The pandemic threw social interaction for a loop. Here are 5 areas to consider as you recharge your human connections.
By Dan Roe
None of us can get by without the help of the most important people in our lives. Especially as we age, the support of spouses, partners, children, friends, and others is essential for living a healthy, meaningful life. But the pandemic threw a wrench in that, uprooting human interaction and creating a sense of isolation for many that has lingered in troubling ways.
In fact, coming up on three years of pandemic-induced social disruption, researchers have already found signs that the pandemic has caused many Americans to lose peripheral friends and alter formerly close relationships. Feelings of isolation also rose, and the loss of social connection had knock-on effects on mental and physical health.
In other words, it’s high time for a relationship audit. Use this guide to help you assess and evaluate your own important relationships. Are they healthy? Do they need some TLC? Read on!
Long-lasting, healthy relationships with a spouse or romantic partner have consistently proven in studies to be essential to reducing stress, increasing happiness, and even adding years to your life. But not surprisingly, COVID put a ton of pressure on couples, according to the latest American Family Survey: Spousal stress was up, and the number of marriages was down. The good news: More than 6 in 10 said the pandemic pressure-cooker actually made their relationship stronger.
And a lot of that strength comes from an ongoing commitment to communication and genuine listening, according to relationship researchers at Amherst College. People in healthy relationships can admit when they’re wrong and take responsibility for their mistakes, although that doesn’t mean backing down from disagreements. Instead, they express their feelings while trying to empathize with their partner. Have you really talked to your partner lately? Book some quality time with them and do it today.
A child’s needs and expectations of you change over time, of course, and so you have to change with them. Through age 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends parents follow a child’s lead as they explore the world around them, while also maintaining routines and household rules that instill an age-appropriate sense of discipline. As young children transition into adolescence, they’ll look to you for more independence and autonomy. Heading into the teenage years, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends parents allow some independence, focusing on helping their children control their impulses and make the right choices on their own.
But as kids move into adult life—and move away—new dynamics come into play. Parents need to respect their child’s boundaries and growing independence, the AARP advises, while also becoming a trusted listener for their child. And that’s going to mean being open to communicating with your kids in the ways they prefer—email and text, for sure, but maybe even social media or a scheduled weekly video call. Not comfortable with some of that technology? Ask your kids! They’re probably more willing to help than you think. In fact, one new study noted a significant increase in adult children’s concern for and communication with their parents coming out of the pandemic.
Friendships can be among the hardest relationships to maintain as we get older, move around, and become more involved with children, spouses, and parents. And that was true long before the pandemic made friendships even more challenging to keep up with.
But the friendship “math” hasn’t changed: Their value to our mental health and well-being is essential: Having good friends can prevent isolation and loneliness, reduce stress, increase your sense of purpose and belonging, and make you happier overall, according to the Mayo Clinic. So maybe it’s time to rekindle some friendships. If calling an old friend out of the blue feels like too big a leap, consider email, text, or social media as a low-pressure way to restart the conversation.
And anytime you find yourself feeling lonely or isolated, talk to your Emcara Health care team about ways to engage with your friends and neighbors.
Speaking of your neighbors, spending more time with them (well, most of them, anyway) can also recharge your relationship batteries. Volunteering is one great way to get to know your community in general, expanding your social interactions to a much wider range of ages, interests, and backgrounds. Bonus: Research has consistently shown that volunteering can improve both your physical and mental health, reduce depression and anxiety, and more. Those positive effects are especially evident among volunteers over age 60, researchers say.
You’ll likely be giving your community a boost as well, since volunteer activity is still making its own COVID comeback. People still donated money at the same rate amid the pandemic, research shows, but in-person volunteer activity dropped by almost half. So whether it’s mentoring kids, helping at a soup kitchen, or giving a few hours a week to local nonprofits and religious groups, the possibilities are endless. Your community can always use some of your time—and you’ll get something out of it, too.
Not sure where to start? Try resources like VolunteerMatch, a database of local volunteer opportunities by ZIP code; the American Red Cross and United Way, both of which also have extensive volunteer opportunities by location; or call your local city, county, or town hall for ideas.
Maintaining an open and honest dialogue with your doctor, nurse practitioner, or any other medical care provider is vital to your overall health. Doctors are busy people, but they should never make you feel rushed on your visits. You can help your medical team meet your needs by setting an agenda for every appointment ahead of time, Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends. Patient advocates also encourage being assertive if you don’t feel like your doctor is listening—although a doctor who’s right for you should never make you feel that way!
If you need advice or assistance on prepping for these sessions, ask your Emcara Health team. We’ll help you develop a list of your key questions and concerns to make sure you have everything you need to be your own best advocate.
To learn more about Emcara Health, call 1-800-728-0901.