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“I haven’t hung out with anyone for a long time. It feels like I don’t know how to socialize anymore. How can I start rebuilding my social life after a period of isolation?”
Socializing is a skill. Like any skill, it gets harder if you haven’t been practicing. After a period of social isolation, your skills will probably need some work.
The good news is that you can improve quickly if you’re willing to put in the effort. In this article, you’ll learn how to start socializing again.
Take small steps that will gradually improve your social confidence. Practice making eye contact, smiling, and exchanging a few words with people around you.
- At the grocery store, smile at the clerk, make eye contact with them and say “Thank you” after paying for your groceries.
- Smile and say “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” to your neighbors when you pass them in the street.
- If you meet a colleague in the break room on a Monday morning at work, ask them if they had a good weekend.
If these steps sound too intimidating, start by getting used to spending time around people. For example, read a book in the park or sit on a bench in a busy shopping mall for a while. You’ll discover that no one will pay you much attention; to them, you are part of the scenery. This can make you less self-conscious in public.
If you spend a lot of time alone, your threat sensitivity can increase. This means that awkward moments or other peoples’ behaviors can seem much more important or meaningful than they really are. Try telling yourself, “I haven’t been socializing very much recently, so I might be hypersensitive to what others are doing.”
Give other people the benefit of the doubt and be slow to take offense. For example, if your neighbor is unusually abrupt one morning, don’t leap to the conclusion that they are angry with you. It’s more likely they are dealing with a personal problem or are just tired. As you start socializing more often, your threat sensitivity should decrease.
If it’s been a long time since you had much face-to-face contact with anyone, you might find it difficult to make spontaneous conversation.
Start by practicing your small talk skills. Most social interactions begin with trivial chitchat. It may seem boring, but small talk is the gateway to more interesting discussions and friendships.
If you’ve been isolating and staying at home most of the time, it might feel like you have nothing to talk about. You may worry that other people will think you are dull.
It can help to spend a few minutes per day keeping up with current affairs. If a conversation dries up, you can always start talking about an interesting news article you read earlier or the latest trend on social media.
You might also like to read our guide on how not to be boring.
If you have drifted from your friends, call them or send a short, positive message. If possible, ask them a question that shows you’ve paid attention to what is going on in their life. Look on their social media (if applicable) to see what they’ve been doing recently.
“Hey! How are you doing? It’s been a long time since we hung out. Hope everything is going well with your new job?”
If you get a positive response, you can then suggest catching up in person.
“Great! So good to hear that you’re doing well. I’d love to catch up if you’re around one weekend?”
Our article on how to ask people to hang out without being awkward may help.
Some people might be delighted to hear from you. Others may have moved on and not respond or give a minimal answer, or socializing might not be a priority for them right now. Try not to take it personally. Focus on friends who are available instead. Pick people who are generally patient, kind, and who won’t push you to socialize before you are ready.
When meeting up with friends, suggest an activity you can do together. If you haven’t had any face-to-face interactions for a long time, you may feel awkward around old friends, even if you used to be close. Having something to focus on can keep the conversation flowing and give you something to talk about.
You could suggest a video call instead of a face-to-face meetup if you aren’t ready to socialize in person. Do an online activity together as you talk. For example, you could play a game, do a puzzle, or take a virtual tour of a museum. Alternatively, invite your friend to your house for a coffee and low-key activity if you want to see them in person but aren’t yet ready to leave your home.
Socializing online can feel less threatening than socializing face to face. If you have completely withdrawn socially, making online friends can be a way of easing yourself back into social interaction.
You can find friends using:
- Facebook groups (look for groups for people in your local community)
- Reddit and other forums
- Friendship apps like Bumble BFF, Patook, or others listed in our guide to apps and websites for making friends
- Instagram (use hashtags to find people with similar interests)
For tips on how to turn online acquaintances into friends, see our article on how to make friends online.
When you meet up with people you haven’t seen for a long time, they might ask, “How have you been?” or “What have you been up to?” These questions are usually well-meaning, but they can make you feel awkward. It can help to prepare some answers in advance.
- “It’s been a crazy time. I’ve been so busy with work. I’m looking forward to spending time with people again!”
- “Social stuff hasn’t been a priority for me lately; I’ve had other things to deal with. It’s so good to finally catch up with friends.”
