context of our closest relationships. Co-rumination involves repeatedly discussing and rehashing our problems and difficult feelings with someone else without coming up with a solution or resolution. The issue is, talking with a friend, partner, or family member about our problems can feel really good. It can make us feel supported, bring us closer together, and even trick us into believing we are doing something productive about our situation. In the long run, however, it can hold us back from moving forward and actually lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

How can you spot co-rumination?

1. Know the signs

A good place to start is to recognize the difference between sharing and ruminating. Disclosing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences is an important way to build closeness and trust in any relationship. But if you find yourself talking about the same experiences over and over again, particularly those that involve difficult emotions like anger, sadness, or envy, it can help to ask yourself the following questions to see if you’re caught in a cycle of co-rumination:

  • Is this a new problem?
  • Have I/we spoken about this before?
  • Am I speculating about things that have yet to happen?
  • Do I have any new information that I haven’t shared or discussed?

2. Learn your patterns

With time, it helps to become mindful about your own patterns as well as those that tend to develop within friendships. We each have our own sensitivities, vulnerabilities, and strengths. Certain topics are likely to get us going and specific people may just be easier to open up to. Take a closer look at your behavior and learn your own triggers—this can help you spot co-rumination if or when it starts to unfold.

  • Are there certain topics you tend to ruminate about (e.g., work, romantic relationships, family problems, financial worries, health concerns)?
  • Are you more likely to co-ruminate in certain settings (e.g., when chatting at home or on the phone, after a long day at work, after you’ve had a drink or two)?
  • Are there certain people or friends you tend to co-ruminate with?

3. Recruit close others

Even when we know the signs to look out for, it can still be difficult to catch ourselves in the act. That’s why it helps to recruit the people closest to us, especially those with whom we have a tendency to co-ruminate. Remind your friend or partner that you will always be there to listen to and support them, and that you appreciate all they have done for you. Let them know that you’ve noticed your tendency to co-ruminate together and ask them to gently point it out when they feel you’re veering towards rumination. These kinds of discussions also give you the chance to have a bigger conversation about the kinds of support you might find helpful and how you can be a better or more supportive friend or partner in return.

How can you move from co-rumination to collaboration?

1. Catch yourself co-ruminating and be compassionate

Often, simply becoming more aware of our behaviors and patterns can be enough to help us move from co-rumination to actual solution. The more you focus on recognizing co-rumination as it happens, the easier it’ll be to shift towards a problem-solving approach. Just make sure to be compassionate, both towards yourself and your friend or partner, when you do catch yourself in the act. Instead of judging yourself or being overly self-critical, treat it like a game and give yourself a pat on the back for getting so good at recognizing the difference between venting or ruminating and problem solving.

2. Weigh the short and long-term consequences

There’s usually a good reason why we do the things we do, even if our behaviors might seem illogical or even destructive from the outside looking in. That’s why it helps to validate why you may be tempted to co-ruminate, whether it’s to process difficult emotions or to feel that sense of closeness in your relationship. These benefits, however, do not take away from the reality that in the long run, co-rumination isn’t actually all that helpful for our sense of well-being or even the problem itself. Longer term, co-rumination can lead to anxiety and depression or exacerbate symptoms if we're already struggling. It also has the potential to drive certain people away, especially when a relationship is unbalanced and conversations tend to be overly focused on one person’s difficulties or life. Having a clear understanding of the reasons why you are working towards change is an important step in actually being able to do so.

3. Switch to active problem-solving

Ask yourself if there is something you can do to change or improve the situation right now. Can you actually do something to resolve the problem in some small way? Perhaps it involves having a frank discussion with a colleague to clear up a misunderstanding. Or maybe it’s apologizing for something you wished you hadn’t said to a partner in the heat of an argument. Often, taking a step towards actually doing something about the problem you’re facing can be much more helpful than venting, not to mention empowering. Of course, there are times when there will be little you can do to change your current situation or circumstances. In these cases, it can be helpful to reflect on what you would like to do differently in the future to prevent similar situations from happening or to cope with them when they do arise. 

