For some guys it can be easy to stay quiet about what’s troubling them, possibly never speaking a word of it to anyone. But, it’s important to recognise that effective communication and strong social bonds have a huge impact on wellbeing, as social support can help reduce stress and ward off depression.
However, to further complicate things, many men also experience heightened social isolation, leaving them lacking meaningful connections in their lives. This isolation negatively impacts both physical and mental health, with links to increased risks of health conditions and reduced life expectancy.
Breaking out of isolation by connecting with other men is challenging but vitally important so here are nine tips to help you forge closer relationships through improved communication and social bonding.
1. Spend quality time together
Meeting up with friends and really spending time together chatting, free of distractions, is the key to maintaining closeness. Worryingly, 27% of adults in the UK say they feel lonely some or all of the time and 70% say they have felt lonely at some point in the last month.
Make the time to grab a coffee or drink, invite a mate over for the match or consider cooking a meal together. Engage in open conversation and enjoy each other’s company. Strong social connections release chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin in the brain that improve mood and mental wellbeing.
2. Share hobbies and interests
Find hobbies and activities you and a close friend or friends all enjoy and bond over them. Whether it’s working on DIY projects, fixing up a car or gaming, sharing interests gives you a reason to connect and something to discuss. Tinkering on a project side by side allows for casual chat and a chance to provide encouragement and advice to one another.
For example, if you’re both motor enthusiasts, work together on sprucing up a car restoration project. Spend a Saturday with the bonnet up, checking hoses and belts, changing the oil, rotating tyres or repairing trim. You’ll inevitably end up chatting about your dream cars, comparing models you have driven or the vehicle you always wanted.
When issues arise, you can turn to restoration experts for guidance on parts selection, repair techniques or troubleshooting mysterious problems. Furthermore, using interactive diagrams, videos and a community forum that you find online can help you build more social connections and get that motor back in working order in no time.
3. Engage in active listening
According to a 2021 survey conducted by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, 83% of people think it’s more socially acceptable to discuss mental health than five years ago, and 69% of people are more aware of mental health issues themselves than five years ago.
So whether you are experiencing some mental health troubles or you suspect your friends are, it’s important to pay close attention when your mates are speaking by making eye contact, avoiding distractions and asking follow up questions.
Don’t just wait for your turn to speak. Make an effort to understand other perspectives and respond with empathy and show you’re engaged through body language like nodding. Let your mates know you value what they have to say.
4. Read body language
Look for body language cues to understand how your mates really feel and interpret social interactions. Things like eye contact, tone of voice, tenseness and posture can provide an insight into someone’s emotional state and you should try to respond accordingly with sensitivity and support. Watch for changes in a friend’s or relative’s behaviour or social withdrawal which could indicate depression or stress.
5. Be open about life
Don’t be afraid to start meaningful chats and discussions about life, experiences, thoughts and feelings. Talking openly about what really matters fosters closeness and emotional support, while discussing challenges you face can help find solutions and ease difficulties. While it may feel uncomfortable at first it gets easier with time and practice.
Speaking about difficulties you face reduces stigma, raises awareness and allows others to offer support or spot signs that you are having a difficult time again in the future. Your openness may even encourage someone else to share what he’s going through, helping to build understanding and solidarity.
The government says it’s doing what it can to help reduce it in our society. It recently published a Tackling Loneliness annual report in March 2023, promising the unlocking up to £30 million to increase volunteering opportunities and reduce loneliness.
6. Encourage and compliment others
Sometimes a simple piece of encouragement or a compliment can make a world of difference. Offer compliments and words of encouragement to your mates to strengthen your bonds and support each other. If a friend seems down, lift them up with kind words and motivation; let them know you notice and appreciate them. Positivity breeds positivity!
7. Check in with mates on a regular basis
Make an effort to check-in on your mates regularly to see how they’re doing and if they need any support; even a quick call, text or pint can make a difference. Let them know you’re there for them if they want to chat about anything, from money anxieties to the latest cricket scores. Regular contact and follow through strengthens relationships and can help spot problems early.
8. Organise social gatherings or get-togethers
It can be easy to leave the organising of social events to others but sometimes it’s worth taking the initiative to organise social meetups with groups of mates to encourage new connections and bonding experiences.
Social interaction in groups releases oxytocin which helps form new friendships and develop trust. Have everyone over to watch a major sporting or life event, get tickets to a show, plan a weekend adventure or holiday together, arrange a weekly pub meet, or organise a fundraiser or charity event.
9. Laugh together often
Laughing releases endorphins that improve mood and strengthen relationships through positive feelings. This could be through watching a funny movie or show together, sharing amusing stories and reliving hilarious memories or doing an activity that naturally elicits laughter like go-karting or seeing a comedy act.
The ability to make each other laugh, to not take yourself too seriously, and co-create amusing moments together signifies the strength of your connection.
Making the first step
It may sometimes feel difficult for men to open up or make communication a priority, it is vital for your wellbeing and mental health. Important groups like Andy Man’s Club, a men’s suicide prevention charity, strive to help men break taboos and learn to open up about their mental health issues through the power of conversation.
Strong, supportive relationships can help combat stress, reduce feelings of isolation or depression and boost self-esteem. Indeed, making more of an effort to build closer, supportive relationships with other men on a regular basis can make a positive difference to yourself and your network of friends, family and colleagues.
For information or advice, please call 01482 240133 or email [email protected]