Many military Veterans say that one of the hardest things about transitioning from being an active member of the military to being a civilian is losing the community of people they grew so close with.

Social relationships are essential to well-being. They can benefit you in so many ways, including:

  • decreasing cholesterol and blood pressure
  • improving self-esteem
  • increasing immunity
  • reducing levels of cortisol in the body (aka the stress hormone)
  • helping you feel a sense of belonging
  • boosting your well-being
  • improving your sleep
  • reducing your risk of chronic conditions, like heart disease and dementia
  • reducing your risk of mental health issues, including depression

Forging new friendships and connections with your community can help you start a new chapter. Here are six key ways Veterans can harness the healing power of social relationships.

Here are some tips to help you connect with others in different areas of your life.

Stay in touch with other Veterans

Leaving the military often means leaving the tight-knit community you’ve forged during your years of service.

But you don’t have to start from zero after you retire. Staying in touch with people you cared about during that time and making new connections with other Veterans can help you grow and evolve your sense of community.

Reconnecting with people you used to serve with can be a fulfilling experience. Try using VetFriends to search for and reconnect with people you’ve lost touch with. You can even use the website to connect with Veterans you haven’t met before.

Join Veteran support groups or organizations

A great way to meet other vets is by getting involved with Veteran support groups or vet-focused organizations.

It’ll help you stay in the loop, get invited to events, and get involved with the Veteran community.

Meet new people through Veteran organizations like the following:

  • The American Legion is the largest traditional Veterans Service Organization, with over 10,000 posts across the United States.
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars is an organization that fosters camaraderie among United States Veterans of overseas conflicts. They operate over 4,000 posts across the United States.
  • The Mission Continues empowers Veterans to build community through community service projects.
  • Team Rubicon leverages the skills and experience of Veterans and first responders to help communities in need of disaster response.
  • RallyPoint is a social media site for Veterans where they can find connections, job placements, and mentorship.

Joining a Veteran-focused support group can really help, too. There are many different types out there, depending on your needs.

For example, the Wounded Warrior Project is an organization that offers in-person and online support groups where Veterans can share their experiences and discuss personal challenges in a judgment-free environment.

One review of 28 studies involving Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) looked at the effectiveness of programs focused on social reintegration and engagement, peer support, and learning new skills.

Veterans who took part in these programs tended to have less loneliness and social isolation.

Visit your local VA location to learn more about support groups in your area.

Make plans with friends, neighbors, and colleagues

If you’d like to meet more people, what that looks like will be unique to you. Try finding your own ways to practice being extroverted, including being talkative, assertive, and spontaneous.

That could mean inviting a colleague out for coffee, giving a compliment to someone on the street, planning a picnic or potluck with friends, or respectfully voicing your opinion in a group discussion.

Research suggests that putting yourself out there with more extroverted behavior is strongly associated with improved well-being — even in people who don’t consider themselves to be extroverts by nature.

If you’re an introvert, you might be concerned that being more outgoing isn’t for you. But some research on the effects of extroverted behavior found that introverts experienced improved well-being and didn’t experience negative emotional or cognitive effects when they engaged in extroverted behaviors for a few hours.

It may even be possible to become more of an extrovert when you practice and make it a habit.

Start a new hobby

Getting into a hobby you’ve never tried before can help widen your social circle and help you learn something new and fulfilling.

If you’re not sure how to get started, try perusing the courses offered by your local community center and see what might interest you. Or consider joining a group that focuses on a particular interest, like an arts and culture group that meets to discuss local history or a gardening group that puts on talks or discussions on a different green-thumbed topic each month.

Combining socializing with your interests is a great way to expose yourself to new people, especially if you have trouble with small talk.

Take a class

A class at your local community center, school, or place of worship can help you get out of the house and prevent loneliness and social isolation.

Small group classes with independent activities, like ceramics or woodworking, can be a peaceful, low-key way to socialize if you’re more introverted or deal with social anxiety.

And if you’re looking to start a new chapter, earning a university or college degree or certification may be for you.

Some Veterans choose to go to school to learn new skills, increase their quality of life and career opportunities, and learn to apply the skills they learned in the military to a new career.

Your journey will likely be different than the typical college experience. Most student Veterans are older than the average college student, between 24 and 40, and many have kids.

But going to school after service can help give you a sense of purpose many college students straight out of high school don’t have — and provide you with an opportunity to socialize with other people.

Student Veterans of America has over a thousand chapters on campuses across the country with academic and social advisors and other Veterans available to help you on your educational pathway.

Get physical

Exercise can help prevent and treat chronic conditions like depression, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

And for Veterans, the benefits can go even further.

Some research suggests that many different types of exercise may also help reduce symptoms of PTSD, which is common in Veterans.

Exercising is also a great way to socialize and meet new people.

Whether you choose a run club, aerobics class, yoga class, martial arts program, or ballroom dancing club, go with what you enjoy, and you’ll find like-minded people.

Team RWB is one organization that connects Veterans to their community through physical fitness events, community service projects, and social activities in over 140 communities.

Many Veterans can feel socially isolated and lonely after leaving the tight-knit group they came to know during their military service. Yet social bonds are essential for your well-being and health.

Your social connections are like a muscle — you can improve them with effort and repetition.

And it can be fun! Choose social activities that suit your interests, and you’ll develop connections that bring you fulfillment for years to come.