Do you remember when social engagement was as easy as just ‘hanging out’ with friends – and was a preferred, prime-time activity? We can probably all recall good-time memories of those childhood, and teen-aged, social events.
Some of us still engage in enough casual ‘hang-time’ to keep us connected, engaged, and happy. But withdrawal, so often linked with depression, may have conquered some – and others may have decided that ‘hanging out’ (for pleasure) is a low priority for busy adults, engaged in the serious business of living. After all, we’re not all kids anymore.
Well, let’s not rush to judgment.
Isolation is hazardous to your health. ‘Isolation’ is prolonged social withdrawal – an unhealthy lack of contact. Science reveals hundreds of studies reporting higher risks for illness, injury and earlier death, all linked with ‘isolation ’- which is very different from taking occasional ‘Me-Time’ or temporary periods of quiet seclusion.
Quiet times can be healthy, relaxed periods of spiritual, emotional and physical refreshment. Prolonged isolation is not.
GOOD NEWS … while isolation can be dangerous – the reverse is also true. Social connection, friendships and human engagement are good for our mental and physical health. Equally impressive numbers of studies document these happy facts.
‘Hanging out’ deserves a position of respect in adulthood. Our adult ‘hang-times’ might be spent in intimate conversation, in sports leagues, special events, working on community projects, or just goofing off. However we choose to spend those moments – they are golden when shared with friends, family and other like-minded souls.
Brain science is one of my favorite topics. I am in awe of our Divine Designer’s workmanship. We have talked about brain operations in inner-space, and the operations and blessings of the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems (see Articles # 5-15). These two systems serve as the accelerator and the brakes driving our stress/relaxation responses.
The Vagus nerve is a central part of our parasympathetic system – which signals our bodies to turn off the ‘Fight or Flight’ reflex, and puts us into a ‘Tend and Befriend’ –or- ‘Rest and Digest’ mode.
We want good muscle tone in our bodies – we also want good tone throughout our nervous systems. Higher tone supports activation of the Vagus nerve and the parasympathetic system – leading to those positive and restful states that are so much healthier for us than chronic, stressed out reactions.
So what can help us develop and maintain higher Vagal tone? Wait for it … Research tells us Social Contact is a key to improve and maintain healthy tone!
While any social contact (or network) will offer some benefit to your health – it’s Face-to-Face contact and intimacy that best engage our biological systems and protect our health. Don’t let the words worry you. Remember, we have already defined conversation as social intimacy. It’s really not that scary.
Posts # 65 – 72 all focused on intimate connection and communication strategies for the person coping with depression, and for the loved ones who care for them. We have shared a lot of information about these most important contacts.
But, we need to think in broader terms too. How about the social connections found in community?
If you have been out of circulation for a while, then actively re-kindling interests, and finding ways to re-join your community might seem like high mountains to climb. But, we can start with foothills first.
For many, the moment when resources and information that could help them break out of isolation is most needed – is the same moment when they have the least energy or motivation to identify good starting points. It helps to have a plan.
Personal directories don’t require immediate commitment to contact – but they do support the moment when you are ready for contact – no matter how fleeting or weak the first connections may be.
In my classes at the hospital, we often began with the phone book for students’ hometowns. We would look at the maps and thumb through the community service and the yellow pages. Then follow with exercises designed to help them identify groups and activities that related to their own areas of interest.
We explored ideas about how to connect with others who shared those interests. They made lists and wrote their own directories – creating personal resources for the day when they would be released back to their home communities, and wanted to connect.
You can do this too. Learning, or re-learning about your home community connections is valuable information to keep handy.
Start with your own brainstorm of as many outside interests, passions, concerns, or hobbies that you can think of. Don’t judge them – just list them.
With your large list of interest ideas on hand, search your community for groups or activities that relate to them – and think about how you might want to join in.
You can find groups in your area by talking to others, reading area and neighbor-hood newspapers and city magazines, checking the phone book (or Google), checking out local churches, calling the Chamber of Commerce, reviewing classes and activities offered by your Community College and Adult Education centers.
Feeling shaky? You don’t have to go solo.
This is a great opportunity for friends or family, who have been wondering how to support you, to join the adventure. They may be happy to go with you, and you may be pleasantly surprised at how much you enjoy activities together.
One of the most powerful ways we can boost our mood, build our confidence, and help ourselves in recovery – is to help someone else. Volunteer opportunities might be your golden ticket.
Your local humane society might have need for folks to help care for animals in shelters, or you could check in to programs that seek foster-care and training for therapy animals (Seeing Eye Dogs, etc.).
