Relationships

How to Make Friends and Expand Your Social Circle

Jackie Walker Gibson
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Social Circle Podcast

Everyone has to make adjustments to their social circle over time. When children move away and coworkers retire, it’s important for older adults to take charge of their social lives and make new friends. Follow these expert tips to expand your social circle. According to Dr. Rebecca Shoda-Meyer, a clinicalpsychologist who consults to senior living communities, the important thing is to continue to get out and about—even if it means thrusting yourself into a world where you don’t know people.

Listen to this expert podcast featuring: 

  • Dr. Shoda-Meyer’s recommendations for the best places to meet new people
  • Ideas for activities that can help you get acquainted with new friends
  • Special tips for introverts

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MySilverAge: Thank you for joining us today. The following podcast is brought to you by MySilverAge, a website for seniors developed by be.group, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit providers of senior living communities.

As we age, our social circle begins to change. Maybe you retire and are no longer around coworkers. Perhaps your children move, or your spouse passes away. Maybe you transition to a new community. These occurrences can thrust you into a new world where you don’t know as many people or don’t have as many close friends around.

Dr. Rebecca Shoda-Meyer is a clinical pathologist who runs her own private practice in Santa Ana, Calif. She also consults to senior living communities in her area and has been working with older adults for the past 15 years. Shoda-Meyer says everyone has to make adjustments to their social circle as they get older. The important thing is to actively make those changes and avoid getting stuck in a rut.

Shoda-Meyer: One of the best things you can do for your body and your mind as we get older is to continually keep active. When someone becomes isolated they’ve lost their stimulation, interaction within the community and that’s very important as we get older.

Part of getting older is learning how to adapt and accommodate to the changes that happen to us. Studies have shown that people who make those changes are living well longer. And even if you tend to be more of a loner, you can still go and take classes, you can still go to a lecture, you can still go and watch a play, and you’re still around other people and not by yourself at home. It’s learning how to adapt to the changes and accept that while I can’t do things as I used to, I’m still able to adapt to what my interests are.

MySilverAge: Shoda-Meyer says there are plenty of places to find things to do and people to meet.

Shoda-Meyer: … book clubs, movie clubs, or play clubs—whatever area of interest you have because there’s so many people getting older, there’s more out there to choose from.

There are so many churches out there so even if you’ve left one particular faith but want to go back and explore, a lot of churches have different programs where you can learn more about what they offer. They also have groups where you can come in and all you do is pray or where you come in and make meals and serve that to other people. If you want to volunteer and be of service to something you enjoy doing, you can do that. They have lectures in church about the different spiritual components of different faiths or something special to that faith.

Even the senior communities have different activities where there’s group interactions or maybe it’s just Bingo. But it could also be a yoga class where you do one exercise, or a fundraising event where they have a luncheon to try to raise money for some local organization.

MySilverAge: In other words, it’s not just about finding somebody you can talk to. Expanding your social circle starts with getting out and finding a new activity. The benefits of doing so include both staying mentally and physically active and developing relationships. Of course, that’s easier said than done for some people. What if you’re naturally an introvert and don’t really like being out in a group?

Shoda-Meyer: There are many different types of classes, some are interactive and some are just lectures. You go in, find your spot to sit and set up your boundary and listen to your heart’s content with something you’re interested in. Slowly you can find out if this is the right environment, or do I have anything in common with the people that are coming to this lecture.

There are also online classes if you don’t want to be in a huge group or even in a small group then there are online classes you can take. There’s online support groups if you’re more comfortable talking to people without being in front of their faces you’re able to communicate online.

There are small groups—a bird watching group or walking group or gardening group—and all you focus on is the topic you’re interested in. You don’t have to get into personal information if you’re not ready to give that. Or, be involved in something that doesn’t require too much investment of your time in case you don’t like the people that are there but you’re still exploring the areas of interest that you’re in.

MySilverAge: Once you’ve joined a group or activity, Shoda-Meyer says the key to opening up is to involve yourself slowly.

Shoda-Meyer: Even if it’s just, ‘OK we’re all meeting here today and I’ll make coffee or do fliers’ or ‘Do you need someone to make calls? I’ll do that for you.’ If there’s any way where you can involve yourself and commit to something, it makes it easier to feel like you’re part of the group, and that’s one way you can learn about other people in the community and other services that are there.

You have to put yourself out there. There’s just no way around it when you’re in a new situation. If you just take one step at a time and take small steps and do things you feel safe doing and make commitments that are something you can follow through on, rather than jumping in and saying I’ll be in charge of a whole committee—pace yourself, find something you’re passionate about or that you’re good at or maybe something that you want to learn about and put it out there in a group.

MySilverAge: Eventually you’ll become comfortable with your new group of friends. But don’t forget there are many other seniors out there who also are seeking new relationships and have a lot to offer.

Shoda-Meyer: Keep your eyes and ears open to extend a warm smile or a handshake and maybe offer some ways where help can be given so that that person can also feel a part of the group. So share the wealth.

MySilverAge: For more information on relationships and senior living, visit MySilverAge.com.

Publication Date: September 24, 2013