Now that there are more opportunities to go out and socialize, you may be experiencing some mixed emotions regarding social events. You may have thought to yourself as soon as these restrictions are over, I’m going to be a regular party animal. This could be especially true for those who’ve been following The Optimist Daily for a while, since you’d know there is an array of health benefits associated with meeting new people, creating and maintaining friendships, and socializing in general. In fact, things like eating with people and keeping your home open to guests can even help you live longer.
However, the reality of being isolated for so long may have resulted in some social anxiety which makes social events much more draining than before, or isolation might’ve awakened your inner introvert if you weren’t one already.
According to clinical psychologist and author of Introvert Power Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D., “it does take effort to find and maintain friendships, and introverts may sometimes find solitude to be an easier alternative.” Constantly choosing solitude has negative effects on our health, because as psychologist Emma Seppälä, Ph.D. points out, just as having strong friendships can boost longevity, the lack of strong friendships can lead to declines in physical and psychological health.
Although these statements are meant for introverts specifically, we find ourselves in a time where introversion is affecting even those of us who wouldn’t have identified this way just a couple of years ago.
If this resonates with you or you know someone who can relate, then here are five helpful ways for introverts (or those who are currently feeling more “socializing-averse”) to reap the benefits of socializing.
Find an alternative word for “socializing”
“To many introverts, the word ‘socializing’ conjures images of dreaded small talk, fake laughter, and clinking glasses in an overcrowded room,” explains Dr. Helgoe. “But, as an introvert, if I think of ‘relationships’ instead of ‘socializing,’ I imagine relaxed conversations, genuine laughter, and shared activities.”
If “socializing” is similarly triggering for you, then try trading it out for another word that evokes more positive feelings about building a relationship with people such as “bonding” or “connecting.”
Turn a personal passion into a social outlet
Connecting on a personal interest is a great way to turn a stranger into a friend without having to go through as much superficial small talk. If you have the will but are struggling to grow your social group, then think about “what you love most in your ‘introvert world,’ and then set out to find your people,” suggests Dr. Helgoe.
For example, if you like movies then seek out a film class to put yourself in a room with like-minded people, so you know that you’ll already have something to talk about. “The idea is to make visible what’s inside of you, so you can connect meaningfully with others who share your passion,” says Dr. Helgoe.
Take time for deeper chats, not just catch-ups
These days, setting a social engagement with a friend can often result in “life dumps,” which is where you fill in your friend on everything that’s been going on since you last connected, and then they do the same. Not only is this pattern draining, but it usually doesn’t leave time for conversations of real substance or intimacy.
To avoid this problem, Dr. Helgoe recommends using other “easier” forms of communication like text messages or emails to keep a few close friends up to date so that when you do meet up in person, you can get straight into the meaty conversation.
Plan and schedule in advance
“Introverts do not like interruptions, and happenstance meetings can feel like an intrusion on other activities,” notes Dr. Helgoe. Since we’ve all gotten used to having our own time, this might have become true for many more people.
Setting up regular meetings with friends on your calendar can ensure that neither party will feel unpleasantly surprised. “For example,” Dr. Helgoe illustrates, “knowing I’m going to meet my friend every Tuesday morning orients my mind to the meeting, so instead of feeling interrupted, I am geared up and excited.”
Nurture your internal sense of connection
In terms of maintaining a sense of connection with others, Dr. Seppälä says that “one of the most important [things you can do] is to lower your stress levels because stress is linked with a focus on the self, and that concrete a feeling of disconnection from others [regardless of how much or how little time you’re spending with them].”
This means prioritizing your well-being by spending time in nature often, meditating, and/or practicing other stress-relieving activities.