5 Tips To Help You Make New Friends
Aging comes with many difficult challenges. Meeting those challenges often requires that new skills be learned in order to adapt and survive. A hip replacement requires that you learn a new way to sit. A decision to stop driving may mean that you need to learn to use public transportation of some kind. So, it should come with no surprise that you may need to acquire new skills in socializing in new situations, too.
It is usually true that as we get older than most of our peers, many of our close friends, and even our acquaintances have not made it as long as we have in life. It’s a very challenging problem to have. On one hand, it makes us sad to lose so many people who have the same memories that we have, the people we’ve shared our lives with. On the other hand, if we are only to focus on what we’ve lost, we ourselves will shrivel up and lose the hope that’s necessary to move forward in our lives. One of the new skills we’ll need to acquire to adapt to this new way of life is making new friends. If you’re not a naturally extroverted person, it may have been several years (or even decades) since you’ve had to put a lot of effort into making new connections.
If you haven’t tried making friends for some time, here are a few tips to get you started.
- Be friendly. Some of us have forgotten what it’s like to ask how another person’s day is going. Ask about family, grand-children, or whether they’re feeling okay in the excessive heat. A little friendliness can go a long way toward opening discussion.
- Find new places to socialize. If you are not finding what you need in the places you currently frequent, try other spots. Try a hobby club, a book club, or even take a stroll at a farmer’s market. Go to an event you wouldn’t normally go to at church or in your community. Interacting in new places will naturally introduce you to new people.
- Reach out. If there are people that need help in your community, see if you can fill the need. Cancer patients receiving treatments and sitting for hours might be in need of visitation. Join a group that makes mats for the homeless or quilts for the struggling or refugees. Even food banks can use help. Even if you cannot do heavy lifting, you can help by organizing food drives and advertising them.
- Practice conversation. Sometimes our skills need to be honed on a more technical level. We may be stuck in a rut of asking yes/no questions. Practice asking open-ended conversations. Normally you might say, “Did you have a nice time with your children this weekend?” Think about how you might rephrase that sentence. Consider asking, “What was your favorite part about your time with your children?” You can start practicing when you’re by yourself. Think about what questions you’d like someone else to ask you about. Are there parts of your life that you’d love to share with others, but that no one asks you about? If your career was important to you as a younger person, ask about what another person did for work in their younger years. Practice not only how to start conversations, but also how to think of creative ways to continue them using open-ended questions. While you’re watching a program on TV, pause it and re-word direct yes/no questions in more meaningful ways. Think about how much more you will learn about people when you do this.
- Stay in touch. Once you’ve made contact with someone that seems promising and like you might like to continue the relationship, make an effort to stay in contact. Ask for their phone number or plan to get together again. Most of the time, these things require a bit of scheduling energy, since our society is very over-scheduled. It is worth the effort, however, especially if you both sense that there might be a relational benefit.
Making new friends is not rocket science, but it does take tremendous effort. You will find people along the way who do not suit you, or you them. Do not be discouraged by that. You will find people who do not have time to devote to another relationship. Do not let that worry you. Those that you find that have potential will be that much sweeter when you find them. This thing that you are after, friendship, is worth much effort. Friendships can help to stave off loneliness and can improve your health and well-being. It is well worth any amount of time and energy that you put into it.
“Ten minutes with a genuine friend is worth years spent with anyone else.” Crystal Woods
Reaching Out, Combatting Loneliness
Loneliness is an evasive thing. People have been studying it for years, especially in elderly adults who seem prone to sadness and isolation. But, those studies have contradictory data. Some of them include statistics for people who “feel isolated” while others only study data from people who have been so lonely and depressed that they’ve opted for medical help. Because of all of this conflicting data, we don’t really know as much about the causes of loneliness as we’d like. We do, however, know more than we used to. There are certain consistencies in the data that help us narrow down some factors of loneliness.
