We are living in strange times in this coronavirus era.  The advice to older adults has switched from social engagement to social distancing.  Humans are social beings, however, and studies show that social engagement has a multitude of benefits.  Loneliness, in contrast, has negative physical as well as emotional impacts on health and aging.  Loneliness is often associated with higher systolic blood pressure, depression, and earlier morbidity and mortality rates. Today we are going to look at the benefits of socialization, and how we can socially engage without putting our health at risk.

Studies show that social interaction is associated with longevity.  Why is this?  Socializing has been shown to do the following:  

  • Reduce stress
  • Reduce depression and anxiety
  • Increase feelings of self-esteem
  • Encourage fitness
  • Increase cognition 
  • Enhance and maintain communication skills

There is much that goes into socializing.  Most of the time, we are getting dressed, getting out, and increasing mobility to do so, which is great for us physically.  We are moving.  When we converse with others, we are having to think, listen, process information, formulate responses, which are all great things for our cognition.  Socializing also provides emotional support, especially during trying times.  There are ways to stay in contact with one another while adhering to physical distancing.

  • Embrace the technology.  Numerous platforms are out there to help people stay connected.  If you have an iPhone, you can Facetime with others who also have an iPhone.  If you are on Facebook, you can do a video call via Facebook messenger.  Google hangouts is also a video platform, as is Zoom and Skype. Many of the platforms are easy to utilize, especially if initiated by the other party.  It can be as easy as accepting the video call.  
  • Make phone calls.  Thank goodness we don’t have to rely on the pony express to take news to our loved ones.  The phone is a good and easy way to stay connected with others.  Even if it’s a quick “I was just thinking of you” call, it can lift someone’s spirits to know they are being remembered.
  • E-mail.  For those with computers, e-mail is certainly an easy way to communicate.  It can be a nice disruption amidst all of the junk e-mails one gets, to receive an e-mail from a friend or family member. 
  • Write cards and letters.  I love receiving cards and letters.  I think my mother and grandmother must have as well, because they had drawers full of them (as I do).  I love pulling out old letters my grandmother sent to me because I can almost hear her voice in them.  She always wrote just as she spoke, and I find them very comforting.  Now is a great time to renew that wonderful means of communication. 

Remember that while we have to be physically distant right now, we do not have to be emotionally distant.  Let’s use what tools we have to support one another in this difficult time.