In our last blog, we began discussing age-related issues such as feeling “invisible,” loneliness and how the self-help industry is making a bundle by selling us strategies on how to handle the various issues that plague us. One area that went unaddressed in that blog was a discussion around our social health, as well as technology and its impact on us all – regardless of age. So today, we thought we’d talk a little bit about our changing world and the concept of “social health,” something that Dr. Caroline Leaf recently addressed in a great article. To her comments, we’re adding our own two cents worth about whether technology is either a help or a hindrance to our social well-being.

Dr. Leaf suggests that while the self-help industry makes millions (billions actually) from telling us how to help heal ourselves, it’s actually only addressing half of the problem. As the very name implies, self-help causes us to focus on the “self” and in doing so, we may unintentionally further isolate ourselves from the world. “We need each other to be better; we need each other to heal,” she says. “People can and do die from loneliness, (and) research shows that the more we use “I” words, the more we increase our risk of dying of heart disease!” Rather than self-help, she points to community as being an integral factor in mental health and physical wellbeing. She cites specifically the country of Japan, where smokers live longer lives on average than their North American counterparts, even though smoking is a known risk factor for poor health. “According to research, one of the main factors is community: Japan is an incredibly connected culture with a strong community focus, which appears to have helped offset some of the risks associated with lifestyle choices such as smoking and high blood pressure.” The study she references also goes on to suggest that “when people from Japan moved to America and adopted the more individualized social mores of the country, their risk for heart disease increased by 3 to 5 times!”

Coining the phrase “social health,” Dr. Leaf goes on to say we need to understand that “it’s not just about us, it’s about us in the world.” It is important that we form deep and meaningful connections, be very deliberate in how we form those connections and make them a habit in our lives. Relationships of any kind, according to the researchers she references, can increase our chances of longer lives by up to 50%. If you haven’t already – maybe it’s time you made a friend or two with your Amintro app (downloadable from the App Store and Google Play)!

Speaking of technology like Amintro, we’re not about to suggest that technology is a bad thing. Clearly, it’s not! Technology as an effective tool for making new friends is a great example of its positive uses. If however, you never step out from behind the screen, and become increasingly reliant on your use of technology as your main source of information, comfort, entertainment and more, than you are putting your social health at risk. Ordering groceries for delivery might be practical if you have a health concern but getting out to the grocery store provides a better opportunity to interact with others. Reading solely on your tablet device from downloaded content potentially prevents you from accessing a social occasion like a book club hosted by your local library. Texting is a great way to stay in touch with loved ones but it will never replace the value of a face to face conversation. Even facetime is a better alternative than texting because at least you’re actually interacting on some level with another person.

Perhaps the bottom line is this: There are benefits to technology (smart home devices and the Internet come to mind) and the benefits of a cellular device are many. Just be sure to put the phone down when you are in the company of others and to interact with the world around you. Smile on the bus, in the grocery store line-up or even, as Dr. Leaf says in her blog, “join or start a social group.” Book clubs, exercise classes, historical or horticultural societies, even volunteering – all are great ways to meet and interact with others, improve your social health and reduce your reliance on technology as a sole means of support. If you’re experiencing feelings of loneliness and isolation, put technology down and pick up a new friend instead!

Written by Sheralyn Roman

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