Moving to a new place and living there for less than a year appears to be a catalyst for loneliness, especially in older people. This is most likely due to changing relationships. If a senior citizen moves, they’ll lose relationships that they may not have even recognized as important to them. They’ll no longer chat with the postal worker or the same grocery store attendants that they used to. They may not be able to invite the neighborhood boy that mows their lawn for a lemonade. Over time, they’ll gain other social connections that are similar, but immediately after a move, those changes can add up to an unoccupied space that others used to fill for them. It will take some intentionality after a move to form new relationships but establishing them is important for all involved.
Being uninvolved in a church or another place where you can volunteer also seems to have larger impacts on the elderly. Perhaps because the connections formed there can give you some commonality of purpose and a desire to help others, involvement in these types of things, keeps people from being lonely. Knowing that you are contributing to society and that your input is needed and appreciated can do a great deal to stave off loneliness and depression. Those who choose not to be involved in these have higher rates of loneliness. Find out small ways to get involved in an activity that interests you, but also helps others. It will be beneficial for the organization and for you!
Hobbies are another option for pushing off loneliness. The data is not conclusive on why hobbies can help, but it seems reasonable enough to say that if you have a hobby that you’re passionate about, you’re probably a bit more interesting to talk to. If you find someone that is interested in the same thing, you can connect with them on a deeper level of communication than just the weather. Even if the other person is not interested in exactly the same thing, they’ll understand your passion and your interaction will be livelier. You may also learn about what they are passionate about!
Loneliness can have huge and lasting impacts on our health. It is said to be just as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! It can lower your immune system’s ability to fight. It can also cause you to be pushed to the outside of social networks with others who are lonely. It is a strange conundrum that if you are feeling lonely, people tend to push you further away. This may be because your loneliness makes them feel more lonely, in turn. But all of these things are based upon people’s feelings & perceptions of their situations. If you can change those feelings and perceptions, you can change being lonely.
A recent study in the UK watched people on public transport. Those who initiated conversations with strangers were reported as less lonely. Those who only talked if someone else initiated conversation were more lonely and those who refused to interact with strangers were the most lonely. They then studied the same people and asked those who were not generally comfortable with initiating conversation to begin doing that. It is a simple and seemingly inconsequential change for someone to make, but it had huge impacts on their feelings afterward. They felt generally more positive and less lonely!
You may be feeling lonely and isolated, but that does not mean you have to become and extreme extrovert to overcome those feelings. Sometimes it is the small, daily acts that can have the largest impact over the course of months of our lives! Initiate conversation. Get a hobby. Start volunteering. Recognize the loneliness dissipate.
Social Engagements For The Elderly
Loneliness and isolation have long been known to cause mental health issues for the elderly. In more recent years, it has also been shown to cause a myriad of physical health issues, as well. Combatting loneliness, however, does not just happen naturally. It takes a concerted effort to fight against those feelings on a daily basis, but it also takes a great effort to change your social life in order to accommodate social interactions that previously would not have been a priority. When we are younger, employed or raising a family, social interactions occur somewhat naturally based upon those social structures. As we grow older, they may not occur in such a natural way unless we arrange for them to happen. So here are a few ideas for you or for an elderly loved one to get out and about and interact in a way that can introduce them to new, meaningful and restorative relationships with others.
- Senior center meals and activities. Most small communities have a senior care center where older members of the community meet together to eat and do other activities. If you locate one in your area, find out what their schedule of events is, them mark some of the dates on your calendar to try out. You needn’t feel obligated to go to each one, but rather choose a few during the month that are of the most interest to you.
- Craft or hobby groups. If you are interested in creating crafts, or if you have a specific hobby that is meaningful to you, try to find a group of people interested in the same hobby with whom you can participate. Many communities have quilt guilds, woodworking or whittling groups or crocheting clubs. It is best if you can find a group where there are people from several generations and multiple backgrounds involved. You may be surprised. Perhaps the ones that you hit it off with will be from a much younger generation than yourself. This opens an entirely new world for both you and for the younger person. We all need one another, and this could be a very beneficial relationship for each of you. If you cannot find such a group, consider starting one. Hang flyers & let a number of people know where and when you’d like to meet and how often. Maybe there won’t be an interest, but perhaps there would be, even from one or two individuals.
