At Amintro, we are watching, reading and listening to a lot of talk about loneliness lately. It’s a topic that’s not exclusive to adults but definitely one that seems to impact those of us who are 50+ with more frequency than our younger counterparts. Some readers have shared they feel they are becoming more and more “invisible” as they age. Concurrently, research on social health points to technology as a hindrance to regular social interactions and it appears as though the self-help industry is making millions as a result. What’s a person to do? Put on your red shoes and dance the blues…….away! Iconic musician David Bowie might have provided the best advice of all (we’ve ad-libbed a bit!) when he wrote “Let’s Dance.” Loneliness and invisibility might be real but they don’t have to be. Today we’re talking about strategies for improving our social health as we age. Strategies like dancing and making new friends, maybe even a friend you made the Amintro way!
Let’s uncloak all that talk about invisibility first:
- Some mature adults have shared with us that things like holding doors open – once thought of as a common courtesy – are happening less often and that in fact, some people go out of their way to rush ahead of a senior, NOT to hold the door open but to avoid getting “stuck” behind someone slower moving.
- Women, in particular, often sound the lament louder than their male counterparts and is it any wonder? When Richard Gere is lauded for his grey hair and for “aging gracefully” while female Hollywood stars are relegated to movie roles as Mothers anytime after age 40 – there’s a problem.
- In Psychology Today, Tamara McClintock Greenberg writes: “We live in a youth-fixated culture where people are afraid to age and to be vulnerable to growing older; where ideals about attractiveness are oriented around those with young, healthy bodies.” (1) She then poses an entirely valid question: “why is it that we can’t seem to both admire the young and youthful in appearance while simultaneously appreciating the special qualities possessed by the older individuals of our society? With aging, our looks may diminish, but being older also offers the incredible opportunity to make better choices, to learn from our mistakes, and to pass on our knowledge of life, perhaps even bits of wisdom, to the younger generation.” (2)
Perhaps her question is part of the problem however. Young adults, fixated on youth and eager to deny their own aging, combined with some “mature adults” who insist on constantly sharing unwelcome “bits of wisdom,” and “advice,” do not a good combination make! Staring down the tunnel of loneliness, perhaps some seniors have a tendency to “over share?” I would go so far as to suggest it might become a vicious cycle (you find someone to talk to, you say too much, they walk away and you’re back to no one to talk to) and it’s a cycle the 50+ mature adults will have to take the lead in breaking.
Here are some suggestions from Greenberg (again with some adlib comments from us!) on how to do just that:
- Go ahead and engage with others. Smile at the world as if you haven’t a care in the world. Share a “Good Morning” but don’t share your aches and pains and worries. Reserve those conversations for time spent with good friends who care about you and are willing to listen.
- Don’t dress your age! Who says you have to make the switch to stretchy, elasticized waist pants just because you’re “a woman of a certain age?” Be bold, be creative and wear what you WANT not what you think you should. Times have changed – be invisible no more – literally!
- Walk with your head up, look folks in the eye and they’ll be forced to acknowledge you!
- According to the American Psychological Association, “self-perception is related to physical and mental health and overall life satisfaction.” (3) We suggest you ensure you’re working on your own sense of self-esteem and self-worth, decreasing your reliance on anyone else’s perceptions. People who know their own self worth will never feel invisible because they don’t perceive themselves that way.
- On the flipside of #4, relish your invisibility and use it to observe situations and then choose when and how you want to interact or when you want to just walk away from all the drama!
- Enroll in a dance class – you did know at some point we would eventually be getting back to our David Bowie reference!
Numerous studies have shown that embracing a new activity in our later years serves as a catalyst for behavioural change and since music is a universal language, we all understand and can relate to, it makes an excellent tool with which to forge new bonds of friendship with others.
A report in Psychology Spot shares these facts about music and dancing:
- “People of different cultures react emotionally in the same way when listening to different types of music.” So get to know someone new from a different background!
- “Music and dance not only serve as social glue, but are also very useful for our physical and mental health.” Some studies even suggest “one of the keys to happiness and satisfaction is right on the dance floor.” So get moving, it’s physically good for you!
- In another study, participants diagnosed with depression or anxiety were “prescribed” dance classes and after as little as four weeks…. reported “fewer negative thoughts, better concentration and a greater sense of peace and tranquillity.” So dancing is positive for your mind, body and spirit!
- In still more research, conducted in Australia, “researchers interviewed 1,000 people and found that often those who were dancing not only reported feeling happier, but also more satisfied with their lives, especially in relationships, health, and the goals achieved over the years.” So the impact is long-lasting, not temporary. What a bonus!
Ultimately, what was learned through these and similar studies is music works in a variety of ways when we dance away the blues. “When we dance our brain releases endorphins, hormones which can trigger neurotransmitters that create a feeling of comfort, relaxation (and) fun.” These are “amplified” according to neuroscientists at Columbia University, “when we move in tune with the rhythm.” In other words, dancing doubles the pleasure of simply listening to music. Since dancing is a social activity “that allows us connect with others, share experiences and meet new people” it has an overall “positive effect on our mental health.”
The conclusion? If you’re not feeling like feeling invisible and you’re looking to engage in a new activity you can do with a friend (maybe a friend you made the Amintro way) consider enrolling in a dance class and put on you red shoes and dance the blues…..away!
PS – We ran out of space so we’ll address the role of technology and social health another day!
Written by Sheralyn Roman