It might be time to start thinking about being together again. Well-being is not just about exercise and nutrition, but also relationships and emotional sturdiness.
Beyond spending time with immediate family, studies have found that people can benefit from all kinds of relationships in their lives. A decades-long Harvard University study found that close relationships spanning a lifetime can possibly alleviate pain levels, aid the nervous system, and keep the brain healthier longer, whereas those who are feeling a prolonged sense of loneliness may have a shorter lifespan.
Here are some ways to prioritize connectedness, togetherness, relationships to benefit not only you but others in your life who you care about.
- Make time. It’s so easy to get caught up in daily tasks, the “to do” list and the “should” of life. “It’s easy to get isolated,” said Professor Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, in an interview with the Harvard Gazette. He suggests “investing” time in relationships.
- Be casual. Keeping up relationships isn’t about the big shindigs of life, but the little moments. If you can get together in person in a way that feels safe for all parties, then go out for a quick walk, meet for an appetizer and a drink, run some errands together, or do something that is meaningful to both of you. In instances where you cannot be in the same place, send a card just to say hi or make someone smile, call them up to share a silly story, or find a way to connect online through a shared game or similar activity.
- Move past the shame of loneliness. In his book, “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World,” author Vivek H. Murthy, MD, and former U.S. Surgeon General, looks at how people feel ashamed of their feelings of loneliness. “I think part of the reason is that saying you’re lonely feels like saying you’re not likeable, you’re not lovable—that somehow you’re socially deficient in some way,” Dr. Murthy said in an interview about his book. This feeling is part of an instinctual survival skill and perfectly natural, he explains, pointing out that in the long term this feeling can have negative physical consequences. Instead, recognize loneliness as the body signaling a biological need, just like hunger or thirst, he says.
- Know that age doesn’t matter. Experts agree that human connection and togetherness is important at every age and people of different ages can have essential relationships. People can make new friends throughout life by sharing a hobby, activity, or history. Beyond grandparents and grandchildren, friendships can develop across an age gap through a caregiving connection, in a work environment, or by engaging in shared interests with others.
- You go first. Stop waiting for the phone to ring. If that feeling of loneliness is nagging at you, be the one to take the initiative by either getting in touch with contacts or making new ones by joining an in-person or online club or group. There are book clubs, caregiver support groups, knitting circles, and much more out there to become part of.
Dr. Murthy says now may be a time of “social revival” with recommitments to relationships and increased feelings of fulfillment and connection.