Instagram, Snapchat, blogs, Facebook, Twitter — there are more ways than ever to share our lives online, but does social media come with a hidden cost? Despite unprecedented levels of online connectedness, more people report feeling lonely than in previous generations, according to The Atlantic. One reason for the shift may be that we’re interacting with more people than ever, but that those interactions are increasingly superficial. “Poking” a friend on Facebook or retweeting her hilarious comment simply doesn’t replace a great conversation in your favorite coffee shop.
It can be especially difficult for young, 20-something women to stay in touch with friends as they disperse across the globe after college. Retraining yourself to communicate more effectively translates to stronger friendships and greater feelings of connectedness.
When you meet your best friend for cocktails and your phone buzzes, make an effort to leave it alone. Instituting a “no electronics” policy for dinner or social events ensures that you focus on the people in front of you, rather than those on the other end of your phone connection. You’ll likely find yourself laughing harder and sharing more deeply when you’re immersed in real life conversation rather than updates from your phone. This can be a tough habit to cultivate, so begin by setting your phone down for 30 minutes at a time, and work your way up to longer intervals.
Communicate Offline, Too
Social media is an excellent way to keep in touch with friends, but make sure you keep your offline connection strong. Establish a weekly phone date with your best friend or vow to meet your crew for coffee monthly. Also remember to celebrate important milestones offline. A thoughtful birthday card is much more effective than a quick note on Facebook. Similarly, sending get well gift baskets or making a hospital visit is a compassionate response to a friend’s medical crisis.
Make New Friends, and Keep the Old
Sure, you may feel that you’ll never have closer friends than your college crew. But with your core group spread across the country, things might get a little lonely. Make an effort to establish new friendships in your home area. Begin by scoping out a book group, yoga class, church group or another organization that fits your interests. When you meet someone fun, take the plunge and make a move—in this regard, making new friends is a bit like dating. Ask your potential friend to meet you for lunch or to catch a concert, and see where your friendly connection takes you.
Share Thoughtfully on Social Media
Scientific studies confirm what many of us feel: social media can easily lead to jealousy and frustration. Flipping through your college roommate’s pictures of her vacation in Italy or reacting to an acquaintance’s announcement of snagging your dream job may leave you feeling bitter. To counteract these feelings of jealousy and irritation, share your life more thoughtfully online. Before posting a status update, decide whether you’re doing it to promote yourself or make others feel bad. For example, you might be tempted to post a rude remark on Facebook when your friend ditches you. Instead, give her a call and explain why her behavior hurt your feelings. You’ll feel better and strengthen your friendship.