4. Strengthen your other coping strategies

Trying to minimize your tendency to co-ruminate without coming up with other more constructive ways of coping will likely leave you feeling overwhelmed and even lonely. That’s why it’s equally important to find new ways to cope with whatever problem you are facing. Develop a sustainable self-care routine, work through the pros and cons of possible solutions, and turn to healthy distractions when all else fails. And don’t lose sight of how important it is to find new ways to feel connected in your relationships. Focus on having meaningful discussions, try a new activity together, share your dreams or team up to tackle a shared goal. Above all, work together to establish new ways to better support each other through the ups and downs that life inevitably throws your way.

5. Strike a balance

With all that said, there will still be times when all you really need is just the space to open up to a friend and let off some steam. Venting isn’t always counterproductive. It becomes an issue when it happens repeatedly, especially at the expense of other more constructive approaches. If you need to vent or support a friend who is doing so, go ahead! Just make sure you’re aware of how much space this is taking up in your conversations and relationship. If need be, work together to set limits so that your interactions aren’t entirely dominated by co-rumination. Finding a healthy balance will make your conversations that much more helpful and supportive, both in the immediate and longer term.

The original version of this post appeared on Miriam Kirmayer’s blog with Psychology Today, Casual to Close. Learn more about Miriam’s work on friendship here.


Miriam Kirmayer is a PhD Candidate in the Clinical Psychology program at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and a therapist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


References

Rose, A. J. (2002). Co–rumination in the friendships of girls and boys. Child development, 73(6), 1830-1843.

Calmes, C. A., & Roberts, J. E. (2008). Rumination in interpersonal relationships: Does co-rumination explain gender differences in emotional distress and relationship satisfaction among college students?. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32(4), 577-590.

Rose, A. J., Carlson, W., & Waller, E. M. (2007). Prospective associations of co-rumination with friendship and emotional adjustment: considering the socioemotional trade-offs of co-rumination. Developmental psychology, 43(4), 1019.

Waller, E. M., & Rose, A. J. (2010). Adjustment trade-offs of co-rumination in mother–adolescent relationships. Journal of Adolescence, 33(3), 487-497.

4 reasons why travel is good for our mental health

4 reasons why travel is good for our mental health

For those of us who love to travel, the days we spend exploring are just about as meaningful and fulfilling as they come. Traveling is a time to disconnect from the daily hassles and stress of work, experience the way other cultures live, try new flavours (a highlight, of course), and, ideally, escape the cold Northeastern winters. It is also becoming increasingly clear that traveling has a number of psychological benefits. Planning ahead and taking that vacation we have been dreaming about can have a positive impact on our well-being, relationships, and maybe even our personality.

1. Traveling can improve our mood and well-being

We all have an intuitive sense that taking a break or trip can help us feel recharged. The good news is that this feeling is supported by research. Taking a vacation actually does improve our well-being and mood (1-3). In addition to helping us feel happier and more relaxed, traveling can reduce burnout and make us feel like we are better able to handle our jobs when we return (4-6). In addition to improving our mood, taking time off work for a vacation is associated with a number of better physical outcomes, including fewer health complaints and improved sleep (2,4,7).

In most studies, we return to our pre-trip state about 3 to 4 weeks after returning home (2,5). However, even if some of the benefits are short-lived, taking a vacation can really help us cope in times of stress and there are plenty of other reasons why travel is good for our well-being.

2. Traveling can have a positive impact on our relationships

Building new connections and strengthening the relationships we already have is a big reason why so many of us are passionate about traveling (8).

For starters, it can sometimes feel much easier to meet, and even approach, new people when we are in a new environment and operating outside of our normal routine and comfort zone. Whether it’s through an organized tour or a chance encounter with a stranger at a café or museum, engaging with fellow travelers or locals can lead to meaningful interactions and even long-lasting friendships. There are also a lot of great apps and resources available for those who are committed to meeting new people while on the road, including Meetup, TravBuddy, and backpackr.

Traveling with our partner or family can also improve our existing relationships. Taking a vacation with our partner or spouse can actually increase our relationship satisfaction (9). Moreover, given that participating in leisure activities as a family can improve feelings of connectedness, it is likely that bringing the kids along can have a positive impact on family functioning (8). At the very least, traveling as a family will no doubt lead to stories and experiences that will be remembered for years to come.

