Regardless of where you fall on the introversion-extroversion spectrum, social support is often considered crucial for mental, physical, and emotional health. When you are connected to and supported by others, you may be better equipped to manage life’s challenges, address the negative effects of loneliness, and pursue your goals.
To experience the benefits of social support, you may frequently turn to your network of friends, family members, and acquaintances. However, when you venture outside your familiar circle, you may be surprised by the wisdom you can gain—and provide—by talking to strangers.
For some people, expanding their social networks and pursuing conversations with strangers can be intimidating. However, connecting meaningfully with new people may be possible without making radical changes. You can try a few strategies when starting to branch out and meet strangers.
What Is Social Support?
What Are The Benefits Of Social Support?
Social support can lead to several benefits for mental and physical health, including but not limited to the following:
Increased resilience during stressful situations
An increased sense of self-esteem and autonomy
Improved coping skills
Improved heart health, nutrition, sleep quality, and cognition
Decreased risk of mental illness
Increased quality of life and social relationships
You can nurture your existing relationships and tap into the power of connecting with strangers at any time to experience these benefits.
The Various Benefits Of Talking To Strangers
You might associate social support with people you already know and trust. The values of care, comfort, and wisdom aren’t often considered when talking about connecting with strangers or meeting someone new. However, there may be more benefits to this scenario than some think.
Experts continue to study the links between connecting with strangers and positive outcomes. Current studies indicate that strangers can give and receive high-quality social support to one another in everyday contexts and during challenging life events. Below are some of these benefits.
1. Strangers Can Offer New Perspectives
If you’re looking for a new outlook on a difficult decision, troubling situation, or other life challenge, seeking new conversation partners may make sense. While your friends and family members may know you well, their points of view may also be influenced by their relationship with you, meaning they may be biased.
For example, if you’re wondering whether to pursue a job in a city far from home, your parents or other family members can help you decide what to do. However, their opinions could also be affected by their desire to be close to you or similar factors, even if only subconsciously. Contrarily, a stranger may not have the same biases that affect their ability to provide adequate support.
The perspectives of others can be helpful in other ways, as well. For example, the barista at your local coffee shop may have a unique way of looking at the world, your seatmate on the train might point out a building you never noticed, or a coworker you’ve never spoken with may suggest a book that changes your life.
At first, the initiation of these conversations might seem awkward. However, after talking for a while, both strangers involved may enjoy the interaction. In one study, people asked to speak to strangers during commutes worried that the strangers wouldn’t enjoy the conversations, but the opposite was true. The researchers found that people had more positive commutes when they connected with strangers than those who sat in solitude.
The next time you’re in a public space, take a moment to look up and notice the people around you. If you push past solitude and introduce yourself, your conversation may lead to exciting viewpoints, unbiased feedback, and thoughtful solutions to a pressing personal issue. However, consider the boundaries of others, and don’t talk to someone who is listening to music, talking to someone else, or appears not to want to speak after an introduction.
2. Strangers Can Give And Receive Support
Strangers may have limited knowledge of one another but can often provide high-quality social support. Consider your social network—While you may have a handful of close friends, you may encounter strangers or acquaintances daily. Just one interaction with one of these individuals can enrich your morning commute, reduce your stress, and allow you to receive genuine community support.
3. Strangers Can Strengthen Your Sense Of Community
By connecting with strangers in your area, you may make new close friends and members of your support system. These interpersonal connections can help you integrate into a local community, which has proven mental health benefits.
You may be more socially connected and purposeful in a place or social circle when you have a strong sense of community. A sense of community can come from varying sources, including:
A volunteer group
A recreational sports team
A hobby-based group (e.g., a book club)
A meet-up group
An identity-based group
Strangers are part of all communities. As you find spaces and activities you enjoy, people who were once strangers may become trusted confidants and integral individuals in your everyday life.
4. Strangers Can Provide Knowledge And Information
After a conversation with a stranger, you may walk away with a new story, local knowledge, or general information. One of the potential joys of speaking with strangers is the prospect of learning new facts and exchanging wisdom with another person.
Research suggests that weak ties with strangers can be powerful sources of information, especially in contexts where strangers gather around a common experience or concern. Support groups are a clear example of this phenomenon. For some people who join these groups, one of the key benefits may be gaining information from people who have experienced similar challenges.
5. Conversations With Strangers Can Enhance Your Social Skills
When sitting in the cafe or taking the train from work, it may be easier to tune out the people around you, a behavior described as civil inattention. However, reaching out to people you don’t know may help you practice interacting with others and honing your social skills. Research shows that talking to strangers can reduce self-conscious behavior in social situations and increase one’s confidence in their ability to communicate.
In moments when you are inclined to reach for your phone or the nearest exit, try to reach out to strangers instead. At first, shifting your social mindset may be difficult, so start with more “minor” social gestures. You can ask a local for directions while traveling, talk to a stranger in line at the grocery store, or compliment a new coworker on their clothing. By regularly practicing these social acts, you may develop new social skills and find yourself connected to the people you encounter along the way.
Professional Support Options
Therapy can be helpful for tips and encouragement as you expand your social circle. As a form of social support, therapy can provide an outlet for your feelings while offering comfort, care, and research-backed strategies to enrich your social life. However, some people with social anxiety or other social challenges may hesitate to try therapy in their area. In these cases, online therapy may be beneficial.
A growing number of people use online therapy to find support for their mental health goals while balancing busy schedules. Using a digital platform like BetterHelp, you’ll be connected with a professional who can provide you with an unbiased perspective remotely through video, voice, or in-app chat sessions. If you are worried about talking out loud or meeting via video, a chat session can be a way to get accustomed to the therapy process without extreme social pressure.
Research shows that online therapy can help individuals address mental health concerns that may be related to difficulty connecting with others. For example, in a study examining the efficacy of online therapy for social anxiety, researchers found that participants experienced a significant reduction in symptoms following treatment. In addition, the study mentions the increased cost-effectiveness, convenience, and practicality provided by online therapy platforms.
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