2015 Wellbeing July Social

The Importance of Being Social

One advantage of belonging to a cohesive society in which people help each other is that the group is often better equipped than a set of individuals to deal with threats from the outside. People intuitively realize there is strength in numbers, and take comfort in the company of others, especially in times of anxiety or need. Or, as Patrick Henry famously said, “United we stand, divided we fall.” (Ironically, Henry collapsed and fell into the arms of bystanders shortly after uttering the phrase.)

It’s all good and well that we can unite against an external foe, but what is perhaps more interesting is a result put forth by a slew of recent studies: people who are a part of a group are also far better equipped to conquer an internal foe—the threat of bad health.

To appreciate the impact of social connection on the state of your body, one need only consider what happens when it is abruptly cut off. Many languages have expressions such as “hurt feelings” that compare the pain of such social rejection to the pain of physical injury. We now know that those are more than just metaphors: there are two components to physical pain, an unpleasant emotional feeling, and a feeling of sensory distress, associated with different structures in the brain. Social pain is also associated with a particular brain structure, the anterior cingulate cortex—the same structure involved in the emotional component of physical pain. This connection between physical and social pain reflects the tie between social connection and the physiological processes of the body. (For more on this connection, see “The Pain of Exclusion,” by Kipling D. Williams, Scientific American Mind, January/February 2011.)


Both social and physical pain register in a brain region called the anterior cingulate cortex (yellow).

In one of the recent studies on the health benefits of social relationships, researchers provided evidence that social ties and increased contact with family and friends are associated with a lower risk of death in young women with breast cancer. Another presented a similar conclusion with respect to surviving heart surgery. What’s more, a 2010 meta-analysis of 148 other studies showed that social connection doesn’t just help us survive health problems: the lack of it causes them.

In a study whose results are typical of the 148 reviewed, researchers surveyed 4775 adults in Alameda County, near San Francisco. The subjects completed a survey asking about social ties such as marriage, contacts with extended family and friends, and group affiliation. Each individual’s answers were translated into a number on a “social network index,” with a high number meaning the person had many regular and close social contacts, and a low number representing relative social isolation. The researchers then tracked the health of their subjects over the next nine years.

Since the participants had varying backgrounds, the scientists employed mathematical techniques to isolate the effects of social connectivity from risk factors such as smoking and also from socioeconomic status and reported levels of life satisfaction. They found a striking result. Over the nine-year period, those who placed low on the social network index were twice as likely to die as individuals who had placed high on the index but had otherwise similar risk factors.

Of course, we’re not all alike. We all know people who need people—and those who appear to need them much less. Does social contact matter more to some people than to others? Genetics suggests it does. Recent research hints that the biochemical carrier of the benefits of social support is the neuropeptide oxytocin. It is well known that oxytocin plays an essential role in the regulation of social behavior and attachment, and has throughout mammalian evolution. When administered to volunteers, for example, oxytocin reduces stress responses and increases prosocial behavior. Your genes enter the picture because studies suggest that the gene for the oxytocin receptors in the brain comes in a “more social” and “less social” form. People having the latter form of the gene tend to be less empathetic and demonstrate more negative affect. A paper published last December indicates that the more social form of this gene, called OXTR, is required for a person to benefit from social support. For individuals with this version of the gene, social connection lowered stress levels, but enlisting a friend’s counsel did not calm those who lacked this form of the gene.

Until genetic testing becomes commonplace, most of us will just have to go with our instincts regarding the importance of having a social network.

Talk your way healthy!

Going out to lunch with a friend, seeing a movie with your spouse, and babysitting the grandkids, aren’t just fun activities you do every day. They’re also essential for your health, according to scientific research.

Judith Horstman, author of The Scientific American Healthy Aging Brain: The Neuroscience of Making the Most of Your Mature Mind, shares six reasons why keeping your social life humming may do the same for your brain and well-being.

Add years to your life

Turns out, being social really may be able to influence how long you live—and there’s research to prove it. According to a study conducted at Brigham-Young University, loneliness and isolation can have a bigger impact on your life span than obesity—and we all know how bad obesity is for us. Another study from BYU and University of Chapel Hill North Carolina found that people who had fewer social connections had a 50% higher risk of dying within the seven year study follow up period.

And, says Horstman in her book, research has shown that friendships, whether those friends are near or far, increase our chances for a long, healthy life more so than children or other relatives.

Reduce the risk of stroke

While taking a trip to visit long-time distant friends or spending a night out with buddies may seem like a distraction from real healthy habits, like going to the gym, or getting a good night’s sleep, those activities are actually helpful to your heart.

