“No man is an island.”
In 1624, English metaphysical poet John Donne wrote those immortal words. Their meaning is as relevant today as it was back then: Namely, as social beings, we don’t live our best when isolated from others; we need to be part of a community to flourish and thrive.
In other words: Let’s hear it for social engagement!
At Southgate at Shrewsbury retirement community, we subscribe wholeheartedly to this theory. That’s why our retirement facilities are specifically geared toward fostering an environment that’s conducive to resident interaction.
This two-part blog will discuss some everyday activities that help people stay involved with one another—within Southgate at Shrewsbury itself and within the community at large.
First, however, a brief background on the scientific and psychological research advocating social interaction as a prescription for good health.
A Wake-Up Call
Given the ubiquity of social media, communications today (particularly among younger people) is more impersonal than ever. Most of us can attest to this firsthand, having seen families in restaurants where there’s no conversation because everyone’s attention is riveted to their smart phones.
It’s interesting to note that—slowly but surely—there is some pushback to this trend. For example, the Hotblack Coffee café in Toronto deliberately does not offer Wi-Fi to its customers, in an effort to promote customer dialogue. (According to the café’s president: “It’s about creating a social vibe. We’re a vehicle for human interaction; otherwise, we’re just a commodity.”)
Other establishments are fighting back, too—not so much about social media per se as about the tendency of employees to keep to themselves. Recognizing that solutions and breakthroughs come about through the exchange of ideas, a New England-based engineering firm forbids the consumption of coffee in personal workspaces—requiring employees to congregate in the company cafeteria and spend time discussing work-related issues.
Undoubtedly, part of the motivation to encourage social interaction in situations like these stems from a commonly held notion: Engaging with others is—plain and simple—healthy for you.
And, in fact, there is tangible proof to that effect.
The Evidence is Overwhelming
According to Harvard Medical School, there is a wealth of data suggesting that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends and their community are happier, have fewer health problems and live longer. In fact, social connections like these can influence our long-term health in ways every bit as powerful as adequate sleep, a good diet and not smoking.
The logical question is, Why?
Evidently, scientists have determined that social connections help relieve harmful levels of stress, which can adversely affect coronary arteries, gut function, insulin regulation and the immune system. Another line of research suggests that caring behaviors trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones.
Research has also identified a range of activities that qualify as social support—from offers of help or advice to expressions of affection. In addition, evidence suggests that the life-enhancing effects of social support extend to giver as well as receiver.
Some of the findings are particularly dramatic, suggesting that social isolation is on par with high blood pressure, obesity, lack of exercise or smoking as a risk factor for illness and early death. The reason? People who are chronically lacking in social contacts are more likely to experience elevated levels of stress and inflammation which, in turn, can undermine the well-being of nearly every bodily system, including the brain.
Social engagement also has implications for mental health. According to one study, the emotional support provided by social connections helps reduce the damaging effects of stress and can foster a sense of meaning and purpose in life. People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and—as a result—others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In short, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.
As you can see, the case for social interaction being healthy is very strong. Here at Southgate at Shrewsbury retirement community, we structure residents’ daily routines to maximize their opportunities for engagement with others.
In Part II of this blog, we will suggest several easy and fun ways to stay actively involved with those around you.