I often spend time in session encouraging clients to connect with other people, to make new friends. Sometimes I want them to build a strong support network where they can share things about their life. When I say things, I mean difficult things. Because people generally have less trouble sharing good things in their life (note the word generally!). Other times I just want them to make friends, to socialize. It doesn’t have to be relationships that are particularly deep or meaningful…they are just enjoyable.
There are a lot of reasons clients push back against these ideas. They feel that no one will want to hear about their troubles or people will judge them. Or, they are just too busy and there isn’t enough time. Sometimes it is anxiety or shyness. Others just don’t feel the need to have other people in their life…in any capacity.
While I recognize these fears and perspectives there are reasons to face them and change them…your health and well being. Yes, being around people can actually make you healthier…physically and mentally. Now, before you dismiss this as pure folk-wisdom, there are studies that demonstrate this. They provide hard, scientific evidence of the health benefits.
One of the studies I’ve mentioned before. It relates to stress. Research has demonstrated that increased stress accelerates the rates of deterioration of the little caps at the end of our DNA strands. That’s not a good thing. But what research also has shown is that those caps can be repaired. In one study mothers of disabled children met once a week to socialize and share concerns. It wasn’t for the purpose of therapy. It wasn’t to fix things. It was just to be in the company of other people that could empathize. What the research showed was that for those women the deterioration of those little caps not only slowed but they started repairing themselves! Meanwhile, the caps women who didn’t have the same kind of social supports and interactions continued to deteriorate at a rapid pace.
Now there is new research on longevity and health based on studies with bees. Apparently bees have brains that function very much like human brains so they make excellent study subjects. The new research went like this. Bees were trained to have a specific response to a specific scent by rewarding them with sugar water. It turns out that the younger the bee the more quickly they learned to recognize when a treat was coming. One characteristic of bees is that as they age their role changes. They leave the hive and live a more solitary life scavenging for pollen. They go from being very social to very solitary. It is actually possible to see the deterioration in their brains as they become more solitary.
However, the more important finding is this – the deterioration can be reversed! How? You guessed it, by increasing their socialization. When the bees are put back in the hive where their socialization increases, their brains actually repair themselves! The simple behavior of interacting with other bees makes this happen.
So what does all of this mean? To me it means don’t underestimate the importance of being with people, of socializing. We are social creatures and now we have evidence that this isn’t just a trait…it is important for our well-being. So make some time to connect with people. It may just make your brain work better and allow you to live a little longer.