Ever wonder why you love spending all day with your best friend? Or why that one-hour date with your bridge club quickly turned into three fun-filled hours? Studies show that spending time connecting with friends and family can keep your brain healthy, boost self-esteem, and lower your risk of dementia. So, feel free to stay for that second cup of coffee or play that extra hand of cards, because keeping socially connected is a great brain boost for your mental health.
“As humans, we are inherently social creatures,” says Adrianne Lange, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Clinical Director at Mandala House of Louisville. This innate need to connect begins early in life and continues as we age. As older adults, gathering with friends, spending time with family, or engaging in a social club are all wonderful avenues to maintaining this bonding need we have. “We’re relational beings, and we really need to connect with others to stay connected with ourselves,” Adrianne says.
Samuel Miller, Ph.D. and Licensed Clinical Psychologist also with Mandala House of Louisville, says, “Staying socially active is important because it promotes optimism and a healthy lifestyle.” Samuel goes on to explain that if we’re socially connected, and are physically and mentally engaged, we’re tapping into what truly makes us tick as humans. “When we have connections with others we’re in the position to be encouraging to one another. People function better when feeling encouraged and know they’re not alone,” Samuel says.
1. Share Your Wisdom
A good way to stay social and keep that circle of encouragement working for you is to provide assistance to others. Adrianne says aging adults are in a wonderful position to offer wisdom to their children, grandchildren, and loved ones. “Have meaningful exchanges,” Adrianne begins, “because your life experience matters.” And don’t forget to volunteer for organizations that are of interest or need your support. This is another path you can take to remain of service and also increase your feelings of vitality and well-being.
2. Play and Connect
If you’re looking for a new and different outlet to spread your social wings, consider trying a local senior center. The Wilderness Road Senior Center in Louisville is one such place. The senior center offers chilled lunches, bingo, art classes, Tai Chi, and even hosts the occasional ice cream social. Tonya Cowden, the Recreation Supervisor for Wilderness Road, says, “We’re an open public place so seniors can come here any time from ten to seven.”
3. Eat Together
One of the great benefits The Wilderness Road Senior Center offers its patrons is a place to share a meal. Adrianne says that as we age our friend groups can change. These changes can leave us feeling isolated, and it’s not unusual to lose our ease when it comes to mingling outside our comfort zone. This is when sharing a meal with a peer group can offer connection and comfort. Tonya says seniors at the center love their lunch time and also look forward to getting out. “Having fun, laughing, and playing cards with friends is huge on the list,” Tonya says.
4. Use Technology To Connect
When it comes to the benefits that socializing gives to our mental health, Sheri Rose, CEO and co-founder of The Thrive Center, says of older adults, “You want them to be around other individuals to increase mood levels. You want them to be challenged to learn something new.” The Thrive Center is “the world’s first and only nonprofit devoted to promoting healthy aging with technological innovations and specialized educational programs.”
The Thrive Center takes new and innovative technical solutions and uses these to empower aging adults. Through the use of user-friendly technologies, The Thrive Center is able to assist seniors in singular ways to support a healthy level of engagement. This engagement is key to boosting mood levels. “We have to engage minds,” Sheri says. New technologies can help bridge this gap, and Sheri gives examples that range from learning a new card game or musical instrument, to taking a yoga or cooking class in real-time online, or going on that vacation of your dreams—virtually.
While playing cards and music lessons have traditionally been reserved for face-to-face get-togethers, this isn’t the case with video conferencing options like Zoom and FaceTime. Virtual music lessons and card game apps that allow you to play with live competitors can keep your social butterfly status flying high.
5. Write a Letter
Adrianne also suggests letter writing as another option to stay connected. “The experience of writing a letter is spending time with the recipient, and it gives you the chance to speak in a different way,” Adrianne says. And a phone call is always a good way to engage socially and check in with loved ones. For those with limited access to getting out, these are all options for adding a dash of social time to your day.
6. Go Where People Are
While it’s suggested to have some sort of interaction on a daily basis, this guideline may not work for everyone. “Everyone’s situation is different,” Adrianne begins, “think about what works for you and fits into your life.” And remember, social experiences don’t have to be planned events either. Samuel remarks that going to your coffee shop or local store also counts. “The value of going to the grocery store and being amid people can be helpful,” Samuel says.
There can be many reasons to talk yourself out of being social, but it’s never too late to take proactive steps to reach out to friends, family members, senior centers, or religious organizations when you need an extra boost of social support. Samuel says, “The reason to stay socially engaged is because we have interlocking parts that all work together for good. When we’re connected our spiritual and physical well-being is enhanced.” So, make sure to clear your afternoon when meeting your best friend, and take your time when you tell your grandkids those epic stories from your own childhood. It’s great for your mental health and good for your soul.
By Tonilyn Hornung