- Many communities, churches or even hospitals have group exercise classes for the elderly which you could join. They focus on physical activity appropriate for the aging individual that will not jar or strain muscles and joints unnecessarily. Meeting people in this way will keep you active & you’ll meet others who do not want to be closed up at home all the time.
- Whether you’d like to volunteer at a thrift store, a veteran’s home, helping with a parade, at an animal shelter, helping to judge at the county fair, in your place of worship, etc. your service can be a huge help to the people you volunteer with. Over time you’ll get to know those with whom you are working and have the added benefit of being of valuable service to others.
- Places of worship. Often-times places of worship are great places to get to know others. Apart from the regular services, they often offer other classes throughout the week for people to be involved in. Often, they will offer outings like retreats, help at a local food bank, or even caroling outings to other locations to be involved in.
- The best way to meet people is to get creative. If you’re interested in learning an instrument, learning to pain, learning a language, then go ahead and sign up for a class. Meeting people with similar interests in not difficult.
- Be Creative. If none of these seem like viable options for you, be creative. Organize an event that you can invite people to. Perhaps host a dinner for others or arrange a garage sale to benefit a certain organization, or a benefit for a person you know who is ill. Organize an informational meeting on a particular item of interest at your local library and put up posters about it. You never know how or where you might meet others with whom you share an interest or a similar background.
You do not have to have everything in common with someone that you meet in order to share parts of your life. Over time you’ll both learn to appreciate the differences you find in one another. Social gatherings can be awkward and somewhat exhausting, especially if your personality tends toward being introverted, but there are huge benefits to your health if you reach out and take the first step toward more relationships.
Community Events For The Elderly
It has recently been noted by scientists & journalists that while we are living in a very advanced society as far as social media technology is concerned, most people are incredibly lonely. It is one of the loneliest times to be alive on our planet despite the quantity of people & the advanced number of ways to interact with others! How can this be?
Oftentimes it is because people choose to interact using devices instead of actually getting together with other humans face to face. I understand. It's easier. If you have to drive long distances to meet up with someone, you put it off or find other alternatives. If both of you have extremely busy schedules, you choose to interact through a device instead of carving time out of your schedule. But, is this best? Especially when it comes to our aging population?
If you have been to a rural community event recently, you will notice that many elderly people make it a point to be involved in what is going on in their surrounding areas. I was recently at a fundraiser in an outlying area for a group of first responders. Approximately ½ to 2/3 of the attendees were elderly. They were not there to be recruited as first responders...they were there to meet up with neighbors and remain involved in what was going on in the community. The volunteers that organized the gathering certainly appreciated their attendance, but they were not the only ones that benefited from the experience. Community Events can help the elderly in a number of ways.
First: It helps them to maintain social connections during a lonely time of life. Perhaps many of their family & close friends have passed on, but they may re-connect with others that they've been acquainted with in the past or perhaps even make a new acquaintance or friend.
Second: It gets them out & about. Life during aging can certainly become mundane. Community events help to break up the monotony & change up the schedule a bit, which gives all of us a bit of excitement in our lives!
Third: It helps them to know that they're still a part of the greater community. Knowing that you're part of something bigger can give comfort in a sense of belonging that few other things can match.
Fourth: It helps them to know that they can contribute. There are almost always little ways that they can help at community events. Perhaps helping at a fair they can sit at the table & check in items to be judged. Perhaps they can help price items for a bake sale for a fundraiser. Perhaps they could help with decorating tables. There are a number of ways to contribute, even with just being present at an event. The organizers will then know that it was worth their time & energy to make the event special.
It used to be that community events were much more common than they are today. Perhaps the younger generations can learn something from those who still see the benefit of gathering together with those in your vicinity.
