It’s no secret that 2020 was hard for everyone. Being told to mask up and social distance took its toll on us all. Even for introverts (even if we won’t admit it), it was hard not seeing friends or being apart from family who were at risk.
Restrictions may be easing, and the lockdowns might be lifted, but covid is still looming. It’s hard to breathe any easier… Literally.
Socializing is a huge part of keeping our spirits up. Feeling isolated and alone can lead to feeling your worst both mentally and physically. So, let’s talk about why and how getting back out there is an essential part of recovering from the mess that was 2020.
Social needs are just as important as physical ones
If someone asked you what you would need to survive on a deserted island, most people would probably say things like food, water, and shelter. For a short-term stay, those are good answers. For the long-term, though, having other people to socialize with is just as important.
Being isolated for the rest of your life wouldn’t necessarily mean you’d die, but it would probably mean going crazy. There’s a reason isolation is used as a punishment in certain places, after all. Social isolation is really hard on us, and most people don’t think about that. They don’t think about how social pain is a thing either and can affect us just as physically as “real” pain.
Of course, social pain and physical pain are not the same, but they do register in the same centers of the brain. You’ve heard of someone dying of a broken heart, haven’t you? It sounds romantic and exaggerated, but what other explanation is there when someone loses their spouse, and suddenly their health takes a steep decline for seemingly no reason?
Think about the worst pain you’ve ever felt in your life. For many people, the moment they felt the most pain was when they lost someone precious to them. I know that’s true for me. After losing my grandfather, I still feel terrible heartache, even so, many years later. We tend to forget about most physical pains but the emotional scars caused by others a lot longer.
On the flip side, socializing can be a great way to help heal from some emotional scars. (On a case-by-case basis, of course). I know making new friends helped me survive my first year at college away from home. It helped distract me from the homesickness, and I could create a new home for myself away from my family.
If you’re interested in learning more about just how powerful social needs are, Professor Matthew Lieberman has a fantastic TED Talk about the power of the social brain.
There are a lot of beautiful pieces of art that compare mental health to flowers. In the metaphor, by taking care of yourself, you are watering the flower, or whatever plant your mental health takes the shape of, which is a great metaphor! But there aren’t many plants that can grow with water alone. Most plants need nutrient-rich soil and sunlight as a bare minimum.
Continuing with the metaphor, you can think of the people closest to you as the sunlight that helps your mental health. It’s easy to spend too much time or not enough under the sun and for that to negatively affect you. If you find the right balance of time, connection, and socializing with others, though, you’ll flourish.
Finding your community, the people whom you can feel most connected to, is important for both your mental and physical health. Whether your community is made up of your friends, your family, your coworkers, or your literal community, you should take some time to think about who they are.
A great way to socialize is to go out and physically do something with others. Anything from camping to movie nights, even just playing silly games with other people, can help you build your community and forge strong relationships.
If you happen to be in the Pacific Northwest, a great way to connect with your community could be coming to our Family Field Day. There will be tons of games to play and mini competitions you can challenge your community members to. Plus, it’s at an amusement park! You can get in for free or grab a discount ride bracelet for unlimited park rides all day.
If you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, I don’t have any specific events to offer you, but you can always do a little research or check out community centers near you. Libraries are a great place to find local happenings too.
For anyone not sold on the idea of getting out there and socializing, maybe this article on how having strong friendships as you age can actually help protect your brain will convince you. (If you want strong friendships in the future, you’ll have to build them at some point, so you may as well start now!)
How do you cheer yourself up when you’re feeling isolated?