Everyday Grace

thoughts and inspiration on emotional health by colleen p. arnold

Archive for the month “February, 2012”

How Grownups Make Friends, Part II (5 Tips for Introverts)

1. Get out there. We all need our alone time, but you’re not going to meet new people in your living room. Be places. Get out of the carpool line, park a few blocks away and walk to pick up your kids. Notice the other parents. Make eye contact and smile. Take your kids to birthday parties and instead of dropping them off and leaving, stick around. Go to events. Accept invitations. Eat in the cafeteria instead of at your desk.

The “mere exposure effect” says that the more we see something, the more we like it. So the more your neighbors, co-workers, etc., see you out and about, the more positive feelings they’ll have toward you. Let people become used to seeing you and recognizing you.

2. Start conversations. This is the hardest thing for us introverts. But if you’re in close proximity with someone, there’s ALWAYS something around you that you can comment on. “Thank goodness it’s not raining on us as we stand out here.” “The clouds are beautiful today.” “Wow, look at that headline on the magazine in the grocery store.” “Where do you get your son’s hair cut? It looks great.” “Did you hear what he said about _________? I didn’t quite catch it.” Don’t sweat it if it turns into a short interaction and not a full conversation. If you have several short interactions with the same people, they will turn into conversations.
Try to stay positive. Unconsciously, people attribute traits to us based on what we say about other people or things. If the only thing you can think of to say is a complaint or something negative, try to insert humor into it. Making people laugh is always a good way to connect. Smile! Remember, other people are nervous, too, about starting conversations. Make it easier for them by asking questions they can easily answer (most people love to talk about themselves), and they’ll remember you as a friendly, kind person.

3. Join Groups. Most bookstores (the ones that are still around….sigh) have book groups for different interests. Meetup.com is a great place to find groups based around an interest. Volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about. Make sure that the groups are based on something you’ll enjoy even if you don’t find someone to click with. Sometimes activities are worthwhile to do just for the sake of doing them. Plan activities and invite people you think might be interested. One thing that’s worked for me is planning to do something I already planned to do, like visit an outlet or take a short hike, and inviting one person who might be interested to come with me. If they decline, nothing’s lost because I was going to do it anyway.

4. Be Selective. Talk to as many people as you can, but be selective about those with whom you pursue friendships. Make sure you’ve enjoyed those conversations, and that you have a feeling the person might be trustworthy. Pursue those who say nice things about other people and don’t talk behind people’s backs (remember – the way people treat others is the way they’ll eventually treat you). Choose those with similar interests. Friends of friends have great potential because you already have something (or someone) in common.
5. Courage! Fight your urge to run and hide. You don’t have to turn into a complete extrovert to make friends, but if you make a goal to do one thing each day that connects with someone new, you’ll be well on your way to making new friends without too much stress. Take a break and congratulate yourself for each new step you take. It does get easier with practice, I promise.

How Grownups Make Friends

I’ve been really lucky with friends. Although I consider myself shy and rather introverted, I’ve collected friends from each job I’ve had and each school I went to. I’ve also made at least a few friends with each school my children have attended. I wish I had more time to connect in person with my friends, and too much of the connecting is done via social networking like Facebook, but it’s comforting to know that the mutual friendship is still there.

But one of the problems my clients bring up most often is, how do you make friendships as adults? As children, we’re thrown into a class with anywhere from 20-40 other kids our age, and sometimes we find like-minded kids to hang out with, and sometimes we find ourselves hanging out with whoever will hang out with us. There’s not a lot of choice in the matter, but this is the ground where we learn how to make and keep friendships.

As adults, we often have workplaces where we might meet some people we could see ourselves spending time with outside of work, but often, the people you spend the entire day with are not the people you want to see on the weekend, too. When we have kids, we end up waiting during dance class or soccer, with the same people each week, so it’s easy to strike up a conversation. It’s even easier if your kids get along and want playdates. But, sometimes we don’t click with the other parents or they don’t have the time or space for new friends.

So how do you make friends? A popular blogger and writer (her “Woman’s Comfort Book” is required reading for any woman who’s not sure how to take care of themselves), Jennifer Loudon, recently posed this question to her circle, and came up with some great ideas: Find Your Tribe.

I also posed this question to some of my friends, and they also came up with similar ideas:

  • I moved to a small town in NH alone, and I just went to the small shops and diners, read their newsletter to find activities, went to the nature preservation society and volunteered to help clear the trails. The library. Stuff like that.
  • Church. Moms group. Kid’s activities. Take a class at the community college.
  • Through message boards/common interests
  • Volunteering, joining team sports leagues/gym (and then talking to people and inviting them to activities), joining a church. Taking classes at the local college or through parks and recreation (photography, karate, salsa dancing, cooking classes, art classes etc)
  • Also, meetup.com is an excellent resource in any area.
  • Talk to your neighbors, and it might not happen on the first try, so don’t give up.

So, basically, you go where you like to go, and you look around for other people who like to go to those places, too.

But once you get there, how do you start the conversation? How do you actually form a friendship? Stay tuned….that’s next week’s topic.

The New 20’s – Young Adulthood or Extended Adolescence?

My boys and I have been watching “Downton Abbey,” a Masterpiece Theater series on PBS. The lord’s valet, Mr. Bates, and the daughter’s maid, Anna, had what we might think of as a crush on each other until Anna blurted out “I love you!” on an outdoor walk. I remember thinking, “How on earth does she know she loves him?” He proposed to her in the same breath that he asked her to call him by his first name. In another storyline, one of the lord’s daughters has been visiting with another aristocrat, and although they don’t know each other that well, hopes he’ll ask her to marry him at their outdoor party.

