The COVID-19 pandemic reduced social activity for many people for a year or more. While lockdowns may have lifted in most locations throughout 2020 and 2021, many people made personal choices to remain at home or limit social interactions for their own safety.
Now that more people are venturing out and vaccines are readily available, though, older adults may be ready to join in on more activities. And warmer weather makes that easier to do in a safe manner by hosting or attending outdoor events.
But social activity doesn't come easy to everyone, and social distancing and lockdowns may have left even extroverts a bit rusty. If you're looking to engage in social activity this spring or summer, here are some tips for doing so safely and in an enjoyable fashion.
COVID guidelines do change constantly, and they can be different in various areas and types of locations. One museum in your town may require masks, for example, while another simply recommends them for people that aren't fully vaccinated. Checking websites or calling ahead when you're planning outings can help you decide where you want to go given such guidelines.
Consider following safety guidelines and basic health practices yourself, too. Wash your hands regularly and ensure hand sanitizer is provided at events you host. Don't attend social events when you're not feeling well or have symptoms like a fever or sore throat, and ask others to follow the same protocols.
As you become more social and make new friendships, you may find your calendar getting busier. That can be exciting, especially if you were feeling lonely and looking to get out more. But it can also feel pressuring in some ways. You may feel compelled to say yes to everything, overextending yourself.
Be kind and tactful, but don't be afraid to say no to social invitations. Let people know that you're overextended during that particular time but would love to meet up with them the next week or month. Or be honest if you think an activity would be unpleasant or dangerous for you and suggest something that's more your speed.
If you're nervous about talking to people for the first time as you make new friends, show up to events with a few easy conversation starters in mind. Many times, if you're willing to ask a few questions and genuinely listen, people are happy to tell you about themselves.
This is a great way to get to know others and can help you fill in the gap in conversations if you're not a big talker yourself. Just make sure you do share something about yourself too, or you may find that friendships develop only one way.
Questions you might consider asking include:
• What book or movie have you enjoyed lately? Many people are more comfortable talking with those they just met about favorite movies or books than they are more personal topics. This question also lets you connect with people who enjoy the same types of entertainment that you do.
• Do you enjoy any hobbies? You never know when you might find someone who you can quilt with or talk whittling or woodwork with.
• Where are you from and where have you lived? Chatting about all the places you've both lived or visited can help fill out conversations and often leads to talking about other topics as you get to know someone.
If you haven't been social in a while or are nervous about meeting new people, starting with a huge gathering may not be the right choice for you. First, with so many more people, it can be hard to know where to start. Many people in such large gatherings may have preformed groups that are harder to join in with.
Small gatherings with only a few people give you a better chance of an equal footing and the ability to talk to a couple of people. They tend to be quieter and more laidback than large social gatherings, which can help if you have sensory worries.
You can even start with one-on-one meetups. Call up a friend or new acquaintance and ask them to have coffee or a meal with you. And if you do see a large gathering you're interested in, you can invite a friend along to make it less stressful.
Facebook Events are a great way to find local opportunities for engaging in social activities. Keep an eye on the events pages in your local communities and don't be afraid to get involved!
Older adults who are feeling isolated or lonely in their homes and want even easier opportunities for social engagement might consider moving into a retirement community. Independent and assisted living communities offer plenty of options for socializing, including daily planned activities for almost any type of interest.