Monday Medical: Tips for staying social
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
With places from businesses and schools to restaurants and shops closing their doors temporarily, most people are finding it harder to spend time with others. But staying connected is important — maybe more now than ever.
“As human beings, we have a need to be in connection with other people,” said Sara Ross, a licensed clinical social worker for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “It’s not just a want — it’s a need, like our need to eat.”
Importance of connection
The integral role of connection with other human beings forms early.
When a baby cries, he releases the stress hormone cortisol. As parents hear the cry, they release their own cortisol, which signals them to soothe their baby. Once the baby is soothed, he releases the hormone oxytocin, which promotes feelings of love and well-being. And then, parents release their own oxytocin in response.
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“It teaches us that when we’re in pain or sad or suffering, we can get our needs met with another human being,” Ross said.
That training of our nervous systems doesn’t go away as we get older. Rather, we have a similar response when we connect with a spouse or family or friends. Which means now, when anxieties and fear may be as high as ever, it’s important to connect.
“What I’m finding for myself is that being able to reach out via phone or FaceTime can help bring that anxiety down,” Ross said.
Creative ways to connect
If you know you need to connect with others more, start by making a list of a few trusted people you know you can call.
“Think about who are the people you can lean into when you’re feeling anxious or sad or depressed or lonely, all of those feelings we’re going to see exacerbated,” Ross said.
And then, reach out in whatever way is easiest for you.
Video conference calls aren’t just a good idea for businesses: they come in handy for friends and family, too. Explore your options for connecting remotely, whether that’s FaceTime or Google Hangouts or Marco Polo.
Help your kids find ways to connect as well, even if it means they have a little more screen time than usual.
“It can be helpful to think of this as temporary,” Ross said. “We can prioritize what our needs are right now and recognize that connection is important for everyone, including kids.”
Text or call friends you haven’t connected with for a while. Talk with neighbors as you see each other outside. Message back and forth with co-workers. It all counts as social connection, and right now, it’s all important.
Social media can also be a great way to stay connected, as long as it isn’t overwhelming.
“Maybe consider what you’re really looking at on there, and notice if you reach a tipping point,” Ross said.
If you’re part of a church or other organization that can’t gather in person for the time being, try to join online services or gatherings.
“It can be good to feel like you’re part of something bigger,” Ross said.
Find ways to give back, ask for help
There’s power in giving and accepting help. Offer to run errands or grab groceries for those who can’t get out. Or just check in on someone over the phone or email to say “hi.”
“Think about people in your life who may be more socially isolated and make it a point to reach out to them,” Ross said. “It makes you feel good and gives you this little sense of control or purpose.”
And if you need help, don’t hesitate to ask.
“We all know how good it feels when someone allows us to do something for them,” Ross said. “When we don’t let that reciprocation happen, we rob the blessing from that person.”
Through all of it, go easy on yourself and know that it’s a big adjustment for everyone.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” Ross said. “But we’ll get through this together.”
Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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