5 ways to overcome loneliness when living in a big city

For many of us, a unique challenge of adulthood comes in the form of moving to a new city where we no longer live within walking distance of 20 of our closest friends. This abrupt transition into a new environment can stir up quite a few unwanted feelings — one, in particular, being loneliness.

At some point in our lives, we are thrust, kicking and screaming, into the confusing world of “adulthood.”

For many of us, a unique challenge of adulthood comes in the form of moving to a new city where we no longer live within walking distance of 20 of our closest friends. This abrupt transition into a new environment can stir up quite a few unwanted feelings — one, in particular, being loneliness.

Loneliness has been on the rise for decades. According to the General Social Survey, the number of Americans living with zero close friends has tripled since 1985. Yikes. This loneliness epidemic is especially prevalent in cities, which isn’t all that surprising because moving to a big city where you don’t know a soul can easily feel isolating. This is bad news for our health, too, as researchers are finding that a lack of social support can be detrimental to both physical and mental well-being. A 2015 study even found that feeling lonely may increase an individual’s mortality by 26%.

So if you’re currently struggling with loneliness, know that you aren’t alone. We all experienced a similar struggle when we first moved to a new city after graduating from college. And luckily, we found a handful of tricks that helped us expand our social circle in a city of strangers along the way. Below are five easy ways that you, too, can combat urban isolation.

1. Make exercise social

Kill two birds with one stone and get your daily workout in while also meeting new people. Whether you’re into running and opt to join one of your city’s many running clubs or prefer group fitness classes like SoulCycle, working out with others offers an excellent opportunity to make friends with like-minded individuals. Exercise also releases endorphins, and there’s no better time to make friends than when everyone is in a good mood. If the exercise class or run was especially challenging, you’ll have a great topic of discussion for your first conversation with fellow participants. What better opener than “OMG, my legs feel like jello!”

2. Prioritize face-to-face conversations

While it might be tempting to save time by interacting with others via text or, worse, through a social media post, one study found that communicating online with friends and family was not an effective alternative to offline social interactions in reducing feelings of loneliness. So the next time you’re texting with a new acquaintance, offer to continue the conversation in person by inviting them to grab a drink or a cup of coffee. Meeting face-to-face will deepen your connection and pave the way for a new, strong friendship.

And if you have close friends whom you can’t spontaneously see in person because you don’t live in the same city, talking on the phone or FaceTiming is still better than texting. Setting up a weekly call with a bestie will help you de-stress and keep you from feeling isolated.

3. Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to give back to your community, and it also provides an excellent setting for making new friends. No city has enough volunteers, and whether you’re passionate about taking care of our planet or you want to put your cooking skills to good use by helping make food for the homeless, it won’t be hard for you to find a volunteer opportunity that gets you excited.

Volunteering allows you to meet people who are generally kind and care about the same causes that you do. And it’s a lot easier to start a meaningful conversation with someone when the two of you already know that you have something in common. This is a great way to avoid the dreaded small talk that too often dominates the majority of our conversations with strangers.

4. Talk to strangers

Your parents might disagree, but striking up a conversation with a friendly face that you keep seeing at your favorite coffee shop or yoga class might be the easiest and most organic way to make a new friend. Remember in kindergarten when you weren’t afraid to walk up to another kid on the playground and say, “Let’s be friends”? The same tactic applies here. Although, you might want to think of a better opener…

People like compliments, so giving a genuine compliment is a great way to break the ice with a stranger. Chances are that you won’t always receive a positive response, and not all people will want to keep the conversation going, but don’t let that discourage you. It most likely has nothing to do with you. The more you learn to break the ice with strangers, the easier it will become, and you might end up meeting someone who will change your life forever.

5. Take advantage of apps that help you meet like-minded people

We’ve already discussed how online communication can have negative impacts on our face-to-face social interactions, but technology does have some upsides. The invention of countless apps has made it easier than ever for us to meet new people with the click of a button. Just like Tinder helps you find your next date, there are now many apps that are created to help connect people with others who share common interests.

Meetup is a popular app that facilitates face-to-face social interactions. No matter your passions or personal interests, chances are that there’s already a Meetup group set up by people just like you. Are you into experiencing new restaurants but cringe at the idea of dining alone? Meetup can help you find a group of individuals who are also looking for fellow culinary adventurers. Even if you’re into more unconventional experiences, such as group cuddling, Meetup has your back. (You can join one of their “Cuddle Party” groups today.)

This article first appeared on Swirled.