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There are many things we should be doing if we want to live happier, healthier, fitter lives. But the one which is the greatest predictor of health and longevity is staying social. Staying social means;
*Having good relationships in your life – these are relationships with people whom you can count on when the going gets tough. People who you can trust to take you to the doctor if you are sick, or who can just sit with you if you’re in despair. It’s a biological imperative to know we belong and at least three stable relationships is what the research says you need here.
*Having daily social interaction – This means how much you interact with people as you go through your day. This includes not just the people you’re really close to, but also everyone else you talk to. Do you talk to the person who made your coffee, with the postman, with your neighbor? All of these different interactions are an important part of staying social.
Why staying social is important:
*It’s good for your Body:
Research shows that loneliness shortens your life as much as being a regular smoker or alcoholic. If you’re a women with breast cancer, then you are four times more likely to survive if you are not a loner. And did you know that the level of satisfaction you have with your relationships is a better predictor of physical health than your cholesterol level? Your also much more likely to suffer from a heart attack because loneliness weakens the left ventricle of your heart – your really can die of a broken heart. Staying social is not only restorative for your heart, but also bolsters your entire immune system and will literally help to save your life. Women are often much better at staying social than men, and this is a contributing factor to why women in the developed world live an average of six to eight years longer.
*It’s good for your Mind:
Good relationships don’t just protect our body; they protect our brain. Staying social sends feel-good hormones surging through the bloodstream and brain, eliminating much of the emotional and physical pain you would normally experience if you weren’t as social. It leads to less mental deterioration as you age, including better memory functions and less chance of developing dementia. It’s also an important part of overcoming all addictions.
One of the biggest causes of mental health issues is stress – and today more people are feeling stressed out than ever before. One of the most simple ways to reduce stress is by staying social. It doesn’t matter who it is – your friends, work colleagues, your therapist or so on. Having someone to talk to helps to lighten the load and has been shown to significantly reduce stress levels and increase your overall well-being.
*It’s good for your Spirit:
It’s often said that the quality of your life is in direct proportion to the quality of your relationships, and I couldn’t agree with this more. Everything is better in life and more fun when you have people to share it with- laughter is the pathway to the soul. We all need each other, because if we don’t then we miss out on the greatest things life has to offer – the sharing and receiving of love, encouragement and support from family and friends. Sure, things like having a nice house, car or going on nice holidays can all boost your happiness in the short term, however it’s having great relationships and regular engagement that makes you happy over the long term. At the end of the day, all you really have and all that you can leave behind in this journey we call life, is the people you have met and touched along the way. Staying social is vital to the wellbeing of your spirit – the core essence of who you are.
How social are we?
Despite the enormous benefits of staying social, almost around 50 percent of people living in westernised nations suffer from loneliness. They often feel alone and have no one to talk to, and even more feel as if no one knows them well. It’s hard to believe this is the case given that we live in a world in which we are more connected than ever before.
Barriers to staying social:
The Internet and social media – Studies show that the average person is spending up to 11 hours a day on the internet with much of it being spent on ‘social’ media. However, there is a big difference between interacting on social media as opposed to in person. It’s really important to point this out because it often passes under our conscious radar, which is why we relate online activity with the real thing. Basically, face-to-face contact which includes making eye contact with somebody, shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust and lowers your cortisol levels, therefore lowering stress. And dopamine is generated, which gives us a little high and it kills pain. It’s like a naturally produced morphine. In-fact, face-to-face engagement releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters, and like a vaccine, they protect you now in the present and well into the future. Face-to-face interaction also increases your social intelligence and creates a biological force field against disease and decline.
Being too busy – We all live increasingly busy lives these days and it really can be difficult to catch-up with family/friends. Obviously different life stages also affect this, with some stages providing less time for social engagement than others.
Other – Mental health issues either diagnosed or un-diagnosed, fear of putting yourself out there, social awkwardness, poor self-esteem, grief, estrangement of family and friends due to conflict, divorce, substance abuse and so forth. All of these things can and often become barriers to staying social.
How can we be more social?
There are lots of ways we can be more social. Some of these include;
Be fully present – How often do you go anywhere these days only to be surrounded by people glued to their mobile phone screens. Instead, make an effort to be fully present with those around you and engage in conversation. Instead of avoiding eye contact in the lift, make it – you never know who you may meet or what interesting conversation you may strike up.
Moderate your use of technology – The potential for technology to increase intimacy in your life is great, but so is its capacity to diminish it. Think about it – you can skype and send pictures to your loved one from across the world and feel close to them. But at the same time you can lose yourself endlessly looking at this machine, because you may not wish to have a difficult conversation with someone over dinner. So it is important to recognize if your time spent on your computer is increasing or diminishing your social engagement, and in particular that it doesn’t take away from your face-to-face social time. Unfortunately no amount of emoji’s is a substitute for this.
Have regular catch-ups with family and friends – In many regions of the world, such as in Calabria Italy (which is where my family is from), as people age, and indeed across their lifespans, they’re always surrounded by extended family, by friends, by neighbour’s, the grocer and so forth. People are always there or dropping by, and they are never left to live solitary lives. However, here in Australia and other similar countries, we often come home from working long hours and shut ourselves off in our houses. One in three of us live alone, with family and friends often spread over different cities and sometimes with thousands of kilometre’s in-between. If you are fortunate to have family and friends close by, then make an effort to all catch-up more often – maybe the last Sunday of the month or whatever suits.
Get involved with your community – Do you know your neighbour’s? If you don’t then this is the first place you should start – in your street, in your suburb. Also get involved with your community – the local sport club, rotary, an emergency service, a walking group, dance class, school functions, fundraising/other events or anything else. Being part of your community is a great way to be more social.
Be Intentional About it – If you want to have great relationships in your life, then you need to be intentional about doing so. Otherwise, you just drift on by and time passes and you lose contact with those who mean the most to you. We are all busy these days so if your friends don’t instigate a catch-up then you need to take the initiative and do it yourself. If you don’t have many people in your social circle then be proactive and put yourself out there. Websites like meetup and hundreds of others have made it easier than ever before to meet new people in real life with the same interests as you.
Being social includes the non-humankind – There is a reason why it’s said that a dog is a man’s best friend. Whether it’s a dog or any other animal, connecting with them plays a vital role in our overall well-being. In-fact, anyone who has never really connected with an animal before hasn’t really lived.
Connect with yourself first – The ultimate source of connection is with yourself, because once you connect with yourself on a deep level, then you actually realise that you are connected with everyone and everything else that exists. That is to say that you become one with all things. By working on yourself enough you can achieve this, and when you do you will never really feel lonely ever again, and this is so comforting. Without this connection, it is possible to feel alone even if you are in a crowded place.
So if you are not being social enough, then ensure to invest the time and energy into relationships, because we are social creatures at heart. Remember also that no-one wants to be lonely – even if they say they do. Be it a child, aging parents, friends, or the homeless person down the road, if you know anyone who is lonely, then make an effort to visit them – they will appreciate it more than you know.
Q.Are you well connected and engaged in a meaningful way with at least three other people on a regular basis?
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