How Being Social Can Better Your Health
2020 sucked. Many people died and others got very sick. Quarantine, although good for stopping the spread of a deadly virus, was frankly not fun nor was it good for people’s well-being. Thankfully, 2021 is proving to be much better.
Despite our best efforts to keep our sanity and health intact, it may be years before researchers fully understand the effects of the pandemic on social and mental health. Luckily, we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
With vaccines rolling out across the country in large numbers, and many people posting pictures of their bandage-covered bare arms while proudly holding up their Vaccination Record Cards, it is easy to believe that things are returning to normal — and they are, or at least, they are returning to a new normal.
Those who now feel more comfortable venturing back out into the world are posting pictures all over social media of themselves out and about with their loved ones with beaming smiles, and you can visibly see the joy on their faces. Many of us, I think it is safe to say, are happy about leaving isolation and re-entering the world. And it’s good for us.
Recent Changes Led to Greater Isolation
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 it forced many people to stay inside and separate from others for longer periods of time than they were used to. After everyone got past the distraction of the toilet paper shortage, they settled down into their new quarantined lives.
Outings became scarce and reserved for times of need, and even trips to the grocery store became scary endeavors, as we all tried to stay as far apart as possible from each other and were afraid to touch literally anything.
Introverts often joke during the pandemic that nothing has changed for them and that they are quite comfortable with the isolation (with an add of “thank you very much”). This may be true for some, but it is certainly not the case for everyone.
Spending time alone can be good for spending time on creative ventures, focusing, and recharging. Yet in general, humans are social creatures. Speaking as a former introvert-turned extrovert who works remotely, I went from feeling excited about working from home to almost missing the office (key word is “almost”). I see more friends and family now than this time last year, many whom are vaccinated and I can finally see after long periods of time apart. However, things are not fully back to normal, and many people are still in quarantine.
Negative Effects of Isolation
Being isolated and feeling lonely can lead to many health risks, including both mental and physical, which are interconnected. I have custody of my kids 50 percent of the time, and on the long stretches without them I am especially negatively affected. After multiple days of being alone, depression starts to set in. I find myself feeling sad, my head feeling heavy, the days feeling dark. When my kids show up I immediately perk up, and after tight joyful hugs and smiles I feel immensely happier. They are like little rays of sunshine.
Here are some of the potential negative effects of social isolation:
- Those who feel lonely have risks of having higher rates of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and suicide, and a greater risk of using drugs and alcohol for self-medication.
- Feeling socially isolated can lead people to a decline self-care such as bathing and grooming.
- Social isolation can lead people to have problems processing information and lead them to have difficulties with making decisions and memory storage and recall.
- Social isolation or loneliness can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke by about 30%.
- Social isolation is associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia for those age 50 and older.
Benefits of Socialization
As we have learned after months of hiding indoors, it really can be nice to run into others during daily routines and to exchange hellos and small talk. Life is more fun with concerts to attend, and restaurants to visit, and places to travel to. Social interactions can become exhausting (especially with children who are struggling to control their emotions), and we all need a break at times, but overall the benefits of being social far outweigh the negatives.
- Highly social people have the highest level of immune-system functioning and are less likely to catch the common cold.
- Having good social support can provide purpose and increase your life expectancy.
- Staying social helps to fight depression while boosting your confidence and self-esteem.
- Socialization sharpens the memory and cognitive skills and reduces people’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s.
- Socialization reduces people’s risk for high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Self-Care Can Help Minimize Effects of Isolation
For those who are not yet vaccinated and/or do not feel fully comfortable yet returning to pre-COVID lives, there are ways to combat the effects of isolation in the comfort of your own home. Modern times allow many conveniences that allow us to stay connected and take better care of ourselves.
- We may not be able to touch others, but we can still talk to them. Keep in touch through phone calls, email, texting, social media, and the plethora of video conferencing platforms available such as Skype and Zoom.
- Every day can feel like a weekend when you work from home, and it can be easy to let things slide or to stay up too late. Follow a daily routine to promote and establish a sense of normalcy.
- Practice healthy habits such as exercising, eating well, and getting enough rest to keep your mind and body healthy.
- Do relaxing activities such as stretching, reading, journaling, etc. to help relieve stress stemming from isolation.
- Focus on positivity instead of negativity with positive self-talk, a gratitude journal, and associating with positive people.
With things slowly returning to normal, and the weather warming up, it almost feels as though we are waking up from hibernation. Sure we may feel a bit more uncomfortable with hugs and kisses and other forms of touching, but at least we can venture out with our loved ones and get closer everyday to life pre-COVID. And post-COVID, we will appreciate our loved ones more than ever.