If the very idea of breaking into a new social circle at an event has you heading for the door, follow our simple guide to joining groups.
There are many well documented things you can do to help yourself age well – exercise and be physically active, make healthy food choices and avoid smoking. But did you know that participating in group activities you enjoy will also help support healthy ageing? Research tells us that older people who regularly take part in group activities and have an active lifestyle will have a lowered risk of developing certain diseases, including dementia. In addition to a longer, healthier lifespan, older adults who engage in social and productive activities are also less depressed and are better prepared to cope with loss or change.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest barriers that stops older people engaging in group activities is the fear of breaking into an existing group. According to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, our self confidence peaks at around 60 years of age and steadily declines thereafter as we head into retirement. Education, income, health and wealth all play a part, but importantly, so does a decline in social interaction. Ironically, the social interaction we need to maintain and boost our confidence is often the thing we recoil from because of our decreasing self confidence.
HELP IS AT HAND
If you are struggling with self confidence, the great news is you are not alone. The first thing that you need to remember is there’s always someone you can talk to at Age UK Camden about any fears you may have. If there’s a particluar Get Together, event or activity you are interested in attending our staff are on hand to walk you through what to expect, talk about the size of the group as well as any other issues you may need to address, i.e. accessibility requirements or specific transport needs.
In addition, we’ve compiled a selection of strategies and approaches overleaf that may help you to ease into a new social circle. Simple ideas to aid you in realising a brilliant later life – full of people you enjoy being around and pastimes you are passionate about. We are by our very nature social beings and thrive in the company of others. By removing some of the barriers that stop us interacting, we can all lead confident, fulfilling lives.
1) A LITTLE GOES A LONG WAY
It can be a great help not to think of throwing yourself into things in ‘either’ ‘or’ terms. Basically, don’t feel that you have to be ultra-outgoing or there’s no point in trying. Even pushing yourself a little bit more than usual may be all that’s needed. Or why not try only taking a little initiative one day, but going further the next. Another thing you can try to do is find a friendly person or two and try talking to them, and not pressure yourself to make the rounds and chat to every last individual. At a larger event or gathering that may not be realistic anyway.
2) DON’T EXPECT PERFECTION
We all have a tendency to put too much pressure on ourselves when we’re introduced to a new group – to be at our very best and win everyone over. This can sometimes backfire. Even though you do have to take the initiative and put yourself out there, you don’t have to go over the top and dazzle everyone either. Act the way you normally would around people. Don’t try to be more energetic than usual, or joke around more than you typically would. Basically, if the group is going to like you, they’re going to like you. Just be yourself and see how it all plays out. You can’t be a good match for everyone, so don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t click immediately.
3) BE INTERESTED, NOT ALWAYS INTERESTING
Breaking into groups can be tough, because most of us are not naturally outgoing. If you are more of an observant and thoughtful person, you are likely to be an excellent listener. Put those skills to use. When you strike up a conversation, try asking the person why they came to the Get Together. And instead of immediately responding, relating their answer back to yourself, dig deeper. Ask what they like about art/bowls/history etc. If you feel comfortable, ask about their families or personal lives. This will make an impression while giving you more time to feel comfortable in the conversation.
4) FIND THE REFRESHMENTS
When thinking about easing yourself into a new group, it’s always a great idea to position yourself near the refreshments. Many people make a beeline for the catering area to get to a cuppa. If you position yourself a few steps from the refreshments, you can easily strike up a conversation as people turn with drink in hand.
Another great ice-breaker is to offer to get someone a cuppa while you’re getting one for yourself. When you return with their drink, they will be much more receptive to striking up a conversation. The other advantage of this is it overcomes that initial awkward ‘where do I stand’ moment and gives you an action to undertake rather than jumping into a conversation.
5) DON’T GET DISCOURAGED
On some occasions that first meeting with a group isn’t exactly what you’d hoped it would be. Interactions may be a little strained or awkward, or you may have felt a little left on the sidelines despite your best efforts. You may not have had much time to get to know each person. You may feel tempted to give up on trying, but give the gathering at least a few more chances. Always remember that it can take a few tries to start to connect with people. Ask yourself – how many times in life have you met someone you weren’t sure of who ended up becoming a good friend? In the long run, you’ll be so glad you persevered.
6) OFFER A HELPING HAND
The bigest fear about breaking into a new group is that seemedly impenetrable wall of in-jokes, shared experiences and existing friendships. A great strategy to alleviating that new person feeling is to turn up a little early and offer to help with setting up. The first thing this approach achieves is to introduce you to the host. They will be overjoyed at having this helpful new person joining their group. As they chat with you, they will be thinking of people in the group that they feel you would connect with. Hosts love to bring people together, and this way they will be able to help you meet people just like you.
CAMDEN COMMUNITY CONNECTORS
If you’re unsure which event is right for you or the thought of going overwhelms you, the good news is that help is at hand. Camden Community Connectors is run by staff and supported by volunteers who want to help you get involved in all that Camden has to offer.
To arrange a friendly chat with an adviser call 0800 161 5716, or email us at [email protected]