Your 20’s are largely touted as the most fun period of your life, full of dating and friendship, boundless energy, an astounding lack of hangovers, and looking and feeling your best. Many people romanticize their 20s as the best time in their lives and so much pop culture is wrapped up in the glory of this decade in life, but what is not often talked about is how incredibly lonely they can be.
For many young people, loneliness peaks in their 20s after they graduate from a college or university. It’s the first time in our lives where we don’t have a built-in system of friends that we see every day. High school and college foster friendships in the most ideal way, by pooling people together with similar interests through clubs, sports, majors, studies, etc, and having them see each other every day—two things that allow friendships to form rather effortlessly.
Once people graduate from their studies they enter a period where there are no built-in connections and friendships take significantly more effort. This is an effort that is stressful on top of trying to build a career in statistically the poorest time in our life. Especially when friendships that take effort often require social outings that cost money.
Added to this stress is that today, people in their 20s are on social media and constantly seeing photos of everyone else socializing and living their best lives. Even though most people recognize that these are snapshots in time, often edited, and not in any way a full picture of someone’s life, seeing most other people happy and socializing while we are not can make us feel even more isolated and alone. We naturally compare ourselves to others, whether we are cognizant of it or not. The more we see people with friends, the more we feel like a personal failure in our loneliness.
No matter how introverted you are, we are social creatures at heart and this loneliness can take a huge toll on our mental health and life satisfaction. If any of this resonates with you, first take comfort in realizing that you’re not alone. Then, try and incorporate the following actionable steps to boost your social life and overall happiness.
Foster your hobbies
It may be difficult to find the time for hobbies in your 20s. Many people are busy focusing on their careers and possibly even side hustles. But it is a fantastic idea to have a hobby that you foster out of pure enjoyment. Whether it be a sport or creative activity, you can find people that like to do the same things as you, which is a great foundation for friendship and finding like-minded people. This is essentially putting yourself back in the place of the social structure of school where there are clubs, majors, and elective classes that make it easy to find friends.
Also, be open to making friends that are older or younger than you. This may be the first time in your life that your friends aren’t the same age as you because of school and it can be wonderful to finally have friendships that are diverse in age and background. Diverse friendships are a great learning opportunity so embrace the newfound variety.
As an example, a friend of mine had a passion for fashion. He kept meeting new people in the fashion industry so often that he decided to launch his own brand of fashion accessories, and he now makes great laptop sleeves among other things.
Act like you’re already best friends
When you make new friends in your twenties, unless they’re through work, you likely won’t be seeing them every day so there’s not that extended period of time to “warm-up” to people. It may be best to pretend or act a little more extroverted than you’re used to and when you meet someone you like, act like you’re already friends.
Take wisdom from the old adages “fake it ‘til you make it” or “you have to be a friend to make a friend.” Friendship will take much more effort than you’re used to, so it’s likely to feel uncomfortable at first. Any rejection could feel similar to that experienced in dating or romantic relationships. But finding great friendships takes some trial and error, and in fact, it can feel a little like dating. Try getting out of your comfort zone and being a little more “forward” than you are normally.
Take a social media detox
Part of coping with loneliness is not only making an effort to put yourself out there, but also preserving your mental health. Even if we’re aware that many things on social media are fabricated, it still affects our mental health because we often can’t possibly discern what is real and fake. If we see other people posting photos with friends or at social gatherings it can make us feel like we’re failing.
Social media can be beneficial in the way that it can connect people of similar interests, for example, on Facebook groups. Therefore, it’s best to determine what platforms are affecting your mental health and either take a break, deactivate your accounts for a little while, or unfollow/ mute people and influencers that you find yourself in comparison with. If you haven’t done this before, think of it as an experiment. If you find your mental health hasn’t improved after a break then you can move on to other coping methods.
Talk to a licensed expert
Everyone’s experience with loneliness is unique to their life’s circumstances. You could have simply relocated to a new city or you could be isolating yourself because of mental health issues like depression or social anxiety. If the latter is familiar it’s best to talk to a licensed expert to address the root cause of your personal experience with loneliness. Both anxiety and depression are extremely (and unfortunately) common, but because they’re so familiar to mental health professionals they can often be treated with precision.
There are now ways to talk to a professional with more privacy, like online psychiatry options that could be especially beneficial to those with social anxiety or those new to the idea of mental health therapies. A psychiatrist, unlike a therapist, has the ability to prescribe you medications for something like depression or anxiety, so they could help you address any root causes with medications and find healthy paths forward with talk therapy and actionable goals.
In the end, it’s helpful to realize that loneliness is a universal experience that hits everyone at some point in life and there are many ways to navigate out of it that are unique to you. Instead of dwelling in isolation and feelings of despair, try and take actionable steps toward the community. It may take some time, trial, and effort, but friendship is one of the most rewarding things in life so try not to get discouraged too soon.