Health Benefits of Socializing
Our increasing dependence on electronic devices to communicate and stay in touch with friends and family seems some benefits to society. However, despite the well-known benefits of socializing, if you only way you contact others is through technology, there may also be some negatives. Too often, communicating through social media, just one example, becomes mechanistic.
Human beings are designed to interact with other human beings and doing this face-to-face is the best way. Unfortunately, our reliance on gadgets has increased our feelings of loneliness. When you miss out on personal, intimate contact with others, you’re missing out on all the amazing health benefits of socializing.
The Benefits of Socializing for Mental Health
From early childhood, being in contact with others is an essential component of your development—you learn language skills, cooperation, how to relate to others, and many other essential skills.
As an adult, some of the benefits of socializing include better cognitive abilities, lower stress and anxiety levels, more self-confidence, greater self-esteem, as well as receiving necessary support from others that is so important for helping us deal with life in general. In fact, research has shown that those prone to depression can actually improve their mood by building relationships with others.
From a cognitive perspective, as you grow older, one of the benefits of socializing is the ability to think better and to stay on top of things. Older adults who continue to socialize also have a lower risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. In addition, as you age, continuing to be social can help you deal with any potential depression and stress.
Good relationships with others can also have a positive effect on your health as you age. One of the benefits of socializing as you grow older is having others to help out especially if you have tendencies toward unhealthy habits such as smoking or drinking too much alcohol. When you know someone cares about you, it’s a lot easier to make better decisions for your health.
The Benefits of Socializing for Physical Health
Several major health benefits for those who continue to socialize as they age have been demonstrated. One of the benefits of socializing is that is can boost your immune system. The more you isolate yourself socially, the more your immune system will be weakened. This makes you more susceptible to catching colds, the flu, and possibly even cancer. Luckily, research suggests your immune system can become stronger as you start to socialize again.
Another one of the benefits of socializing according to research conducted at Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina is that it may actually help you live longer, whereas loneliness and isolation are shown to have the opposite effect. Moreover, being sociable may have even more of an impact on longevity than obesity, a major factor contributing to shorter life spans. People with fewer social connections were shown to have a 50% increase in their risk of fatality within the seven-year follow-up period.
Other research suggests that being sociable lowers your blood pressure and reduces inflammation, thereby protecting you from stroke and other types of brain damage. Additional evidence has demonstrated that one of the benefits of socializing is a decreased risk of coronary heart disease.
Human contact, even something as small as holding hands or a simple hug, can help you manage pain since a major aspect of pain is the emotion surrounding it. Physical contact can change how you perceive the emotional aspect, thus helping you feel less pain.
On the other hand, loneliness—the opposite of socializing—can have significant negative effects on your health. Years of research has shown that loneliness is strongly connected to developing depression and anxiety. More recently, loneliness has been linked to physical ailments as well.
The mechanism appears to be that loneliness is seen as a form of stress. Increasing stress leads to an increased demand for cortisol production, as well as increased inflammation, which has been linked to a number of major physical conditions. Loneliness, as a stressor, can lead to an increased risk of dementia, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, along with other chronic health conditions.
Socializing and Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) is an increasingly more common health condition that occurs due to continued stress. Regardless of the source, your body responds to stress by activating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which stimulates your adrenal glands to secrete the stress-fighting hormone cortisol. If stress continues for a prolonged period, your adrenals can become overwhelmed and are no longer able produce sufficient amounts of cortisol. At this point, the vague symptoms of AFS begin. As the stress continues, your symptoms may worsen and in severe cases, become debilitating.
Due to the vague nature of Adrenal Fatigue symptoms, conventionally trained medical professionals often do not correctly diagnose the condition, instead treating only the symptoms while never getting to the root of the problem. A better approach is to consider the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response system consisting of six inter-related circuits in your body that work together to manage stress. However, since they are interrelated, unrelenting stress affecting one circuit will also affect the others and can lead to dysfunction of the entire system. When dealing with AFS, The NEM approach allows for a more comprehensive and often more effective assessment and eventual recovery.
