The need for physical distance leads many of us to feel socially isolated in these challenging times. Yet being socially connected is “considered a fundamental human need,”1 according to Brigham Young University psychology professor and researcher Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad. Human beings are social creatures. Our connection to others enables us to battle diseases, thrive and survive. And research shows that people who take part in meaningful, productive and social activities generally live longer, have a sense of purpose and maintain a better mood.2
Now is the time to establish an action plan to stay connected and promote health and well-being. A good place to start is by doing an audit of current social relationships and activities. Also consider reaching out to friends and associates from the past. There’s never been a better time to renew relationships and to build a stronger sense of community at all levels.
Many charities and nonprofits need additional help as well as helpers at this time. Research shows that volunteering is the gift that gives back. Volunteers make a difference not only in the lives of others but also their own, as health benefits associated with this activity include lowered stress, reduced risk of depression and new relationships, to name a few.3
The key is to make meaningful connections come to life. The International Council on Active Aging, a global association that focuses on aging well, offers the following suggestions to help:
- Pick up the telephone and call someone. Call grandkids, family members or associates. Maybe reminisce with that cousin you have not spoken to in years. Social isolation really brings home the value of our daily interactions. Your call might make someone else’s day as well as your own.
- Use technology to connect with family and friends. From Facebook to FaceTime to Skype to WhatsApp, plenty of options are available. Think about reaching out to old friends on Facebook and starting a conversation. Host video chats with your family members—one-on-one, or all of them at one time. You could host a movie night, Sunday supper or Happy Hour via Skype. There are many fun ways to utilize this technology. If you’re not sure how to use these different tools, Google “how to use ________” for information.
- Invite people to join an interactive online discussion group or book club. Or watch livestreams of interest that include live chat. Supporters value real-time interactions with others in their communities of interest. (Hint: Remember when former president Obama joked about everyone watching cat videos on the Internet? He was right.)
- Want to exercise with a partner? Exercise machines and devices are available that allow you to connect and even compete with others while you use them. The Peloton bike is one widely known example.
- Exercise with a friend/family member at a safe distance. Many health officials encourage outdoor exercise if participants observe physical distancing of at least 6 feet (2 meters). If you live alone, slip on your walking shoes and then call a friend or family member to accompany you for a “physically distanced” walk and chat.
- Hang out in your front yard and interact with neighbors. Pull up your lawn chair and chat across the fence while they work in their yards or wash their cars. Talk to postal workers as they deliver mail, or chat with those walking along the sidewalk. As long as you observe the proper physical distance, you can be a friendly, encouraging presence in the neighborhood.
- Spend more time in the park or dog park. Say hello to other dog owners or those you pass in the park. Many people might be grateful to connect and chat from a distance.
- Volunteer with community support groups for outreach calls, either over the phone or safely in person, to support others who are not socially connected.
- Participate in group activities held at a distance. If you live in an apartment building with a courtyard, for example, someone might lead group activities such as light exercise or singing from the courtyard with residents participating from their balconies and front yards.
- Check on your neighbors who live alone to ensure they are okay. From a safe distance, strike up regular conversations with these individuals at the same time every day or several times a week. Ask if they need anything before you go to the grocery store. Whether you live in an apartment or a house, you can give much-needed support to others in your community.
Social connections are the threads that bind our communities together. By prioritizing human interactions and finding meaningful ways to connect during this time of physical distance and social isolation, we can support each other and our own health and well-being.
Source: International Council on Active Aging
- American Psychological Association. (2017, August 5). Press release: So Lonely I Could Die. Available at https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/08/lonely-die.
- Lhussier, M., Dalkin, S., & Hetherington, R. (2019). Community care for severely frail older people: Developing explanations of how, why and for whom it works. International Journal of Older People Nursing, 14(1), e12217. https://doi.org/10.1111/opn.12217
- Mayo Clinic Health System. (n.d.). Helping people, changing lives: The 6 health benefits of volunteering. Available at https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/helping-people-changing-lives-the-6-health-benefits-of-volunteering
Note: This information is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from research. The view expressed here are not necessarily those of the ICAA, we encourage you to make your own health and business decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified professional.