3. Traveling can help us to practice gratitude

Traveling is also a great way to help us recognize how fortunate we are. Through interacting with different people and ways of life, traveling can help us realize our privilege and all of the things we have to be thankful for. Gratitude has been shown time and time again to help us live happier and healthier lives (10). Reflecting on the differences between the places we visit and our life back home, and being grateful for all that we have, including the means to travel, can help us feel more content. As a bonus, traveling and having the opportunity to meet others from different cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic backgrounds can also help us to be more accepting of diversity and compassionate toward others.

4. Traveling can impact our personality

If that’s not enough, research has also shown us that traveling can impact our personality in some pretty interesting and unexpected ways! We know that personality traits, such as openness to new experiences, can influence how likely someone is to seek out travel opportunities. Even more interesting, is that taking an extended trip can actually influence our personality. For example, long-term travel abroad can lead to increases in our openness to experiences, agreeableness (e.g., warm, empathetic, giving), and emotional stability (i.e., easygoing) (11). Oftentimes, the driving force behind these changes are the experiences and interactions we have with others while on the road.

Taken together, traveling can be an exciting and fulfilling experience, especially when we seek out meaningful interactions and connections. That being said, traveling isn't always in the cards. This is often true during the times when we feel like we need a vacation the most. The good news is that there are things we can do to recreate some of the benefits of a vacation while on a staycation.

  • The main benefits of travel come from disconnecting from the stressors of our everyday life. If you are planning a staycation, make sure you disconnect in the same way you would if you were actually out of town. Refrain from using your phone or the internet (especially for work-related tasks).
  • Take care of yourself. Eat well, sleep in, and try to be physically active. These are all things we are better at prioritizing while away on vacation and a big reason why we find travel so relaxing (3).
  • Schedule social and leisure time. As tempting as it is to stay home and relax on the couch for a week, chances are this isn’t going to help you recharge. Instead, pretend to be a tourist in your own city. Try new restaurants, check out the local museum exhibit, and get lost wandering around a new part of town. Setting aside time for leisure activities is a large part of what allows us to feel the positive impacts of vacation and travel (12).

Ultimately, regardless of whether it is a staycation or vacation, the key is to try and be mindful and in the moment. It can be tempting to count down the number of days we have left, or to feel pressure to document each moment so that we can share it on social media. The more we can resist these urges and focus on the present, the more likely it is that our vacation will end up being the experience we hoped for. Finally, planning our staycation or trip is a large part of the fun, so remember to enjoy this process too!


Miriam Kirmayer is a PhD Candidate in the Clinical Psychology program at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and a therapist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


REFERENCES

1. Chen, C. C., & Petrick, J. F. (2013). Health and wellness benefits of travel experiences a literature review. Journal of Travel Research, 52, 709-719.

2. Strauss-Blasche, G., Ekmekcioglu, C., & Marktl, W. (2000). Does vacation enable recuperation? Changes in well-being associated with time away from work. Occupational Medicine, 50, 167-172.

3. Strauss‐Blasche, G., Reithofer, B., Schobersberger, W., Ekmekcioglu, C., & Wolfgang, M. (2005). Effect of vacation on health: moderating factors of vacation outcome. Journal of Travel Medicine,12, 94-101.

4. Fritz, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2006). Recovery, well-being, and performance-related outcomes: The role of workload and vacation experiences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 936.

5. Westman, M., & Eden, D. (1997). Effects of a respite from work on burnout: vacation relief and fade-out. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82, 516.

6. Westman, M., & Etzion, D. (2001). The impact of vacation and job stress on burnout and absenteeism. Psychology & Health, 16, 595-606.

7. Gump, B. B., & Matthews, K. A. (2000). Are vacations good for your health? The 9-year mortality experience after the multiple risk factor intervention trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62, 608-612.

8. Pearce, P. L. (2012). Relationships and the tourism experience: challenges for quality-of-life assessments. In Handbook of Tourism and Quality-of-Life Research (pp. 9-29). Springer Netherlands.

9. Durko, A. M., & Petrick, J. F. (2013). Family and Relationship Benefits of Travel Experiences A Literature Review.  Journal of Travel Research, 52, 720-730.

10. Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical psychology review, 30, 890-905.