A lack of socializing can lead to loneliness and this added stress can significantly affect your NEM circuits. Some of the negative effects are associated with the over-secretion of certain stress-related hormones. If you’re lonely, even when you’re relaxed, your overall perception of stress is much higher than those who are generally more sociable. Over time, this added stress can build up leading to increased blood pressure and more inflammation throughout your body. In addition, your arteries may begin to erode and you may experience cognitive deficits associated with both learning and memory.
The category of stress hormones released when your body experiences stress, mental or physical, are called catecholamines and the three main catecholamines are dopamine, norepinephrine, and adrenaline.
Excess dopamine in your system can lead to paranoid thinking, anxiety, and over-activity. Whereas too little dopamine can cause depression along with compulsive behaviors, cravings, difficulty focusing and concentrating, and a tendency toward addiction.
If you suffer from AFS, you are likely living under constant stress, therefore, you may have excess norepinephrine circulating throughout your brain—termed sympathetic overtone. This can lead to inflammation of your cells and tissues, panic attacks, increased blood pressure, and symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Over time, low norepinephrine levels cause signs of hypothyroidism, behavioral problems, difficulty thinking, and immune system issues. Too much adrenaline can also cause your NEM system to become overactive.
Chronic stress damages your body through several mechanisms—increased blood pressure, increased activity, and free radicals circulating around your body, which increases insulin levels.
Your neurons and neurotransmitters, the chemicals used by your neurons to communicate, can also be negatively affected by chronic stress. Thus, stress causes problems in the way your brain works by damaging neurons and hindering cellular communication.
When you experience a significant amount of unrelenting stress, such as when you have AFS, your catecholamine levels increase and flood your body with norepinephrine and adrenaline. This prompts your body to compensate by releasing more of the hormones that work to calm your body down. Over time and with continuing stress requiring more calming neurotransmitters like GABA and serotonin, your body becomes desensitized, leaving you in a constant state of excitation, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
What Can Be Done?
One of the major benefits of socialization is that it can decrease the negative effects described above. Becoming more socially involved and spending more time with people can help you begin to feel better, both mentally and physically.
You can do this by attending events in your local community, becoming involved in groups or clubs centered around the hobbies you’re interested in, or if you can’t find any of these groups, picking one or two new hobbies to explore.
Volunteering can also be a great option. Just about every community has opportunities to volunteer and doing this may put you in touch with others who have similar interests.
Find new things to be interested in—take an education course in a local college or from a community group, join a gym or senior citizens’ center, and create new relationships.
What about joining a church group? Most churches have activities for all ages and special options exist for certain age groups.
Alternatively, find out where your friends gather for coffee or dessert and take part.
Individually, mindfulness and meditation are great ways to improve your health. Meditation has been shown to be one of the best ways to reduce stress through relaxation and has many other health benefits as well.
If you’re extremely weak or in the advanced stages of AFS, socializing can be counterproductive. In fact, adrenal crashes can be triggered. If your body is still weak, hypersensitive, or fragile, plenty of rest is required and you should avoid activities that could trigger the release of adrenaline. Curtailing your social calendar or limiting your social activities may be required until your body is strong enough to handle it. If you do end up in a social situation you were unable to avoid, try to take frequent breaks. The calmer you can keep your body, the stronger you’ll become. For many, this balance is difficult to achieve, therefore, proper professional guidance is recommended.
Socializing has been shown to have many benefits for your mental and physical health. The small amount of effort it takes to become and remain sociable is worth it.
© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Lam’s Key Question
How do the benefits of socialization improve your health?
One of the many benefits of socialization is to reduce the negative health effects of Adrenal Fatigue. Socializing can lower your blood pressure, improve your immunity, and protect you from chronic illnesses. And has an even greater impact on longevity than obesity.