Research has shown that spending time with friends lowers your blood pressure and reduces inflammation in your body, says Horstman in her book, which in turn can decrease the probability of stroke or other brain damage. And according to research that appeared in the Harvard School of Public Health newsletter, being engaged in life and having a sense of enthusiasm, seems to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

Boost your immune system

University of Chicago psychologist Jon Cacioppo, who studies social isolation as it affects the brain and our other biology, finds it disconcertingly associated with illness—both mental and physical. And research has shown that being socially isolated can lower your immune system; a Carnegie Mellon University study found that being more social upped your resistance to colds and flu, while being isolated, was a major risk factor in getting sick.

Encourage good habits

Having relationships with people to whom we are important can lower stress and the tendency to depression. And, so long as our friends have healthy habits, says Horstman, it also decreases the tendency to unhealthy habits such as smoking and drinking. When we know we matter, it’s somehow easier to make the right choices for our own well-being.

Lower or delay your risk of memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease

Any social activity that engages your brain and keeps it active is good for you. But interacting with friends who are younger than you are may be especially therapeutic. Dr. Sharon Arkin, a psychiatrist at the University of Arizona, runs a clinical program in which Alzheimer’s patients engage in exercise sessions with college students. Her program helps to stabilize cognitive decline and improve patients’ moods. And, as if you needed another reason to babysit your grandkids, research has shown that women who spend one day a week caring for their grandchildren may have a lower risk of getting Alzheimer’s.

Relieve pain

If you ever had your mother stroke your fevered brow or kiss a skinned knee when you were a child, and somehow felt better, you’re not alone and it wasn’t just your imagination. Research shows that something as simple as holding hands with someone you care about can lower pain perception, as well as blood pressure. So whether you hold hands, give someone a hug, or get a massage, it can help reduce pain and help you feel better.

How To Be More Friendly And Social

If becoming like this is one of your goals, here are some general pointers on how to act like a friendlier, social person. A quickie definition of ‘friendly’ could be being nice to, and interested in, other people. We define ‘social’ as spending a fair amount of time with other people and enjoying it.

The points in this article describe behaviors. If someone is naturally in a mood where they like people and are interested in everyone, many of the actions below will come naturally to them. The thing is having a certain disposition is easier said than done. However, regardless of how you’re feeling, you can still carry out these friendly and social behaviors in the situations where you’ve decided doing so is important for you.

The ideas here don’t suggest that you need to turn into a phony, or a needy suck up, or an over-the-top caricature of a ‘friendly’ person. Be fairly low key about implementing the points below. They should also be thought of as a general approach to how you interact with other people. A serious macho guy and a more sensitive artist type can use the same basic concepts and still maintain their own personality styles.

These points will be harder to follow if you’re wired to be less social, but still want to act in a friendlier, sociable way in at times. Trying to do everything here, or go all out with each suggestion, may be too draining. Only apply the ideas that seem manageable, and don’t feel you have to take them to an extreme.

Here are some things you could possibly try:

Start conversations with new people

If you’ve recently been introduced to someone, or you see some new people around, go up to them and start a conversation. Even saying hi, asking for their name, and going, “Cool, nice meeting you. I’ll see you around later hopefully” can be good.

Chat back to people who try to talk to you

Have you ever tried making pleasant conversation with someone you’ve run into, and they blew you off by giving one-word responses and obviously looking like they don’t want to be spoken to? You probably walked away thinking they were pretty unfriendly, even if you intellectually knew they may have had a reason for being brusque. If someone is trying to chat with you, make an effort to give them something back in return.

Take time to talk to people you already know

If you see someone you know, then go over and find out what’s going on with them. Keep in touch with your friends. Stop and chat to your co-workers when they’re not too busy. Maintain your relationships and show you’re interested in the other people. If you see someone you know, don’t avoid them because you don’t feel like talking, or pretend not to notice them because you’re worried the conversation will be stilted. Go up to them and chit-chat for a few minutes.

Invite people to do things with you/the group

Be fairly loose and generous with your invitations to people. Be the one to invite people out rather than waiting for them to come to you first. Don’t feel you have to know someone for a long time either. If you seem to get along then why not ask them to do something? If you like your new co-worker or classmate, ask them if they want to grab a drink later, or come by your place to chill. If you run into a friend downtown, and neither of you is doing anything, ask if they want to grab a bite to eat, or if one of you is busy, suggest you get together later some time.