Connection is Important for the Elderly
How many times have you thought that you really should get together with this or that elderly relative, or call them to see how they are doing? How many times have you heard the life story of an unrelated person and been deeply encouraged by their struggle & triumphs in life? How many times have you gone to the funeral of a dear one & regretted that you didn't take the time to ask them just a little more, or reach out to connect with them on a deeper level?
All of us, as humans, have an intrinsic need to connect on a deeper level with other people. There is something comforting about knowing that someone else knows & accepts who we are & still cares enough to continue friendship. We need connection in order to learn & grow from other people, but we also need to share with them about our lives so that we know that the struggles were not in vain or wasted.
This time period in history is unprecedented with regards to technology, and, one would think that that fact makes it easier to connect in a meaningful way with those we care about. The opposite seems to be true, however. We send quick texts to those who have that option available & generally the subjects are not those that help anyone to get to know one another better, but rather help us solidify schedules & send grocery lists. On social media sites we're (necessarily so) more likely to post less personal information & not have a true conversation with someone. Phone calls have even begun to go by the wayside, especially with the younger generation.
I don't have the answers for ensuring that we don't lose connection from one another. It does begin with us, though. We can start by setting aside 30 minutes & calling to schedule a visit with someone we love. Visit an elderly friend or relative & bring them a snack & listen to their stories from long ago. If you're unable to visit, take time to make a call. Everyone talks about the busyness of life, yet many of those same people are on social media often, or know all about the latest episodes of their favorite television shows. If we have time for those less important endeavors, perhaps we do have the ability to make time for more important times of connection. It does require something from us, but the rewards far outweigh the sacrifice.
How often have you heard someone who is older comment about their difficulty in communicating with a younger friend or relative? It is becoming increasingly more common as technology progresses, & there is an increasing amount of push back from younger generations that are not able to understand why it might be difficult for those of us who are aging to be able to make the transition between two seemingly different worlds. So how do we bridge this gap that only seems to be widening?
First, it's important to remain calm when speaking about any difficulty you are having with anyone, and especially with someone coming from a very different worldview. Even if you have a good point to make, it comes across much better if you are calm when stating your opinion than if you are already angry. So, when you need to approach the person, try to remember to stay calm as you say, “I've tried to call you a number of times, but I haven't heard from you in weeks.”
Second, it's important to remember that your younger counterpart is most likely not trying to make you upset. The speed of life has reached an all time high. It is not only common, but also expected that they will move right along at that pace & be able to juggle more than they ever have before. It can be incredibly stressful to live under that pressure. When you speak with them, try inquiring about how they are dealing with that, how stressful it must be and let them know that they always have a place where they can speak to you in person in a much calmer environment. That alone may be enough for them to look forward to visiting or calling more often.
Third, recognize that they may not be used to communicating in some of the ways you are accustomed to communicating. Along with everything else in our world, means of communications have been changing at an alarming rate. These days people are far more used to communicating via text message, email or Facebook than through letters or even calls on the telephone. Whatever our opinion is of this change in society, it is the reality, at least for now. So, if you're really wanting to stay in touch with someone, be sure to ask them about the best time to contact them, & the best way to reach them.
Finally, if you have a younger friend who visits or calls regularly, be sure to let them know that you appreciate them & their time. Encourage them to take times to disconnect from the hectic communication forms that are prevalent in today's world & learn how to engage more fully with the people they are with. Everyone can learn from previous generations & while we need to learn more about the technology of today's world & the communication that goes with it, there are also a few things that we can teach others about the closeness that comes from real communication. Communicating is not, nor has it ever been, easy. It is, however, worth it for those that pursue genuine relationships.
Combating Loneliness In The Golden Years
Loneliness is a very real problem for people of all ages, but it seems to prey greatly on those of advancing years. It can cause all kinds of issues, from undue stress, to depression & feelings of worthlessness. While all of us naturally will have times in our lives that are more lonely than others, we need not just go with the flow if the time period is becoming extended. There are things we can do to fight it off & lighten the heaviness created by it.