11. Zimmermann, J., & Neyer, F. J. (2013). Do we become a different person when hitting the road? Personality development of sojourners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 515.

12. de Bloom, J., Nawijn, J., Geurts, S., Kinnunen, U., & Korpela, K. (2016). Holiday travel, staycations, and subjective well-being. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 1-16.

How to make friends when you don't have play dates: The importance of friendships in adulthood

How to make friends when you don't have play dates: The importance of friendships in adulthood

We often hear about the importance of friendships for children’s development and well-being. For example, interactions with friends provide a key context in which children develop their social skills and moral reasoning (1,2). We also know that friends can help children do better in school (3), protect them from being bullied (4), and act as a buffer against symptoms of anxiety and depression (5). The good news is that, between play dates, school, camp, and extracurricular activities, youth are regularly surrounded by their peers and friendships are often formed naturally.

However, what happens as we age and life becomes increasingly complicated and busy? Once we leave school, launch our careers, and begin to invest more in our romantic relationships and families, friendships can sometimes take a backseat to other priorities and stressors. That being said, we are beginning to better understand the benefits of having good friends well into adulthood.

The importance of friends in adulthood

Just like they do in childhood and adolescence, having good friends can help adults lead happier and healthier lives (6). In addition to protecting against symptoms of depression and loneliness (7), friends provide emotional support, practical help, and problem-solving strategies (8) that help us cope with many of the stressful life events that occur in adulthood, including conflict with family members and partners (6). Additionally, because friendships are voluntary, and friends willingly choose to connect with and support one another on an ongoing basis, friendships are a powerful form of validation that can help individuals to feel valued and loved.

The paradox is that although friends can help us cope with life’s ups and downs, the busyness and structure of adulthood does not always allow us to make new friends, let alone invest in the friendships we already have. Moreover, given that changes in friendship networks are normal, it is unsurprising that, at some point or another, many adults may find themselves wanting to expand their social circle.

For many, the thoughts and feelings associated with making new friends as an adult can be anxiety producing or, at the very least, confusing. Unlike childhood, there isn’t necessarily a structure in place to facilitate friendship-making, nor are there clear-cut rules for how to go about making friends in adulthood. As a result, questions about the best way to go about making friends as an adult (e.g., What should I say? What if they don’t like me?) are bound to arise. One of the most frequent questions, however, is Where do I find new friends?

Where to find new friends in adulthood

As a starting point, it is always a good idea to use your existing social network. Take inventory of the people you enjoy spending time with (e.g., friends, cousins, co-workers) and see if you they can introduce you to anyone. If being explicit about your desire to make new friends is a bit daunting, why not suggest a group activity and ask them to bring along a few of their other friends?

After you have exhausted your existing social network, it is time to step outside of your comfort zone. The best way to do this is to identify activities that you would like to engage in and, ideally, share with a friend. Typically, the root of friendship is an underlying similarity with respect to one’s interests and values (9).

A great way to meet people is to sign up for an activity or class that you have been wanting to try. Whether it is a cooking class, book club, or running group, trying a new activity will allow you to meet people with similar interests while having fun! Here are some specific suggestions about where to find social activities:

  • Sign up for an activity related to your current life stage (e.g., parenthood, retirement). Often times, going through a meaningful, challenging, or exciting transition with someone can facilitate the closeness and intimacy that exist in friendships.
  • Explore activities that are available in your neighborhood. These are often advertised in local newspapers, shops, or online. This is a great option when you are looking to make friends, since living near each other makes it easier to maintain a friendship over time.
  • Volunteering is another great way to meet people while giving back to your community or a cause you are passionate about. Locally, the Volunteer Bureau of Montreal has a fantastic website where you can search for organizations looking for volunteers by neighborhood, type of activity, or population.
  • Online communities or apps can also help you expand your social circle. Meet up is a useful website where you can sign up to attend local events catering to a wide variety of interests (e.g., fitness, hiking, dance, languages, photography). There are even groups specifically created for people looking to make new friends! For those who are tech-savvy, apps also exist to help you connect with others much like the way you would in online dating. Women in mind is a local resource devoted to connecting women with each other that we recently featured on our Facebook page. Bumble BFF, MeetMe, and Girlfriend Social are other options as well.

