Frantic mornings, packed schedules, relentless demands and deadlines, and a scarcity of down time are the norm for many of us. And while you may complain about this near constant state of activity, you must be honest with yourself: a busy schedule is an easy excuse for not meeting up with that old friend, or for now making the trip to see your parents. But in taking these easy outs, are we not doing more harm than good?
I am not diminishing anything on your to-do list, nor am I suggesting that your career, kids, fitness, etc. aren’t important. Yet maintaining connections with friends and family is a priority often relegated to the bottom of the list, as social hour with friends may feel frivolous, indulgent. And time with your extended family? Depending on your family dynamics, this can be a double-edged sword. All families have their quirks, everyone has a family member or two who rubs them the wrong way, but for better or worse, they are your people. Spending time with people who not only love and appreciate you for who you are today, but also for who you were yesterday – and beyond – is critical for emotional well-being. Loneliness has been shown to have a strong correlation to depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts – whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, the reality is that humans are social creatures, and we need connection and interaction to survive.
The sad reality is that Americans are objectively lacking in this regard. For a population that started Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, Americans are woefully lacking in face-to-face social time. Immigrant families with a strong cultural history of elder care and cohabitation are often baffled by the American aversion to living anywhere near aging parents (or grandparents). In many cultures of the world, it is wholly common for extended families to live in the same village or even under the same roof. Caring for aging parents is seen as a privilege and natural progression of life rather than as a nuisance or obligation.
I’m not suggesting we should all call our parents immediately and insist they move in with us. Far from it. But it is worth renewing our collective commitment to nurturing those ties, to carving out time on a regular basis to see our families and friends. Even the busiest of us can find that time if honest consideration is given to priorities. Find a frequency that works for you and feels good. Start small – once every 2 months, for example – and you may find you enjoy that social time so much that you want more of it.
That said, socializing can be stressful. Inviting people over to your house requires cleaning, preparation, refreshments, etc., so keep things simple: a potluck, opting to meet out at a restaurant, take turns hosting, or do something active together that simply requires lacing up and heading out. Remove expectations, remove the pressure, and focus on the reason: the why you are spending time together. Because you share a past and memories, because you have something in common today, and because you have shared goals for a better future.
We’ve all heard the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”. First, I’ll say that this couldn’t be more true! Second, I’ll add to that by saying “it takes a village to keep a village happy and healthy”.
Lastly, my challenge to you: make a list of your most cherished friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, etc. with whom you haven’t connected in a while. Then set a goal to reach out to one loved one every week for as long as it takes. You won’t regret it.