The power of social connection in increasing your Healthspan. Remember you can have social connection, even at a distance.
Almost all of us are concerned about our health and the health of our loved ones during this pandemic. Rightfully so, the number of people infected, the number of deaths, and the frequent reports of ongoing symptoms in some long after the virus is gone are frightening.
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To stay safe, we are wearing masks, washing our hands, and social distancing. And there is an increasing emphasis on the importance of staying active, eating well, getting adequate sleep, and managing stress to lower the risk of severe illness or death from COVID.
However, there is an additional opportunity you may not be aware of to lower your risk from COVID and lower the risk for your friends and loved ones as well.
The power of connection
Social connection, or the feeling that you belong to a group and feel close to other people, can be incredibly impactful on your health and well-being.
Research has shown that strong social connection has many health and wellness benefits, including:
- Decreased risk of death
- Strengthened immune system and faster recovery from disease
- Lower levels of depression
- Improved mental sharpness and less risk of dementia
On the other hand, social isolation has been shown to be as dangerous for our health as high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking.
Social isolation during the pandemic
There has never been a time in history when social connection is more important – and more complex. Social distancing needed to slow the spread of COVID has worsened an already concerning trend in social isolation. Loneliness was a concern before the pandemic. One study showed that almost 1 in 4 adults over 65 reported being socially isolated, and these numbers are likely worse today. Although the impact of social distancing on our health won’t be known for some time, early data suggest anxiety, depression, and mental distress has skyrocketed during the pandemic.
Stay connected, but stay safe
We must continue to follow social distancing recommendations until the COVID pandemic is under control, but there are opportunities to stay connected AND stay safe.
Here are four effective strategies if you would like to increase your social connection AND improve your health and your loved ones’ health.
- Reconnect with your friends or family you haven’t talked to in awhile. Make time to reconnect with old friends by calling them or sending a text. Letting someone you haven’t seen in a while know you are thinking about them can make their day and yours.
- Schedule regular virtual meetings. Having a plan to meet up with family or friends regularly via video conferencing or even old-fashioned telephone can help to improve your mood and feeling of connectedness
- Minimize screen time. Technology can help us stay connected, but it also can isolate us. Prioritize interactive screen activities over passive consumption of media.
- Ask for Help. Don’t assume that your friends/family know you are feeling disconnected. Asking for help may take you out of your comfort zone, but it can be a great way to get your friends and family more connected to you and you to them.
- If you feel disconnected because of anxiety and depression, talk to your doctor to see if there are treatment options that can help you feel better and enjoy more social connection.
Social connection is an under-recognized factor in staying healthy. Emphasizing the importance of building and maintaining relationships can be a useful tool for stress management and leads to a better quality of life for you and those you connect with during these difficult times.
Stay safe during the pandemic, but don’t let your busy life – or pride – prevent you from the many benefits of social connection.