There’s no need to go into detail unless you want to explain why you’ve been isolating. If someone keeps asking you for more details, it’s OK to say, “I’d rather not talk about that” and change the topic.
If you’ve been isolating yourself for a long time, your hobbies are probably solitary. If you have a hobby you do alone, try doing it with others.
For example, if you like to read, join a book club. If you like to cook, take a cookery class. Look on meetup.com to find groups in your area. Try to find a class or meetup that gets together on a regular basis so that you can get to know like-minded people over time.
Mental health problems can lead to isolation, and isolation can make mental health problems worse. Getting help from a doctor or therapist can help break the cycle.
We recommend BetterHelp for online therapy, since they offer unlimited messaging and a weekly session, and is much cheaper than going to an actual therapist's office. They are also cheaper than Talkspace for what you get. You can learn more about BetterHelp here.
For example, if you have depression, you may have low self-esteem and very little energy, so you stay at home and isolate yourself. This can make you feel lonely, which in turn can make your depression worse.
Social isolation can also be an issue for people with anxiety disorders, substance misuse disorders, and other mental health problems. If you’d like to learn more about these conditions, The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has guides to mental health topics on its website.
If you need some support with your mental health, you could:
- Ask your doctor for advice
- See a therapist (use the GoodTherapy directory to find a practitioner)
- Use a listening service such as 7Cups
- Get support from a mental health organization such as the NIMH
Social isolation can damage your confidence and reduce your self-esteem. These feelings can hold you back from going out and interacting with others.
It can help to challenge the negative, unhelpful thoughts that pop up when you think about socializing.
- Is this thought objectively true?
- Am I making generalizations?
- Am I using all-or-nothing language (e.g., “always,” “never”)?
- What’s the evidence against this thought?
- What’s a realistic, constructive alternative to this thought?
Thought: “I can’t hold a conversation anymore. I’ve forgotten how to talk to people.”
Realistic alternative: “Yes, I’ve been out of practice for a while, but although my social skills are rusty, they’ll soon get better when I start using them again. I know from experience that the more I talk to people, the more comfortable I feel in social situations.”
Sign up for a course that requires upfront payment or schedule a regular activity with someone else. Committing yourself in this way can give you extra motivation to go out and stay socially active, which is helpful if you have a tendency to procrastinate or convince yourself that you’ll go out “sometime soon.”
For example, if you’ve agreed to meet a friend every Thursday evening to go to the gym, you may think twice before canceling because you don’t want to let them down.
Unless there’s a very good reason to decline the invitation, say “Yes” whenever someone asks you to hang out or go to an event. Challenge yourself to stay for an hour. If you aren’t enjoying yourself, you can go home. The more practice you get, the more comfortable you’ll feel in social situations.
However, if you feel anxious, try to wait until your anxiety drops before you leave. When you deliberately stay in social situations that make you anxious, you’ll learn that you can cope with them. This may improve your general confidence.
You might also like to read our guide on what to do if you’re worried about an upcoming event.
If you find socializing very difficult, you might compare yourself to more socially competent people. This can make you feel inferior and self-conscious. In extreme cases, these feelings can make you feel hopeless and drive you to withdraw even further.
But many people, even if they appear relaxed and confident, struggle to deal with social situations. For example, social anxiety is common, affecting roughly 7% of Americans. It can help to remind yourself that it’s impossible to know whether someone is truly happy and at ease.
If you often make comparisons, read this article on how to overcome social insecurity.
Common reasons for social isolation include:
- Mental health problems, such as social anxiety disorder or depression
- Big life events or challenges that consume a lot of time and energy, e.g., moving home, having a baby, caring for an ill parent, or getting a divorce
- Experience of bullying or rejection
- A demanding job with long hours
- A general lack of self-confidence; if you feel inferior to others, you may prefer to be alone
If you’re an introvert, you might be vulnerable to social isolation if you don’t have the chance to socialize in a way that feels comfortable to you.
As an introvert, you are more likely to prefer low-key get-togethers and quality time with a small number of close friends rather than busy social events in noisy places like clubs or bars.
Although introversion doesn’t necessarily cause social isolation — introverts often enjoy having friends — it can feel easier to withdraw if you’ve tried and failed to find friends who understand your needs.