We think about exercising our physical bodies and keeping our minds active as we age, yet there’s an aspect of well-being we often overlook. It’s our social relationships. There’s growing evidence that our social wellness has a powerful influence on health later in life. It’s been shown to affect our physical and mental health, leading to issues such as anxiety and depression. It’s linked to a higher risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, and negatively influences our genes and immune systems. It also increases the risk of an early death.
Why You May be Feeling Lonely
For reasons that include the pandemic, more than three in five Americans say they feel alone or left out. This number has increased by 13% since 2018, according to a health insurance survey.
Social networks tend to shrink as we get older. As we age, we shift our priorities toward emotional goals. We tend to spend more time on our closest or most rewarding relationships, and less time on casual acquaintances and people in the outer periphery of our social circle. We have fewer, but closer, social relationships.
Our most common social connections are with a spouse or significant partner, children and other family members, and close friends. We count on these relationships to endure through our lifetime. But those relationships also change as family members move away, when we lose a friend, or when we encounter conflict.
Tips for Managing Your Social Wellness
All social relationships have their ups and downs, and those bumps in the road can affect our emotional and physical well-being. The good news is we appear to get better at managing our social relationships the older we get. When you’re investing in your social wellness, it’s important to understand that a more laid-back or passive approach to conflict is not a surrender. In most situations, it’s a way to preserve goodwill in the relationship and reduce your own emotional stress. Here are some guidelines:
- Be less concerned about strict reciprocity in a social relationship: i.e., “You did this, therefore I’ll do that.”
- Let go of the feeling that it’s “all or nothing” during a disagreement.
- Stay tolerant of the other person’s behavior during an interpersonal conflict.
- Defuse tension by avoiding conflict in the first place, letting the situation pass, or directing attention elsewhere.
Tips for Staying Socially Connected
Another reason why social health is important is the effect it has on our brain. A study by the Global Council on Brain Health found that older people who are more socially engaged and have better social support tend to have a higher level of cognitive function. When we make our social wellness a priority, we stay healthier and happier, and live longer than those who don’t. Use these tips to nurture new or existing relationships:
With technology like phones and tablets on hand, we’re used to multitasking while we interact with other people. Make it a point to put your device away and make eye contact with the person you’re talking to, even if you’re doing it virtually.
Look for ways to have a meaningful conversation that goes beyond discussing the weather. Listen to what the person is saying, and when you respond, resist the temptation to respond with a story of your own.
Use these phrases to show you’re really listening:
- “Tell me more about that…” This demonstrates empathy.
- “Really?” “When?” “How?” These words encourage elaboration.
- “Let me be sure I’ve got this right…” This shows that you’ve been paying attention.
- “I’m sorry you’re going through that.” This acknowledges how the other person is feeling, and allows them to work through the situation without you trying to fix it.
You may feel like you’re connecting when you text, email, or post to social media. But when we understand why social health is important, we’re more motivated to set regular dates for in-person interactions. Whether it’s a Zoom call or a safe in-person conversation, the importance of social wellness means that getting together in person shouldn’t just be a one-time occasion.
Mix it up.
Social activities add variety to your life, giving you something to look forward to. Try different ways to meet and mingle with people. It could be a game night, a happy hour, joining a book club or volunteering.
Experience Social Wellness at The Marshes of Skidaway Island
Discover how a focus on wellness — physical, emotional, mental, social and more — can enrich your days. It’s naturally woven into the activities and the relaxed independent lifestyle at The Marshes of Skidaway Island. We have a strong reputation for senior health and wellness, and the quality of our continuing care services is what sets us apart from other Savannah’s retirement choices. Contact us to learn more.