Friends for Life: How to Avoid Social Isolation
Posted on May 21, 2014 by Tamberly Mott
Research shows that staying socially engaged with friends can offer real benefits, like bolstering our immune system and contributing to overall health and happiness. Spending time with friends improves our mood. And having the emotional support of close friends helps us reach goals and get through challenging times in our lives.
However, as we get older, retirement, relocation, illness and losing friends can lead to social isolation and loneliness – and making new friends is easier said than done.
As a family therapist, I often worked with people who were experiencing loneliness due to a lack of friendships. I found that older adults, in particular, had the most difficulty making new friends. Their reasons differed, but usually shared a common theme: they believed they were past the age of needing to make new friends and/or they had forgotten the keys to building strong friendships.
Regardless of your age or circumstance, it is important to know that it is never too late to make new friends. It is also important to realize that there are a lot of people who feel just as intimidated and awkward at the thought of making new friends as you do. Chances are, they need your friendship as much as you need theirs.
But before trying to make a new friend, it’s worth taking a moment to consider what friendship means to you. Do you believe you must know someone for a long time to count him or her as a friend? If so, do you need to adjust those expectations to accept a new person in your life? Asking yourself these questions will help you decide what you value in a friend – and help you become the kind of friend you want to have.
A casual acquaintance, for instance, can talk with you about the weather, the news of the day or other less personal topics. On the other hand, a true friend shows genuine interest in your life and cares about what you have to say, how you think and how you feel.
A senior living community can provide an excellent environment filled with wonderful opportunities for new friendships. A good way to start is to find something that interests you like an exercise class, book club or other activity. Notice the others who are doing it too, and strike up a conversation with them. Or introduce yourself to people sitting near your table at lunch – there are many ways to meet new people in a community setting.
If you are still intimidated at the idea of introducing yourself, put yourself into a situation where you are comfortable. If you have been more solitary in your habits or hobbies, try some more social activities. Once you meet some people you think you’ll click with, invite them to do something outside of your comfort zone.
Keep it simple early on. Exchange contact information. Invite your new friend(s) to do something at a set time and place. If making plans feels like a hassle or makes you nervous, look for something on the community calendar that you can do together.
Sure, it may feel a little awkward at first. And there is a chance your invitation will be turned down, but making a genuine effort will help you get beyond the level of just a casual acquaintance. Of course, you won’t make a connection with everyone you meet, but the more you put yourself out there, the better your chances.
A truth to accept: Sometimes you’ll have to inconvenience yourself for the sake of having a social life. If you get invited to something you are not interested in – or if the activity is planned at a time when you are typically doing something else (like getting ready to watch a favorite TV show) – allow yourself to give it a try.
Just remember, the most important part of making a friend is making an effort.
Tamberly Mott, Ph.D., M.A., LMFT, Divisional Engage Life Innovation Director, Atria Senior Living
Although retired from clinical private practice work, Tamberly continues to be involved in supporting others in staying healthy and living balanced lives. As Divisional Engage Life Innovation Director for Atria Senior Living, she works to develop strategies in programming for independent and assisted living residents. Her past work experience includes family therapist/counselor, Executive Director of Growing Green Hands (a nonprofit intergenerational eco-based mentoring program), Wellness Life Coach and educator, and motivational speaker. Besides having a childhood surrounded by older adults, and the multi-generational family work her practice was built upon, her education includes a doctorate in clinical social work and a master’s degree in counseling psychology. She is licensed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences as a Marriage and Family Therapist and as a supervisor for Master’s level Social Work and Marriage and Family Interns.
Category: Caregiver Support