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Humans are social creatures. We rely on socialization to physically decrease our levels of stress and to feel engaged within a community. “Adequate amounts of social support are associated with increases in levels of a hormone called oxytocin, which functions to decrease anxiety levels and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system calming down responses….The more social support people have, the less stress will have an opportunity to affect them in a negative way.”[1]

However, our communities, the sources of human socialization, have been shrinking. In his non-fiction bestseller Bowling Alone,[2] author Robert Putnam explored the detrimental impact 20th century modernization has had on our communities and social interactions. With changes in our work and social structures, people have become more isolated and engage in communal activities less. This isolation and loneliness can have a negative impact on our mental health, with decreases in oxytocin levels leading to increased anxiety.[3] Deprivation of social interaction and a sense of connection to others can increase stress and lead to depression.[4] And when we’re feeling stressed or depressed, the natural inclination is to withdraw even further, creating a vicious cycle of greater isolation and deeper depression.

Therefore, one of the best ways to break the cycle of isolation and depression is to find ways of increasing your social connections and rebuild a sense of community, even if you start with a simple phone call or video conference with a friend or family member. That interaction can boost your oxytocin levels, making you feel happier and more connected.

There are a host of other ways to improve your social networks. If you have a particular hobby, for example, find a local collection of like-minded individuals that gather weekly to participate in your craft. Volunteering for an organization you support not only provides a sense of community, but engagement in altruistic behavior is another method to boost your sense of well-being. Another good place to start on your path to well-being is at one of CCPHP’s SENS Solution® Events, where you can socialize with folks who are also on this journey to better health.

Moreover, increasing your social activities may provide benefits not only to your mental health, it can also help your physical well-being, as well. An active social life may help you stay healthy longer, since the hormones socialization releases into the body help the immune system combat illnesses.[5] Additionally, certain studies have indicated that increased socialization may help stave off dementia.[6]

It is far too easy in these modern times to become a victim of stress and anxiety. Learn how to lean on your friends and family and make time for activities that require group participation. You’ll be happy you did.

 

References

[1] H. Mills, Ph.D., N. Reiss, Ph.D. & M. Dombeck, Ph.D. (Jun. 30, 2008). Social Impact of Stress. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/social-impact-of-stress/.

[2] R. Putnam. (2000). Bowling Alone. Simon & Schuster.

[3] “Socialization appears to release oxytocin into our nervous systems, which functions to decrease anxiety levels and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system calming down responses.” SeeH. Mills, Ph.D., N. Reiss, Ph.D. & M. Dombeck, Ph.D. Socialization and Altruistic Acts as Stress Relief. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/socialization-and-altruistic-acts-as-stress-relief/

[4] Ibid.

[5] A. Troyer, Ph.D., C.Psych. (June 30, 2016). The Health Benefits of Socializing. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-mild-cognitive-impairment/201606/the-health-benefits-socializing.

[6] Ibid.