Opportunities exist for volunteer activities fitting a wide variety of interests. My community listed needs for: Child and Adult Literacy Program tutors, Beach clean-up, Space Station Museum assistants, Meal Delivery programs, Visiting Seniors Program, Dog Socializer, Garden Assistants, Wildlife Rescue and Release programs, Volunteer Fire and Police assistants etc.
You may find a wealth of ideas for volunteering by doing an On-Line Search.
For example – a quick search of Volunteer Opportunities for California’s North Bay Area turned up these resources:
- JustServe.org is a website where the needs of organizations may be posted, so volunteers can search for places to serve in their community.
- VolunteerMatch.org (A regional or national resource) listed 198 volunteer opportunities just in California Napa and Marin Counties. You can specify your own community in searching this site. How many possibilities will you find?
- Local volunteer centers and websites also offer on-line listings. For example: Napa Valley ‘CanDo’ is a community service organization that brings volunteers together for ‘done-in-a-day’ and other family friendly projects.
- Volunteers are also desired for local projects – sponsored by larger organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.
Lengths and types of services needed vary according to project, and are flexible to fit your ability and availability. All offer to get you out – and connected with social and meaningful engagement. Pick an opportunity aligned with your interests and values – then make one of those ‘commitments to action’ that we know are so therapeutic.
Volunteering is not the only way to connect with others who share your interests. There are multiple ways to engage in artistic, recreational or learning activities. Whether you want to help, or simply to enjoy ….
Here is an A to Z sampler of possibilities to consider. It’s not a complete listing – but an idea ‘starter’.
- Artistic Organizations: musical, theatrical, writing, painting, crafts, woodwork, model railroading, etc. etc.
- Business Organizations: Chamber of Commerce, business associations
- Charitable Groups & Drives: Habitat For Humanity, Cancer Society, etc.
- Church: Worship, prayer, men’s, women’s, youth, and/or senior groups
- Collectors: stamp collectors, flower dryers, antiques, etc.
- Community Support Groups: Friends of the Library, nursing home, hospital, hospice
- Cultural Associations: Native Americans, Daughters of the Revolution, Sons of Italy, Black Heritage Club, Philippine Cultural Center, etc.
- Health & Fitness Groups: bicycling, jogging, exercise
- Interest Clubs: poodle owners, classic, antique or racing car owners
- Local Government: town, fire department, emergency units
- Local Media: radio, newspaper, local access cable TV
- Men’s Groups: cultural, political, social, educational, vocational
- Mutual Support (Self Help) Group: Consumer Groups (Depression, Anxiety, NAMI Peer to Peer, Mental Health America, etc.) Alcoholics Anonymous, etc.
- Neighborhood & Block Groups: crime watch, beautification,
- Outdoor Groups: garden clubs, conservation clubs
- Recreation Department: Ballroom, Square, or Line-dancing, etc.
- Senior Citizens’ Centers
- School Groups: PTA, etc.
- Service Clubs: Kiwanis, Rotary, Eastern Star, Job’s Daughters, etc.
- Social Cause Groups: peace, rights, advocacy, service
- Sports Leagues: bowling, swimming, baseball, fishing, volleyball
- Study Groups: book clubs, bible study groups
- Veterans Groups: American Legion, Veterans of Foreign War
- Women’s Groups: AAUW, MADD, cultural, political, social, educational,
- Youth Groups: Scouts, 4H, Future Farmers, YMCA
- Zumba !
Dig deeper. Clarify and expand interests – the more the merrier. When you have your list – it’s time to get busy. Create your own directory by looking up the contact information for those interests and activities you identified. It takes a bit of effort – but it’s worth it.
Once this homework is completed – you will have information you need to take action at the right moment (without allowing uncertainty, or the burden of researching, to rob you of momentum).
Having your own customized directory, and using it to reach out in your community – can pay off in big social and health dividends.
You may be on your way to new and satisfying adventures … or simply re-discover new ways and new people to ‘hang out’ with. Either way, it’s a WIN.
In the Old Testament Jeremiah shared a prophesy with the people about how, after hanging on through grievous trials and tribulations – they could hang out together, and look forward to blessings and good times, as they trusted their God. In Jeremiah 31:13, he wrote:
“Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance,
And the young men and the old, together;
For I will turn their mourning to joy,
Will comfort them,
And make them rejoice rather than sorrow.
So, hold on. It’s not over yet.
SPREAD The Joy:
Research shows that some health benefits and happiness can be spread widely through social networks. (Fowler and Christakis 2008).
Getting out – and linking up for positive social contact is important for our own personal recovery and well-being, and for others.
With social connections, we can spread the ‘good stuff’ around. So, these positive links can be considered preventive medicine too.
FUN is not just kid stuff – it’s serious business. Let’s get started!
Blessings, Love and Laughter to you,
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