A good friendship works like a positive feedback loop: You feel warm and fuzzy in your friend’s presence, which encourages you to hang out with this person again and again. Before long, you’ve solidified your bond, which can act as a buffer against loneliness, reduce your stress levels, boost your mood, and according to a review of more than 148 studies, even help you live longer. But, turning your connections into longevity-boosting powerhouses requires time, effort, and, yes, socializing. If that word alone made you groan, do know that socializing for introverts is very possible—and even enjoyable—with a reframe of how and in what context you do it.
Though researchers are still figuring out exactly why maintaining social ties is so clearly linked to longevity, they’ve found that these connections need to be high quality and supportive (rather than straining) to have that effect. And that distinction actually works in favor of introverts, says clinical psychologist Laurie Helgoe, PhD, author of Introvert Power. “Because introverts are more easily drained socially, they tend to be picky about relationships. And being picky is a good thing, given that socializing with people who bring you down or who model unhealthy coping is not going to benefit your health or longevity,” she says.
Even so, it’s important for introverts to avoid the trap of being too picky about friends, or not, well, picking any at all. “It does take effort to find and maintain friendships, and introverts may sometimes find solitude to be an easier alternative,” says Dr. Helgoe. That’s where you get into tricky territory: It’s not just that having strong friendships boosts longevity, but also that lacking strong friendships can lead to declines in physical and psychological health, says psychologist Emma Seppälä, PhD, author of The Happiness Track. “Low social connection is also associated with a higher propensity to antisocial behavior that can lead to even further isolation,” she says.
“Think of investing in newer friendships the same way you might think of regular exercise: Gearing up to do it will take energy, but in the end, consistency pays off.” —clinical psychologist Laurie Helgoe, PhD
To steer clear of that spiral, then, it’s important for introverts to approach socializing from a different angle—one that reflects the kind of relationships they actually enjoy having and maintaining. “Because introverts most appreciate the comfort of longstanding, close friendships, it can be helpful to think of investing in newer friendships the same way you might think of regular exercise,” says Dr. Helgoe. “Gearing up to do it will take energy, but in the end, consistency pays off.”
5 ways introverts can still reap all the longevity-boosting benefits of socializing
1. Start by finding an alternative word for “socializing”
If the word itself is an instant turnoff for you, then turn off the word. “To many introverts, the word ‘socializing’ conjures images of dreaded small talk, fake laughter, and clinking glasses in an overcrowded room,” says Dr. Helgoe. “But, as an introvert, if I think of ‘relationships’ instead of ‘socializing,’ I imagine relaxed conversations, genuine laughter, and shared activities.”
So, “relationships” is a good swap-in—but the word you use can be anything that connotes real connections, whether that’s “bonding,” “partnerships,” or something else in that vein. “From there, the focus can be, ‘How can I foster and tend to the relationships [or connections or bonds] that I value and desire?’” says Dr. Helgoe.
2. Turn a personal passion into a social outlet
The quickest way to fast-track a total stranger into a meaningful friend (and skip all that surface-level chitchat) is to connect with them on a personal interest. So, if you’re looking to grow your social group as an introvert, consider “what you love most in your ‘introvert world,’ and then set out to find your people,” says Dr. Helgoe.
If your thing is movies, maybe you find a film class or volunteer to help plan a local film festival, she suggests. Or, if you love books, perhaps you find a book club to join, hang out at the library, or bring your reading to a coffee shop, where it’ll be a great conversation starter. “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.
3. Carve out time for deeper chats (not just catch-ups)
Socializing that takes the form of “life dumps”—where you fill in your friend on everything that’s been going on with you for the past few weeks or months, and then, they do the exact same—is not only draining for introverts, but also, it doesn’t leave any time for real intimacy. Instead, Dr. Helgoe suggests relying on low-lift forms of communication, like text messages or emails to stay in touch with a few good friends on the regular, so that when you’re meeting up in person, you can skip the basic catch-up and move right into the good stuff.
To that end, make sure you’re also setting aside enough time for hangouts with any close friend in order to allow for the kind of relational intimacy you desire and deserve. That could mean regular 30-minute coffees or more sporadic three-hour hangouts; but either way, it’s important to hit a critical mass of time, so to speak, to ensure you both have the space to feel truly seen and heard.
4. Plan and schedule in advance
Spur-of-the-moment social events? Not typically an introvert’s jam. “Introverts do not like interruptions, and happenstance meetings can feel like an intrusion on other activities,” says Dr. Helgoe. By contrast, having regular time on your calendar for meet-ups keeps that scenario out of the picture. “For example, 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,” she says.
5. Nurture your internal sense of connection
In the same way that you can feel lonely in a crowd, you can also feel a sense of connection to others in your life, even while spending time alone, according to Dr. Seppälä. “One of the most important ways to do that is to lower your stress levels,” she says, “because stress is linked with a focus on the self, and that can create a feeling of disconnection from others [regardless of how much or how little time you’re spending with them].”
In that vein, taking care of your personal well-being by getting frequent exposure to nature, meditating, and practicing other stress-relief measures can actually enhance your internal sense of belonging. And researchers have found that simply feeling that sense of belonging and connection to others—even when you aren’t often surrounded by friends—can have its own longevity-promoting upside.
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