Putting in the effort

Finally, what happens when you are ready to initiate a friendship with someone? It is really common to assume that friendships just happen or develop automatically, but that isn’t always the case. Relationships, including friendships, take work. The best way to approach making friends is to remember that this is a process. Start small, by greeting a familiar face, and build from there. Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to successfully making friends as an adult, thinking about what we look for in our friends will help guide your behaviour.

First, friends often share important or personal information with each other. This process of self-disclosure is how we build intimacy and trust in our relationships. That being said, when you are pursuing a new friendship, you don't want to go overboard and spill your deepest, darkest, secrets right away. Start small by sharing stories or insight into your thoughts and feelings when appropriate and make sure to show an interest in the other person.

Next, find opportunities to do things together. One of the main ways friends connect with each other is through shared activities and experiences. If there are opportunities to work together during an activity, go for it! You can also suggest getting together for an activity you think you will both enjoy (e.g., going to see the movie about the book you have been reading). If you aren’t comfortable asking someone to spend time with you one-on-one, why not make it a group outing and invite others?

From there, it is important to remember that we expect our friends to be reliable and trustworthy. An important way to show others that they can count on you is to be true to your word and follow through on any promises made. If you say that you will call or offer to arrange plans, make sure you do so!

Finally, positive friendships are characterized by reciprocity or sharing. Although good friends don't always keep such an explicit score count, making sure you are both putting equal effort into the friendship and providing support to one another are important ways of establishing balance in the friendship.

A few final tips…

If you have tried to seek out new opportunities and are still having trouble making friends, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Pay attention to how you interpret rejection. If you automatically assume others do not like you, you will likely end up feeling down and will be less inclined to put yourself out there in the future. Instead, try to come up with alternative interpretations – Is it possible they had another reason for saying no?
  • If you are still having trouble, use the resources at your disposal. There are some great books out there (10) and individual or group therapy can help you feel more comfortable approaching others and asserting yourself.

Above all, be kind to yourself. Remember, this process is difficult for a lot of people and it takes time to develop trust and intimacy in all relationships. Success should not be defined by the number of new friends you make, but rather by the meaningful interactions you have, the quality of the friendships you form, and your willingness to put yourself out there. Even though it can be daunting, it is so worth it. It is never too late to make friends – So go ahead and set up your very own play date. 


Miriam Kirmayer is a PhD Candidate in the Clinical Psychology program at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and a therapist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.



References

1. Bukowski, William M., Andrew F. Newcomb, and Willard W. Hartup. The company they keep: Friendships in childhood and adolescence. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

2. Barry, C. M., & Wentzel, K. R. (2006). Friend influence on prosocial behavior: The role of motivational factors and friendship characteristics. Developmental psychology, 42, 153.

3. Wentzel, K. R., Barry, C. M., & Caldwell, K. A. (2004). Friendships in Middle School: Influences on Motivation and School Adjustment. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 195.

4. Hodges, E. V., Boivin, M., Vitaro, F., & Bukowski, W. M. (1999). The power of friendship: protection against an escalating cycle of peer victimization. Developmental Psychology, 35, 94.

5. Bukowski, W. M., Laursen, B., & Hoza, B. (2010). The snowball effect: Friendship moderates escalations in depressed affect among avoidant and excluded children. Development and psychopathology, 22, 749-757. 

6. Walen, H. R., & Lachman, M. E. (2000). Social support and strain from partner, family, and friends: Costs and benefits for men and women in adulthood. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 17, 5-30.

7. Carmichael, C. L., Reis, H. T., & Duberstein, P. R. (2015). In your 20s it’s quantity, in your 30s it’s quality: The prognostic value of social activity across 30 years of adulthood. Psychology and aging, 30, 95-105. doi:10.1037/pag0000014

8. Strough, J., McFall, J. P., Flinn, J. A., & Schuller, K. L. (2008). Collaborative everyday problem solving among same-gender friends in early and later adulthood. Psychology and aging, 23, 517. 

9. McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., & Cook, J. M. (2001). Birds of a feather: Homophily in social networks. Annual review of sociology, 415-444.

10. Demarais, A., & White, V. (2007). First impressions: What you don't know about how others see you. Bantam.