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Week 10

The Importance of Social Connections for Health

Our brains are hardwired for connection

• Our ancestors relied on social connections and relationships for survival, and research shows that we still experience social isolation and loneliness as a crisis that elicits a significant stress response.

• Over time, that stress response causes systemic inflammation which leads to many chronic health conditions and a shorter lifespan.

“Loneliness is the subjective feeling that you are lacking the social connections you need.”
Vivek Murthy; “Together” 2018

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Week 10

The Importance of Social Connections for Health

Our brains are hardwired for connection

• Our ancestors relied on social connections and relationships for survival, and research shows that we still experience social isolation and loneliness as a crisis that elicits a significant stress response.

• Over time, that stress response causes systemic inflammation which leads to many chronic health conditions and a shorter lifespan.

“Loneliness is the subjective feeling that you are lacking the social connections you need.”
Vivek Murthy; “Together” 2018

Health Risks of Social Isolation and Loneliness

• Increased risk of premature death
• 50% percent increased risk of dementia
• 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke
• Higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide

More than half of all Americans report feeling lonely – and that number is on the rise. (54% in 2018, 61% in 2019 – Cigna Report)
1 in 4 adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated.
Three dimensions of loneliness; aim to experience connection in each of these areas

• Intimate, or emotional loneliness: Longing for a close confidante, someone with whom you share a deep mutual bond of affection and trust, such as a family member, spouse/partner or close friend.
• Relational or social loneliness: Longing for quality friendships and social companionship.
• Collective loneliness: Longing for a network or community of people who share your sense of purpose and interests.

Positive social connections are key to prevent loneliness and help preserve health

Everyone’s level of need for social connection is different, so it is impossible to set one standard for all to aim for. Some people crave lots of human interaction, while others find it draining. An introvert might need one confidante, whereas an extrovert might require a bigger group. Our needs are also likely to vary throughout our lives. Everyone needs relationships though, and quality is more important that quantity.

Here are a few ideas you can do to feel socially connected:
• Maintain contact with existing friends and reconnect with your old friends.
• Make an effort to carve out time to be with the people you care about.
• Practice truly connecting with people in ways big and small – speak about your feelings with authenticity and listen to others non-judgmentally, with empathy and compassion.
• Create a setting where people can let their guards down and safely confide in each other.
• Create connection opportunities that meet regularly (automaticity), or require planning and preparation.
• Volunteer – this is a great way to start building a sense of community, make new friends and connect with others.
• Connect with the people you encounter throughout your day – say hello, learn names, chat when possible.
• Join a group or explore a new activity.
• Seek to connect with people who are working on healthy living, and be mindful when with those who are not.
• Use social media only as a way to plan meet-ups, not as a substitute for connection or a way withdraw socially.

Week 10

REVIEW, REFLECT & MOVE FORWARD

What have we learned?

• Review session topic list – any lingering questions, thoughts or concerns?
• Discuss how all the components of living a healthy lifestyle (food, hydration, exercise, sleep, stress, being mindful, planning for success) work together.
• Discuss the reality of success (see graphic). Think about an example of success in your life — was that an easy, straight line process, or did it look more like the path on the right?
• Be kind to yourself. It is important to set goals and expectations for yourself, but you are much more likely to be successful if, instead of criticizing yourself, you are your own cheerleader and #1 supporter.

How will I keep these new healthy habits going beyond this class?

• What are your biggest takeaways from this program? What is working well for you now? What will you continue doing going forward from this class?
• What did you learn about yourself throughout the past several weeks?
• Getting off track sometimes is normal. How will you know you have gotten off track in the future, and what will you do to get back on your plan?
• What are the goals you would like to tackle in the future? How will you refine the goal so it is doable, and then plan what needs to be done to make that happen?
• Try different practices and habits that work for you to keep you motivated and on track: Plan meetups with friends—perhaps new friends from this class, consider getting an activity tracker or use an app on your phone, continue logging (food, exercise, sleep, stress, whatever you want to work on), collect/share recipes, plan-plan-plan…. Planning takes practice – but it is well worth it to step out of your comfort zone on this one.


Congratulations on completing the Healthy Habits Curriculum!

We hope you will continue to reference our resources and be an active member of our community.

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