Human beings are social creatures, and for millennia, existing in family groups and communities has been vital to our survival.
However, when it comes to socializing – in person especially – the past two years have been something of an outlier in terms of what we’re used to as humans.
We’re a social species, however where in the past getting together in person has been a benefit for our health, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant social gatherings came with higher risks.
We moved to birthday parties on Zoom, business meetings using Microsoft Teams, live-streamed concerts and shows, and forgoing many of the in-person experiences we are used to.
There has been much said recently about the need for social interactions with others, and the effects of online school on the development of children and youth, but social interaction is important through all stages of life.
As we begin to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, some people are beginning to get back to something resembling the sorts of socialization they were used to prior to COVID-19 being a factor.
Everyone is returning to “normal life” at their own rate, and while we wouldn’t want anyone to be in a situation they’re uncomfortable with, such as a crowded indoor gathering, in-person socialization such as meeting with a friend in an outdoor setting for a walk might be just what the doctor ordered.
Let’s have a look at some of the beneficial effects of socializing on our overall health.
Being Social Is Makes Us More Resilient To Stress
When we interact with other people face-to-face, our brains release neurotransmitters which can help manage our stress response.
Actions as simple as a high-five or handshake can result in the release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with feelings of trust and empathy.
Another hormone which is released during social interaction is dopamine which is known as a “feel good” hormone; it provides pleasure and increases motivation.
In addition, joining social groups for activities such as exercise can have more benefits than exercising alone.
There is research to suggest the benefits of exercising in a group can be more effective at reducing stress levels than participating in solo exercise.
Socialization Improves Brain Health
Interacting with other people helps us to train our brains, improve our recall, and can increase our memory function.
It can also help guard against the development of neurodegenerative diseases.
Brain activity is linked to social interaction and relationships, and comes with a wide array of benefits.
For instance, if you learn about something new, or how to perform a skill, and then teach it to someone else, you will retain the new information or skill better than if you were to learn it and take a test on the same topic.
This is because the social motivation for learning seems to outperform a solely analytical motivation for trying to memorize something.
Individuals who connect with others socially tend to perform better on cognitive tests and are less likely to develop dementia than those who are socially isolated.
Developing Close Friendships May Lower Your Risk of Depression
Building social connections can help increase your sense of well-being and reduce feelings of depression.
Developing close ties with friends, family, or a romantic partner can help improve your overall satisfaction with life.
Teenagers who have close friendships are not only happier during those teen years which are important for development but tend to have lower levels of anxiety and depression as they age.
Researchers have found that in areas throughout the world with a high number of people who are considered “Superagers” (individuals in their eighties or older who have brain function comparable to those decades younger) tend to have one thing in common – being very socially active.
Although other factors such as diet and lifestyle tended to differ widely, the one constant was an active social life.
Socialization Can Help You Maintain Healthy Habits
Participating in social activities can lead to some impressive health benefits.
A 2017 study from Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands found an association between social isolation and type 2 diabetes.
People with active social lives were found to be at a much lower risk of developing the disease than those who were more socially isolated.
After Two Years Of Isolation I’m Ready To Get Social Again – So What Now?
After two years of living through a pandemic, some people are ready to jump right back into social outings and events, while others may be proceeding with a bit more caution.
Whether you’re good with a big group, or still prefer one-on-one time with a friend, here are some ways to get more social:
- Instead of going out for food and drinks, get a small group together to go for a walk through your neighbourhood, or explore some hiking trails
- If you’re the religious type, attend a service at your local synagogue, temple, or church
- Find an organization you are passionate about, and get involved volunteering
- Look for a fun exercise class to help you get moving – there are lots to choose from on FitIn
- Join a group to play card games or board games with
- Get a friend and play tourist in your own town – visit that art gallery or museum you’ve always wanted to check out, or revisit an old favourite you haven’t been able to get to during the pandemic
However you decide to move forward, the evidence is clear – people aren’t meant to go through life without human contact.
Spending time with other people can help lower your stress levels, keep your brain sharp, and lower your risk of depression.
So, get out there, call that friend you haven’t seen in years, or join a group to meet new people, your brain will thank you.