Feeling lonely? Learn to make lasting friendship in the city

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With World Friendship Day being celebrated on 30th July, we talked to the experts about making some mates in Abu Dhabi

When it comes down to it, if we’re talking about making friends, kids seem to have it easy.

Without the adult trappings of self-doubt and self-consciousness, lifelong relationships are formed over simple acts like trading football cards, a mutual appreciation for sandwiches or a spaceship adventure in the living room.

But whether you’ve just moved here or want to widen your friendship circle, the idea of making new mates as an adult can be daunting.

As World Friendship Day approaches on 30th July, we’re here to help. From finding new connections and keeping the old ones to combatting loneliness and what you should do if you’re feeling blue, we’ve got your back.

Making the move

So you’ve arrived in Abu Dhabi, and not only have you left your family and home far behind, but you’re now faced with rebuilding your life all over again.

It’s normal to feel a little worried, reassures Dr David Lee, lead clinical psychologist at the Camali Clinic and HealthPlus Children’s Specialty Center.

“Relocating to a new country can bring with it a whole range of challenges,” he explains. “We should expect to be a little bit scared, anxious and stressed. It’s when that continues and becomes ingrained that it becomes a problem.”

 

Dr Alia Ammar, head of neuropsychology at the American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology and head of psychology at the clinic’s Abu Dhabi branch, agrees, cautioning against imagining an idealised new life.

“There’s a distinction between the moment you begin to consider leaving your home and actually leaving it; it’s a rather idealised moment,” she notes.

“You see yourself leaving work to hang out at the beach, but the realities of day-to-day life shift that.

“As you move over and begin working, it can be a struggle to form meaningful social relationships,” she adds. “It can be challenging to find the time to do so.”

Someone who experienced this sensation firsthand is Amy Compton, receptionist at GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi, who became an expat one year ago.

“It was quite lonely to start off with,” she admits. “When we first moved here, my husband and I lived in a hotel for seven weeks out of our suitcases.

“He started his new job straight away and I was left on my own with no car, no idea where to go and I didn’t know anyone,” Amy adds.

With her husband working long hours, Amy found that the stress and resulting loneliness settling in was greatly eased by friendship from her husband’s work colleagues.

“I do think it can be easier here to find new friends,” she says. “Everyone’s in the same boat – it may not be an overnight thing, but very slowly you start growing a social group.”

While those first flutters of loneliness may be normal in the beginning days, it’s when they continue that action is required.

With isolation as one of the most common reasons why expats pack up their life and return home, it’s vital to notice the warning signs.

“You might experience feelings of fear and significant loneliness, even when you’re among people,” says Dr Alia. “You might also feel very homesick, but mainly for your peer group.”

With other symptoms including insomnia, withdrawal from society, anxiety and depression, above all, the key is to know when to send out an SOS.

“When some people get really overwhelmed and miss their friends, they may get into patterns of negative thinking. This could spiral into depression for some,” explains Dr David. “Looking for early warning signs of potential mental health problems is a good thing, because it means we can intervene early.”

Fear of being forgotten

In this day and age, we’re more connected to our friends and family than ever through social media.

And while Facebook can be great for catching up, it can also lead to further feelings of isolation as your friends and family go on with their lives – without you in them.

“Part of the difficulty with isolation can be an over-reliance on social media,” Dr Alia agrees. “You’re looking at their lives and you’re idealising them.

“It can become challenging when you’re not developing those groups of friends that will be so important to your experience here in the UAE because you substitute that with going online to connect to people back home.

“The grass isn’t necessarily greener and you need to find your own greenery.”

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But while you might have missed your best friend’s wedding or the birth of your nephew or niece, it’s important not to dwell on the feelings that may arise.

“There may be some sadness or feelings of missing out on special occasions and holidays when away,” comments Nicola Beer, psychologist and relationship coach at online wellness platform Enritsch.

“The biggest impact on us emotionally happens when we compare,” she adds. “The moment we compare our lives with others, our emotions will be affected positively or negatively.”

Lost connections

With the transitory nature of life in the UAE, the chances are you’re going to have to say goodbye to a few friends as people come and go.

“We need to focus on what we can enjoy, learn and experience with our friends when they are with us,” says Nicola. “Living in the moment helps us deal with this emotionally and mentally. There are always new people arriving looking to make friends and we have a wonderful mix of nationalities to learn from and be inspired by.”

Seeing friends leave is something Lindsey Parry, writer at arabiannotes.com, knows well.

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“I’m in the situation at the moment where a lot of my close friends have left over the past year,” she reflects. “I’ve become so comfortable with the group of friends that I had, but now I need to make an effort to meet some more people.

“People think arriving here and making new friends is the hardest part, but four-and-a-half years later, I’m finding it tougher than when I started.” Lindsey adds. “One of the things about being an expat is that you need to be comfortable in your own skin and with your own company.”

Creating connections

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The concept of friends may be easier said than done. So where should you start?

“Being social is often easier if it involves engaging in something we like and feel confident in,” notes Pernille Kloeverpris, happiness coach at Enritsch. “On the other hand, if you’ve been dreaming about stargazing for years, now might be the right time to join a group and practise.

 

“With social media opportunities now at hand, it’s very easy to connect in the virtual world and then join in real life activities as well. It all depends on your interests and temperament.”

Nicola agrees, noting that a ‘reap what you sow’ mentality will get you far.

“When you’re enjoying yourself, you will naturally attract people to you,” she says. “Then you need to step a little out of your comfort zone if you are shy and invite people into your life.

“The quickest and easiest way to make new friends is to research what is on in Abu Dhabi: find events, restaurants, activities you would like to try and invite people you meet to join you.

“The more you extend your hand of kindness, the more opportunities you will be given in return.”

Fast friends

Looking to connect? Try these online resources….

  • Abu Dhabi Q&A: Whatever your question, this friendly Facebook group has the right connections to answer, plus holds semi-regular meetups to help members make new friends. Visit: bit.ly/2uUHi4Z
  • com: Whether it’s photography, curry or acting you’re into, you’ll find your tribe here – and if you don’t, set one up yourself! Visit: meetup.com
  • Internations: Designed with expats in mind, this group holds regular meetings and themed outings. Visit: internations.org
  • Abu Dhabi Mums: If you’re a parent, this is a great group for both mums and dads, and kiddies, to make new friends. Visit: abudhabimums.ae
  • Business groups: Network and meet like-minded business people. Options include Canadian Business Council, Business in Heels, International Business Women’s Group, AmCham Abu Dhabi and British Business Group
  • Fitness groups: Join a sports team and have fun getting fit with new friends. Try groups like Duplays, Abu Dhabi Harlequins, Abu Dhabi Softball League, TriBelles, Desert Dragons, Regional Sports, Abu Dhabi Roller Derby or Saracens Cycle
  • Social groups: Join one of the national groups that hosts fun events and get-togethers. Popular ones include Indian Social & Cultural Centre, Aussies Abroad, Abu Dhabi Irish Society, American Women’s Network and St Andrew’s Society

Need to know

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