• The benefits of social interaction don't end when you say goodbye. Recent research has shown that regular social interaction leads to both increased heart and brain health.
• In this article we discuss the recent findings between social interactions and cognitive health and provide several ideas to boost the enjoyment and amount of social interactions you participate in.
Nobody likes feeling alone. Recent research has shown that the negative health effects of loneliness are equivalent to those of alcoholism or obesity.
According to an article in Perspectives on Psychological Science, individuals who report feeling lonely have a 30% greater risk of an early death.
Joel Pava Phd, the Director of Psychotherapy Services at MGH’s Depression Clinical and Research Program states that, “Without the support and companionship of others, individuals lack the resources that intimate relationships might provide … that can result in greater stress, which undermines mental and physical health.”
Dr. Pava continues that it is not simply enough to be physically around people. To benefit from relationships individuals should form close, emotionally supportive bonds. These relationships are especially beneficial when confronting the emotional-stressing difficulties that often accompany older age.
Humans are inherently social creatures; studies have repeatedly shown that individual happiness and feelings of fulfillment are often significantly affected by meaningful relationships with other individuals.
While the benefits of social relationships may not be immediately tangible, the benefits provided by relationships are long-lasting and wide-ranging:
- Spending time with your friends lowers blood pressure
- Being socially active boosts your immune system
- Engaging yourself socially can slow and stabilize cognitive decline
Being social is especially important in older age, when individuals may encounter difficulty performing activities they once enjoyed.
To reduce loneliness and develop healthy social relationships consider some of the following approaches.
Reconnect: Reach out to people you know, even if you haven’t seen them in a while. Ask them to lunch or coffee, or just a time to speak over the phone and catch up.
Be proactive: Ask friends to lunch or see a movie with your spouse, visit your children or grandchildren. You can’t simply expect to sit at home and have healthy relationships. Like anything good in life, forming and maintaining healthy relationships takes effort.
Help others: Volunteering has proven to not only be a rewarding activity which can provide meaning to one’s life, but also an excellent way to meet new people. A quick Google search of “volunteering” followed by your zip code should provide you with a list of opportunities.
Consider a Therapist: If you’re lonely, talking with a therapist is an excellent consideration. They often have previous experience dealing with loneliness and can help work you through it.
Don’t be afraid to open up: Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” Don’t be afraid to open up about your life or ask for advice and support. Individuals often enjoy the feeling of being asked for advice and it is a great segway into deeper and more meaningful conversation.