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Strengthening Social Bonds in the Digital Era

WOODRUFF, Wis. – Human beings are inherently social creatures. From the moment we are born, relationships help us navigate the world, teaching us how to interact, express ourselves, and build communities. These connections are essential not just in childhood but throughout our lives, significantly impacting our overall health and well-being.
 
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three adults in the U.S. experience loneliness, while one in four lack adequate social and emotional support. These factors are associated with increased susceptibility to various health challenges, including heart disease, stroke, dementia, depression, and anxiety.
 
"Social connections are just a part of being human. Without social connections, we're isolated. Isolation can lead to depression," says Tracy Clay, a Family Medicine Nurse Practitioner at Aspirus Health.
 
The good news is that in today’s digital age, connecting with others is easier than ever before.
 
"We don't have to rely on just pen and paper, and we don't have to rely on just calling someone," Clay notes. While texting has become a popular mode of communication, Clay encourages more personal interactions. "Seeing people face to face, interacting, reading their responses is super important," she asserts.
 
Social media platforms offer another avenue for maintaining connections. Clay points out that "it's fun to watch people's pictures scroll by. It gives you that connection. You see their faces; you see their pictures."
 
Beyond social media, technologies like FaceTime have made it possible to connect visually with loved ones, enhancing the feeling of closeness. Teaching elderly individuals to use such technology can bring joy and a sense of connection to their lives.
 
However, Clay warns against the overuse of social media. Constantly comparing oneself to others based on curated snapshots can be detrimental.
 
"We have to remember that those snapshots we see on social media are also oftentimes staged," she says. Limiting time spent on these platforms is essential to avoid feelings of inadequacy and isolation. Clay suggests practical steps to reduce social media use, such as placing your phone in another room and engaging in real-world activities. "If I put my phone down and I go outside, I might see a real person, and that would be helpful too," she adds.
 
Building and nurturing social connections can take time and effort. Here are some tips from the CDC and National Institutes of Health (NIH) to enhance your social wellness:
 

  • Nurture Relationships: Regularly make time to visit with those you cherish and catch up on each other’s lives.
  • Get Involved: Join community groups, take classes, or volunteer. Engaging in shared activities can help form meaningful bonds.
  • Be Active Together: Participate in physical activities with others. This can positively impact your health and create opportunities for connection.
  • Support and Appreciate Others: Show gratitude and support to those around you through small acts of kindness.
  • Bond with Your Kids: Build strong emotional bonds with your children by being responsive, supportive, and available.
  • Limit Social Media: Reduce practices that lead to feelings of disconnection, such as excessive social media use.
  • Consult Healthcare Providers: Talk to a healthcare provider about concerns related to stress, loneliness, and social isolation.
 
Social connections profoundly impact our mental and physical health. As Clay highlights, "Without relationships and social connection, we don't have a lot of meaning frequently in our lives." By taking steps to enhance our social wellness, we can improve our quality of life and foster a sense of belonging and support in our communities.
 
Social Wellness Month is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the quantity and quality of our relationships and social interactions. For those seeking additional support, visit www.aspirus.org/find-a-provider to connect with an Aspirus healthcare provider in your area.
 

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