Unless you’re an extreme extrovert, moving from a well-loved neighborhood to a senior living community where you don’t know a soul can be anxiety-provoking. The good news is that you can develop meaningful relationships surprisingly quickly, especially if you move to a community of like-minded people.
But, just in case you still have worries, we’ve come up with four tips to hasten the friend-making process along.
1. Update Limiting Beliefs
To begin with, consider updating any negative beliefs that may hamper you from making friends. One myth you may hold is that post-60-year-olds can’t make new friends. In fact, making friends when you’re older “can actually be easier because you know who you are and what kind of friend you would like,” points out sociologist Jan Yager in the Six Habits of People Who Make Friends Easily article.
You may also believe you are too socially awkward or too unlikable to make friends easily. Counter this negative thinking by encouraging yourself with positive self-talk, like “even though I’m afraid, it’s going to work out.” This How to Be Yourself When You Have Social Anxiety article also suggests giving yourself a reality test as a way to calm your anxieties. Namely, imagine the worst possible outcome at a social event (say, a resident implies you are boring), then ask yourself the following questions:
- How bad would it be if it happened?
- What are the odds of it happening?
- How would I cope if the worst came to pass?
2. Get Involved
One of the best ways to make friends as to get out there and meet new people. Luckily that’s easy in a life plan community where you get the chance to regularly intermingle with a group of people over meals, in lounges or in the gardens, which naturally builds familiarity and bonding. As well, many communities host several special social events like summer barbecues or holiday parties, fun and relaxed ways to meet others. (Tip: Offer to volunteer at one of these events, by greeting people, for example, as that’s an even quicker way to meet new friends.) You can also learn new skills as well as build social connections by participating in exercise classes, resident committees and book clubs or other groups offered in the community.
3. Act Friendly
It’s probably not news that most people are drawn to others who smile and appear welcoming. (Note: If you feel anxious, don’t force yourself to smile–instead focus on deep breathing before you enter a social situation as this will relax you.) Also take heed that most people enjoy being around positive individuals who validate their feelings and take a genuine interest in what they say. So, when meeting new acquaintances, avoid gossip and criticism, and ask questions, truly listening to the answers instead of worrying about what you will say next.
4. Be Bold
Don’t passively wait for others to make the first step in social gatherings, instead initiate new conversations. Stretch yourself by asking someone for coffee or arranging an off-campus lunch with residents you’d like to know better. Take a small risk by informing other residents that you’re looking for activities to join.
Making new friends does take a little time and effort but no matter your level of shyness, you too can be surrounded by friends, which, as recent research points out, is crucial to health and happiness as you age.