Since I’ve been researching the time of life between 18-30 years recently, I’m struck by how differently the individuals think of their futures. Of course, back in the early 20th century, even until fairly recently, women had few options available to them except to get married and raise a family. Young men often knew exactly what profession they’d be going into before graduating high school. Going to college was more unusual than it is today, and was seen as a means to pursue a particular career path where higher education was necessary, such as law or medicine.

It’s such a different landscape now. Now about 2/3 of all high school graduates attend college, and most entering freshman don’t know what career path they want to pursue. Even when I attended college back in the 1980’s, most students had decided by their junior year what career they wanted. Now, it’s not uncommon for college students to graduate and still be undecided. Many switch between jobs in various fields and don’t settle on a career until their late 20’s. They are marrying later, having children later, and using the decade of the 20’s to explore more relationship and career options than most of us even imagined.

What is adulthood? Sociological research, in general, defines adulthood as a time of financial independence and responsibility, marriage and parenthood. What we used to think of as the transition to adulthood, the late teens, is really now more of an extended adolescence.

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, at Clark University in Massachusetts, has proposed that we start thinking of the time of the 20’s as a distinctive developmental period which he terms, “emerging adulthood.” He says this is a time that bridges adolescence and young adulthood, usually between 19-25, although it can reach until 29. He doesn’t like the term “young adults,” because emerging adults have usually not completed the tasks of adulthood.  Also, the term “young adults” has been used so much to refer to teenagers (such as in the “young adult” section of bookstores) that it isn’t descriptive anymore. He also rejects “transitioning into adulthood,” because that term focuses on the stage afterward, and not on the developmental tasks right in the moment.

While this time of life can be exhilarating and full of possibilities, it is also charged with instability and uncertainty. Emerging adults are more concerned with fulfillment and satisfaction than the generations before them, and tend to be more self-focused than any other age of post-childhood development. On the other hand, so many possibilities can be overwhelming, and relationship upheaval can be discouraging. Choices can be much harder to make when you’ve got too many options. Many people aren’t sure anymore when to call themselves an adult, and find the difficulty of breaking into financial independence very frustrating.

Also, the mental health challenges that this new phase brings us can’t be ignored. According to NIMH, the suicide rate among 20-24 year olds is higher than the national average. This time of life can be wonderful, but it can also be a time of debilitating anxiety, self-doubt and alcohol and drug abuse.

As therapists, we need to acknowledge the difference in this stage of life, help our clients embrace it for all of its possibilities, but also help them not get weighed down by indecision and lack of direction.

Note: If you’re between the ages of 20-30, and live in San Mateo or Foster City, CA, there’s a resource to help you pay for private counseling. See The Ben Fund for details. I’m happy to have signed on to be a therapist for them.

5 Things a Cold Can Teach You About Life

So I was feeling quite cocky about my superior immune system last week when both boys

This isn't me. But it's how I feel.

came down with a cold and I seemed to escape it. Boy, I must be in excellent health! That neti pot really works – how clever am I to use it faithfully! Then, yesterday, it all came tumbling down and I got the fever, chills, and horrible cough with chest pain. When Nyquil failed me and I lay awake and feverish last night, I realized there are several life lessons we get hammered with when felled by a virus. You can credit this post to my fever.

1. We are not in control. Oh sure, there are many things we can control, and we do have a lot of power over how our life turns out. But the BIG stuff, like which lifetime smokers get cancer and which don’t, which of your kids will have a passionate temperament and which will be mellow,  and when a virus will hit your lungs with the power of a thousand razor blades – we don’t have any control over that. The only thing we can do is remember the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,” and do our best to roll with the waves.

2. Always carry a handkerchief. This is a two-part lesson: be prepared and be conscious. I used to always carry paper tissues, but after I had a son who, like me, is allergic to air, we probably filled our own landfill with used Kleenex. I switched to soft cotton handkerchiefs and have never looked back. Softer on the delicate nose, easy to wash and much less messy, I am taking care of my nose and the earth at the same time. This is the sort of tightrope we always have to walk – how to reconcile our needs with the earth’s diminishing resources. Also, you never know when your nose will run or you’ll need to mop up a spill. It’s best to be prepared.

3. Never forget that your perception is only that. This one came to me last night as I lay freezing under the down comforter, despite my sweatshirts and the hot-pack I had wrapped around my feet. I could not believe how cold I was. I begged my husband not to turn down the heat as we usually do at night. I was bone-cold, but no one else was. The house wasn’t cold at all, but something was happening inside of me to make it seem that way. Check your perceptions. Stack the down comforters on yourself if you need to, but remember that not everyone else is experiencing the same thing. Alcoholics Anonymous, those creators of pithy sayings, use the acronym FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real.

4. The world will go on. I use this often with my clients who absolutely can’t take time for themselves because they have so much to do and so many people relying on them. Being responsible is great. But I ask them, “What if you were hospitalized with pneumonia? What would happen?” Usually they recognize that others would step in to do their job, step in to feed the children (maybe not the healthiest meals that you would cook for them, but still. The kids aren’t going to starve) and maybe even a few events would get postponed. I feel terribly guilty cancelling a whole days’ worth of client sessions, but I’ve never actually had anything horrible happen because I did. I have, however, had clients look at me very concerned, and help themselves liberally to the hand sanitizer, because I was clearly sick and still working.

5.  This too shall pass. How long will my chest feel like it’s on fire? Not that long. How long will babies wake up and feed every 3 hours? Not that long. I know it seems like forever when you’re in the moment. I remember someone saying of a child’s early years, “The years fly by, but some of the days last an eternity.”  I do not do sick well. I am a 9 on the Enneagram, and we like to be comfortable. Being sick is definitely not comfortable. Patience is key. Faith is key. Things always change – change is really the only constant in life. Things get better, then they get worse, then they get better again. See Number 1 and do your best to roll with the waves.

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