If everyone at work is going out on Friday evening then ask anyone who may not know about it if they want to come along as well. If you’re meeting some friends later that night, ask your new acquaintance if they want to join you. If you run into a classmate on the street for five seconds, tell her that you’re going to be a Dan’s place later if she wants to drop by. Of course, when you throw invitations out like this, they won’t always be accepted, but that’s alright.

Make an effort to bring new people into the fold and make them feel included

If you’re out with your longtime friends and there’s a new person there, take the time to talk to them a bit, rather than being more aloof and expecting them to make the effort of getting to know you. At the end of the night mention, for example, that everyone is seeing a certain concert in the next two weeks if they want to come. If there’s a new person at work, fill them in on the general goings on of the office, and let them know everyone in your department usually grabs lunch together at 12:30. Mention that you and three other people usually play football on Thursday evenings if they want to join in.

Go to where the people are

If you’re at work and everyone is going out for lunch then go as well. If they all eat lunch at a certain time and place, then eat lunch then too. If you’re at a party and everyone is talking on the front porch, go join them. If you’re at a bar and everyone is hanging around on the couches downstairs, then you may as well be there too. Show you want to spend time with the people you came with. And once you’re there, join in whatever they’re doing. Don’t hang back and focus on something else.

Spend more time with people

Spend time with people more often. Spend longer periods of time with them. Spend time with more of them. If when you normally see your friends, you leave after a few hours, try spending half the day with them. If you only see your friends once a week, try seeing them more often, if they’re willing and not too busy. If you usually keep to yourself at work, and only talk to people on break, try spending time with your co-workers a little more during the workday. If you only see some acquaintances of yours under specific circumstances (e.g., in particular class, at a club), then try to see them outside of that situation.

If this piece of advice seems like something you’d like to try, but you quickly get drained in social situations, and worry you wouldn’t last long, then you may want to look at this article:

Make nice little gestures towards other people

Bring food or drinks to a party when it wasn’t expected that you do so. Perform basic courtesies like holding doors for people. Buy someone a drink or a shot if you’re out at a bar. However, less is more. If you’re overly “nice” and giving you can be taken for granted, taken advantage of, or come across as if you’re trying too hard to please everyone and make them like you. It also puts other people in an awkward situation because they feel uncomfortable taking so many free handouts.

Offer compliments to people

Don’t be afraid to be positive and encouraging. If someone is good at something then tell them so. If someone looks nice, or is well dressed, then say you think so. If you think someone is funny, or an interesting person, then let them know. Again, moderation is essential. The occasional genuine compliment is way better than a constant stream of try-hard ones.

Make sure everyone is having a good time when you’re out

Without overdoing it and being a pest, put some energy into making sure everyone is having fun when you’re out in a group. If someone seems left out of the conversation, try to maneuver it to a topic they can contribute to. Or if someone seems like they want to say something, but they can’t get a word into a lively discussion, casually indicate to everyone that they want to talk. If you’re all doing an activity that someone doesn’t seem comfortable with, try to coax them to join in (if it’s harmless and you know they’ll have fun once they start), or take some time to explain the basics if they aren’t familiar with how to do it. Or maybe help form an alternative side activity.

July 4th, Independence Day known as the Fourth of July, July 4th has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1941, but the tradition of Independence Day celebrations goes back to the 18th century and the American Revolution (1775-83). In June 1776, representatives of the 13 colonies then fighting in the revolutionary struggle weighed a resolution that would declare their independence from Great Britain. On July 2nd, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, and two days later its delegates adopted the Declaration of Independence, a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson. From 1776 until the present day, July 4th has been celebrated as the birth of American independence, with typical festivities ranging from fireworks, parades and concerts to more casual family gatherings and barbecues.

When the initial battles in the Revolutionary War broke out in April 1775, few colonists desired complete independence from Great Britain, and those who did were considered radical. By the middle of the following year, however, many more colonists had come to favor independence, thanks to growing hostility against Britain and the spread of revolutionary sentiments such as those expressed in Thomas Paine’s bestselling pamphlet “Common Sense,” published in early 1776. On June 7, when the Continental Congress met at the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall) in Philadelphia, the Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a motion calling for the colonies’ independence. Amid heated debate, Congress postponed the vote on Lee’s resolution, but appointed a five-man committee–including Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Robert R. Livingston of New York–to draft a formal statement justifying the break with Great Britain.

On July 2nd, the Continental Congress voted in favor of Lee’s resolution for independence in a near-unanimous vote (the New York delegation abstained, but later voted affirmatively). On that day, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that July 2 “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival” and that the celebration should include “Pomp and Parade…Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.” On July 4th, the Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence, which had been written largely by Jefferson. Though the vote for actual independence took place on July 2nd, from then on the 4th became the day that was celebrated as the birth of American independence.

