Friendships can play an important role in health and longevity. Being socially connected to other humans is one of our most basic needs — not only for surviving but also thriving. We crave and need company. Ironically, despite being more connected than ever through the internet, we’re currently experiencing a “loneliness epidemic” that can bring disharmony to our health.
According to AARP, around 42.6 million adults in America over the age of 45 are suffering from chronic loneliness. In two recent large analyses researchers saw a connection between bonds with other people and a lower risk of early death. They showed that loneliness could affect mortality even more than common risk factors, including obesity.
This shows us just how important friends and family are in our lives: we can nourish our mental and physical health simply by spending more time with those we love. But if that seems easier said than done, here are some ways we can start being more connected:
Be Mindful of Social Media
The irony of social media is that it can actually make us feel more isolated. Most people only post the happiest moments of their life online, which can make us feel like everyone is doing better than we are, even though it’s not true.
The next time you notice yourself feeling down or lonely while scrolling through Facebook or Instagram:
- Remind yourself that you’re only seeing a small fraction of your online friends’ realities.
- Log out and give yourself time away from the phone or computer.
And here’s what you can do during that time:
Nourish Current and Future Friendships
There’s never a bad time to call up a friend for a cup of coffee or tea, text someone you’ve been meaning to check up on, strike up a kind conversation in the grocery store line, or reach out to a family member just to say hi. Some research has even shown walking around in a public place can help boost your mood!
Try to keep your plans with existing relationships, too. Although life can get really busy and there are plenty of reasons we can find to cancel plans, consider the time an investment in your physical and emotional health! You’ll probably find that you feel better after getting out and meeting with friends for a while. Just make sure they’re supportive relationships that build you up.
Find a Like-minded Group
With websites like Meetup.com and Facebook groups, it’s fairly easy to find other people who share common interests or philosophies. Do some searching to find local opportunities to connect with others who relate to you.
Even if the friendships start online, they can help you feel connected and fight feelings of loneliness. No matter where you are in life, there are people out there who share common ground. (Note: Use caution and common sense when meeting people through online networks, and always meet in public places.)
Seek Friends Outside of Work
Loneliness rates are very high in the retired and elderly population. And it makes sense: most adults get the bulk of their social connection at their jobs, leading to an increase in isolation after retirement.
We can begin now to prepare for healthy aging not only financially but also socially. No matter your age, look for ways to stay involved in your community outside of work — whether it’s through volunteering, church, clubs, or weekly local get-togethers.
Connection with our fellow humans is vital for a positive mental state. Just as we can work to support our bodies with nutrition and movement, we can support our minds and hearts through those around us.