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Are You Socially Healthy?

In these times of social distancing, it has been hard to work on "social health." Now, you may think that's just a trite label for missing my friends, but social health is a real and important factor in your overall health.

In a study of social connections, these terms were defined as a means of explaining social health. First, there is social isolation, which is pretty much the absence of any social relationships. Social Integration is the level of involvement with informal relationships, without referencing the quality of those relationships. That is covered in quality of relationship, which deals with the positive (or negative) impacts each social relationship has upon a person. Finally, the term social network was defined as the web of these social relationships, their strength, and how they may intertwine.

If our health depends on social self-care, how are we to maintain all of these relationships during a pandemic? How in-tact is our social well-being? And on what level can social isolation help us?

Can you be healthy alone? Behavioral scientists say no. We need people. People who need people are the luckiest people in the world, right? (I'm striking my best Streisand pose!)

Seriously, humans must interact for a variety of purposes, but we absolutely need a strong interpersonal connection with at least a few people in order to survive. You need someone to be "your person," with whom you can share fears, hopes, and your innermost thoughts. Sometimes, not even a spouse is right for the job, so you need a few extra friends on the side.

I think there must be a scale of wellness when it comes to social wellness. Too often I hear people say that they long for an invitation, only to bow out at the last minute. We want to belong, but we like staying home. Anyone relate? But it's important to make the effort to connect with people on a variety of levels. And in person - not just virtually. Did you know that social relationships can have both long and short term effects on your health? It can even affect the mortality rate!

So let's get socializing!

Why is face-to-face best? First, it allows us to build connections. It also shows your body language and facial expressions which help tremendously with communication. It helps to improve the connectedness and develop and deepen the relationship.

How can you nurture your relationship?

First, when you're together - turn off the cell phones! Watch this video that has a powerful punch. It's true! I see it all the time, and sadly, I am guilty of bringing out the phone at times ...

Why do we do that? Why can't we give the person we're with our full attention? Well, for one, they may be on their gadget, too. But disconnecting tells the other person that they are important to you, and that others can wait.

I think another reason we turn to technology is because it's easier to relate to a person in the electronic world. We can choose our words carefully and respond as fast or as slow as we need to. In real life, conversation can be a burden - especially if you don't have the skills to keep up your end! I have felt like that before, and still do at times. We need to develop the art of conversation because I fear we are losing it. Just look at all the kids on their cell phones when they are in a group. They should be talking and interacting, but what they are doing is more like avoiding. Yeah, it's nice to belong to a group, but the pressure to actually talk is too great.

If conversation is difficult for you, you'll have to learn some skills. First, behave like a social person - even if you don't feel like it. Go out and get involved! Volunteering is a great way to meet new people and engage in new conversations and experiences that may even enhance your life.

Learn how to talk! Yup. This is an area that I fail miserably. I can handle small talk for about 3 minutes before I panic. I never know what to say and don't want to end up just spouting on endlessly about myself. Nobody wants to hear all that! Plus a conversation should be two-sided (or more!)

The solution? Ask open-ended questions! These are questions that require more detail and cannot be answered with a yes, no, or one single word. It calls for explanation and connection to feelings. Watch how you begin your questions. Words like are, do, who, when, where, which are closed ended. They will stop the conversation cold (unless you've got a great follow-up question.). Try instead, to use words like how, why, and in what way when you ask questions - or even "tell me more." These will help to expand the conversation. The best part is, when your friend responds with their lengthy answer, the pressure is off of you for a while. And, something they say may trigger your next question! Just be sure to listen carefully. Too often, as we think about what we may want to say next, we focus so intently on our next thought that we fail to hear what is being said. (As a former teacher, I know this from experience!)

Other ways to nurture your relationships include reaching out through cards and hand-written notes. You can also connect virtually through social media, but opt for an app that will show your face. Facebook Messenger has a video chat feature, or you could use FaceTime or Zoom. Another fun app, Marco Polo, allows you to post short video messages where you can converse back and forth with a friend - or an entire group. I have these set up for many of my family members. Private Marcos for individual family members and friends, and some groups to converse with many at once. I have a group with just my two brothers, another with my brothers and my dad, a third with extended family, and even some specialty groups - like one for chatting about investments.

My family is pretty spread out - Western NY, NYC area, NJ, Florida, California - we don't get to see each other very often, so we started to do family game nights from time to time. We sign into Zoom, and then do a share screen to play Jackbox games together. It's a lot of fun playing the games, but even better that we can talk and interact while seeing each other's faces. I highly recommend it if you've got people spread out around the world!

Finally, there is something to be said for being alone. Too much socializing can have a negative affect on your health, too. Sometimes we need our own private getaway to destress and recoup from whatever life is throwing at the moment. "Me" time is perfect - and that time can be anything you choose do alone. For some, meditation, yoga, or a hot bath is enough. Others just need to be in a cozy space with a good book or soothing music. For me, since I don't get out enough, it is often a shopping trip! But I do like my alone time at home - either in my office or out on the patio - where I can sit and relax with no responsibilities for a short time.

So, how are you managing your social life during this crazy time? How are. you staying connected to friends and family?


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