First, evaluate the changes that have occurred in your life to make you feel this way. Has there been a death of a loved one? Have several friends moved to other places like nursing homes or #assisted living facilities? Are there family and friends that are struggling with their health & are no longer able to go out and about like they used to? Are you struggling with your health? It's important to think through all of the many changes so that you understand why you are justifiably struggling during this time. Every major change in life brings about stress, & big changes such as these will take time to heal & require thought to develop a plan for how life will continue best after having fought through them.
Second, find your strengths. Are you naturally a gathering person? What I mean by this is do you like to gather people together for functions or even just to have them come to your kitchen for a cup of coffee and conversation? If you are, start small, but make a couple of calls to people you feel may be likely to accept your invitation.
Third, consider starting new traditions. I know of someone who gathers her aunt & cousin together on the same date every year to celebrate their birthdays which all fall in the same month. They look forward to the conversation & time with people that they otherwise do not see on a regular basis, even though they live within 1 hour of each other. If you have cousins, nephews & nieces, friends, children or grandchildren that you don't see often, consider organizing an occasion to visit together. It does not have to be a large gathering, though it could be, if you desire to put in a lot of effort.
Consider getting a pet if your living situation allows for it. Something about a dog or cat, or even a bird, makes humans feel less alone. It's nice to have someone to talk to as we bustle about our day. Someone that shows affection to us on the days when we see nary a soul. Someone to care for & that cares that we've gotten up to greet the day with them.
Observe nature. Watching the birds that come to your feeders & having a book on hand can help to combat loneliness. Knowing that there is a world of quiet solitude that is also full of life can help us as we enter this stage of life. Taking walks & identifying the trees we see along the paths, or the flowers & plants will make you feel as though your are coming to meet new friends & watch how they progress throughout the year. Even indoor plants can have this affect as we wait for the blossoming times & take cuttings to form new plants to offer to family and friends. Field guides are incredibly helpful in all these areas to become truly familiar with the things that you find. You may be surprised at what you locate that you've never noticed before.
Join clubs, guilds or community organizations. There are as many clubs, guilds and organizations out there as there are hobbies & interests. If you cannot find them in person, you may be able to find them online & be able to chat with people with similar interests in forums. If you are fortunate to find a quilting guild, for instance, near you, make it a point to attend meetings & offer any help that you're able to give. Several communities have senior centers to get involved in. Other communities have home economics groups that meet. Nearly every community has community education courses that one could take if they were interested in any of the courses offered. These are several ways in which to reach out to the broader community and meet people with whom you do not otherwise interact. Maybe you'll make a steadfast friend, or at the very least, you'll pass the time in a productive manner & learn new skills. Either way, the time was not wasted!
Consider music. Whether it's playing an instrument, singing or simply listening to & learning music, this can be a very worthwhile aid in combating loneliness. Music has the ability to change emotion. It can lighten our darker moods or dampen our light moods. If you have a talent with an instrument, consider passing that on to a student or two. I knew an older woman of 92 who was still giving lessons to a couple of children a week, even though she had early stages of #dementia. She may not have had the lessons laid out consecutively each week, but the students were still learning & growing, not just from the piano that she taught, but also greater lessons about what it means to care for someone going through the frightening changes of old age. If you do not know how to play an instrument, simply play music. It does not matter the genre. Try to listen to a number of works by a certain composer. See if you can identify their songs by only hearing them, even if you do not see who wrote it. Try listening to music from different generations & get a feel for the music that stirred them. Then bring it up in conversation when you meet someone from that generation. They may be very surprised that you know the groups that were popular, and it may be an opening into more meaningful conversations.
Lastly, do not feel alone in your loneliness. This may sound ridiculous, but sometimes simply knowing that this is a common thing for all of us to face helps a great deal. We're all learning and growing through this process, just as we have through all the other challenges we've faced in life. Let's face it with strength and a little ingenuity. We'll get through it just fine!