July 19th National Ice Cream Day (we are celebrating on the 17th come join us) celebrated each year on the 3rd Sunday in July and is a part of National Ice Cream Month. This day is a fun celebration enjoyed with a bowl, cup or cone filled with your favorite flavor of ice cream.

Thousands of years ago, people in the Persian Empire would put snow in a bowl, pour grape-juice concentrate over it and ate it as a treat.  They did this when the weather was hot and used the snow saved in the cool-keeping underground chambers known as “yakhchal”, or taken from the snowfall that still remained at the stop of mountains by the summer capital.

It is believed that ice cream was first introduced into the United States by Quaker colonists who brought their ice cream recipes with them. Their ice cream was sold at shops in New York and other cities during the colonial era.

  • Ben Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were known to have been regular eaters of ice cream.
  • First Lady Dolley Madison served ice cream at the Inaugural Ball in 1813.
  • 1832 – African American confectioner, Augustus Jackson created multiple ice cream recipes as well as  a superior technique to manufacture ice cream.
  • 1843 – Philadelphian, Nancy Johnson, was issued the first U.S. patent for a small-scale hand-cranked ice cream freezer.
  • It is said that today there are over 1,000 ice cream flavors.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed July as National Ice Cream Month  and established National Ice Cream Day as the third Sunday in the month of July.

App:Find My Friends Meet up with friends at an outdoor concert. Keep track of the family during a day on the ski slopes. Or see when your out-of-town guest has finally made it past baggage claim. The Find My Friends app is a great way to share your location with people who are important to you. Friends who share their locations with you appear on a map so you can quickly see where they are and what they’re up to. And since Find My Friends works with Contacts and Maps, you can do things like find the quickest route to a surprise party and avoid running into the birthday girl — all at once. Get the Find My Friends app for Apple or Google Play Store

Book: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect by Matthew Lieberman Renowned psychologist Matthew Lieberman explores groundbreaking research in social neuroscience revealing that our need to connect with other people is even more fundamental, more basic, than our need for food or shelter.  Because of this, our brain uses its spare time to learn about the social world – other people and our relation to them. It is believed that we must commit 10,000 hours to master a skill.  According to Lieberman, each of us has spent 10,000 hours learning to make sense of people and groups by the time we are ten. Buy the book online here.

Aromatherapy: Lavender is a great aid for relaxing and winding down before bedtime, it can also boost stamina and energy.

A well-loved Mediterranean herb, lavender has been associated with cleanliness since Romans first added it to their bathwater. In fact, the name comes from the Latin lavandus, meaning to wash. A Christian legend says that lavender originally had no odor, but since the Virgin Mary dried Jesus’s swaddling clothes on it, it has had a heavenly perfume. Essential oil of lavender is now known to have many application in aromatherapy.

Today lavender remains a favorite for scenting clothing and closets, soaps, and even furniture polish. Lavender was traditionally inhaled to ease exhaustion, insomnia, irritability, and depression. In the Victorian era, women revived themselves from faints caused by tight corsets with lavender-filled swooning pillows.

Two related plants called spike (L. latifolia) and lavandin (L. intermedia) are produced in greater quantities; but they are more camphorous and harsher in scent, with inferior healing properties, although they are useful for disinfecting. Less expensive to produce, they are commonly sold as lavender.

Principal constituents of lavender: Linalol, linalyl acetate, geranyle, eucalyptol, pinene, limonene, cineole, phenol, coumarins, flavonoids

Scent of lavender: The aroma is sweet, floral, and herbal with balsamic undertones.

Therapeutic properties of lavender: Antiseptic, circulatory stimulant; relieves muscle spasms and cramping

Uses for lavender: Lavender is among the safest and most widely used of all aromatherapy oils. It relieves muscle pain, migraines and other headaches, and inflammation. It is also one of the most antiseptic essential oils, treating many types of infection, including lung, sinus, vaginal, and especially candida infections.

Lavender is suitable for all skin types. Cosmetically, it appears to be a cell regenerator. It prevents scarring and stretch marks and reputedly slows the development of wrinkles. It is used on burns, sun-damaged skin, wounds, rashes, and, of course, skin infections.

Lavender also treats indigestion, including colic, and boosts immunity. Of several fragrances tested by aromatherapy researchers, lavender was most effective at relaxing brain waves and reducing stress. It also reduced computer errors by almost one-fourth when used to scent the office.

Steelcase Statistic: 50 – 70% is the amount of time most adults spend sitting.