Socialization Affects Your Health
Just as we need food and water to survive, we also need meaningful social relationships and connections. We are wired for social contact, so going without it increases the risks to jeopardize our overall health, well-being, and quality of life. While it is okay to feel lonely and to be alone on occasion, 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.
If not addressed, loneliness 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. On the other hand, chronic loneliness (feeling lonely, isolated, or lacking in close connections 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 from 20 percent in the 1980s to 40 percent today. 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. Consider the following tips:
- Find a cause to be passionate about and donate your time. There are many community organizations in Oldham County in need of volunteers: Humane Society of Oldham County, Oldham County Red Cross, Crossroads Pregnancy Center, Dare to Care Food Bank, and many more. 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 like 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. The socialization will positively impact your health and also encourage the child to practice and try harder.
- Take up a hobby. Find something you are passionate about or learn more about something you already enjoy. Consider joining a group that shares your interests, such as a writing group at the Oldham County Public Library or the knitters at Friends and Fiber in La Grange.
The Oldham County 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. Find out more about local extension events by contacting us via (502) 222-9453 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit oldham.ca.uky.edu or facebook.com/OldhamCo to learn more about upcoming events.
Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expressions, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, or physical or mental disability.
Written by Amy Hosier, Associate Extension Professor for Family Life Education, and Lauren State Fernandez, Oldham County Extension Staff Assistant.