2017-09-27 / Health

Socializing and your health

By AMY HOSIER
Associate Extension Professor for Family Life Education

Just as we need food and water to survive, we also need meaningful social relationships and connections. Because we are wired for social contact, going without it increases the risks to jeopardize our overall health, well-being and life quality. While it is okay to feel lonely and to be alone at times, chronic loneliness can cause serious health concerns. Researchers continue to demonstrate how important meaningful relationships with others are to our mental, emotional and physical health.

Loneliness, if not addressed, can lead to social isolation, physical and mental decline and depression. Recent studies have shown that social isolation can also lead to a number of negative health impacts, including poor sleeping patterns, a disrupted immune system, poor nutrition, destruction of arteries and high blood pressure. When the need for socialization is not met, it can also negatively affect learning, memory and motivation.

Loneliness can occur at any age and can be a normal feeling — especially after a break-up, a move to a new location, loss of a loved one or exclusion from a group. But chronic loneliness — feeling lonely, isolated or not to close to people for an extended period of time, can bring about discomfort and distress, including feeling sad, empty, isolated, distanced from others, deprived and filled with longing. These feelings lead to many problems. Children and teens, for example, are more likely to adopt an outcast status, have problems in or drop out of school or even become delinquent. Lonely adults are at greater risk of alcoholism and depression. Those living alone are at greater risk of suicide.

Loneliness is particularly prevalent among older adults. As we age, our social circle shrinks, which makes it more difficult to have meaningful interactions with others. According to a 2013 AARP study, the percentage of adults who say they are lonely has doubled since the 1980s from 20 to 40 percent. About 30 percent of adults older than 65 live alone. That number jumps to 50 percent in adults over 85.

If you are experiencing loneliness, you are not alone, and you don’t have to be as there are many ways to increase your social interactions.

Find a cause to be passionate about and donate your time. Chances are there are many community organizations in your area in need of volunteers. Not only will you get to interact with others, but you will also get satisfaction from giving back.

Don’t miss opportunities to interact with your family. Attend family events, such as reunions and weddings. If you have grandkids who live close, consider attending one of their extracurricular activities, such as a ballgame or a dance recital.

Take up a hobby. Find something you are passionate about or learn more about something you already enjoy.

The Cooperative Extension Service offers many opportunities for social interaction including Extension Homemaker clubs, Master Gardener programs, Master Clothing Volunteers, Master Cattleman, 4-H volunteer opportunities and all kinds of classes on various subjects. To find out more about local extension events or for more information on combating loneliness, contact the Letcher County Extension Office at 633-2362.

Return to top