A social network can be a circle of friends, people you share a hobby with or extended family. The form your social network takes doesn’t matter. What’s important is how it makes your life better.
Why social networks matter
People who have strong social networks manage stressful situations more effectively, are physically healthier and live longer. This is because connecting with other people can help you:
- feel understood and cared for
- feel as if you are not alone
- build confidence
- handle your problems more easily, and
- access good advice when facing difficult situations.
There are many ways to connect with other people, and different people and relationships can provide you with different kinds of support. There may even be people available for a connection you have not thought of.
I had been in the ADF from straight out of school, so joining a community on my own wasn't something I'd ever done before. Trying to find mates in the civilian world when you've been in the military for a long time is difficult. Having to engage with people socially in a different environment, essentially in a different language, is very tough. It's a very steep learning curve. But it's worth the effort. Having mates changes everything.
How to build your social network
A social network can include your friends, family or co-workers.
You’re probably part of a social network already, even if you don’t think you are.
Start thinking about your social network by recognising the social connections you have in your family and community, as well as your friends, especially other veterans. The more you understand people in your network, the easier it is to plan activities and expand the network.
What if you don’t have a social network?
If you’re not part of a social network, that’s OK. It’s never too late to start building one.
Build Social Connections to reduce loneliness
Use the Social Connections tool to identify the people in your life who you can spend more time with and who can offer you different kinds of support. Focus on spending more time with those closest to you. Over time, you can work on building a wider support network by reaching out to people who you don't see as often or have lost contact
The Social Connection tool is also available on the High Res app to use on the go.
Building new networks: learn to say 'Yes!'
In addition to working on old networks, plan some activities to make new social connections.
Look for opportunities to get involved with others and say "yes" when the opportunity arises (even if it makes you feel a bit uncomfortable). The more time you spend with people, the easier it will be to develop friendships and become a friend of their friends.
Meeting people and 'doing small talk' is a skill. Like any skill, practice makes perfect.
The more people you meet, the more networks you can become part of. And the easier it will get to start conversations and engage meaningfully.
If you find yourself alone, learn to enjoy yourself and feel comfortable in your own company. If you can enjoy and value your own company, there’s a good chance others will too.
Reduce loneliness through Enjoyable and Rewarding Activities
Connecting with others might be hard at first, but doing it through enjoyable and rewarding activities will make it easier. Shared activities give you something to talk about and can introduce you to new social networks.
Find local activities and support where you live
ENGAGE is an online portal that current, transitioning, and former ADF members; their families can use to locate support services and activities near where you live. Check out ENGAGE to find physical fitness, exercise and active lifestyle
Volunteering is a positive way to contribute to your local community and connect with other like-minded people. It can involve anything from fundraising for charities to being a veteran mentor. These opportunities can be short-term, long-term, or one-off events, suitable for the time you can commit and the roles you are interested in.
To learn more about volunteering opportunities in your area, visit Go Volunteer.
GoVolunteer is an initiative of Volunteering Australia. Our aim is to match people who are interested in volunteering with appropriate volunteering opportunities. The website uses a national database of volunteering opportunities. These are listed by volunteering involving organisations, Volunteer Resource Centres and State Volunteer Centres.
Soldier On offers a range of social connection activities and programs to encourage service personnel and their families reconnect with themselves and build links with the wider community.
Mates4Mates has developed various social activities which are run through their centres. ‘Mates’ are the wounded, injured or ill current or ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel.
- Drop-in environment
- Regular social BBQs
- Family fun days (particularly in school holidays)
- Group social activities, and
- Peer support.
Veterans’ Health Week provides an opportunity for veteran and ex-service community members and their families to participate, connect and influence the health and wellbeing of themselves and their friends. Veterans’ Health Week is held on an annual basis in October.
Funding is available through DVA for VHW events.
ESOs and community organisations can apply for VHW funding or to register an event — refer to the VHW funding and registration guidelines for more information.
Consider becoming a member of your local Men’s Shed. A Men’s Shed provides a safe environment where you can work on your own project or a community project in an atmosphere of mateship.
The Cooking for One or Two program is a five-session cooking skills program designed to improve your confidence in preparing a variety of healthy meals using easy cooking techniques.
Developed in consultation with nutritionists and DVA's Dietician, the program aims to improve the quality of life for participants and their families by providing lessons in basic cooking skills and nutrition and to promote the benefits of healthy lifestyle choices in an environment of positive social engagement.
If followed strictly, each session will take approximately two-and-a-half hours to deliver. However, the resources can also be tailored and delivered to suit the needs of any group of people, veterans and general community members alike. It can even be tailored for family groups, so kids can enjoy learning new skills alongside their parents.