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Socialization and how it’s NEEDED

Socializing as seniors is important to good mental health.

By KRISTINA WALSH/for The Herald  —  As we age, many things change. Your body drastically changes WHILE you age. The evidence is there; you can see that as you grow. A once teenage face now holds weathered lines of experience. There is no hiding it. Every time you look in the mirror, you notice how different you look compared to “when you were young,” a phrase I have heard from my mother’s mouth more times than I can count.

As you grow older, you must take extra steps to stay healthy and strong. Proper “diet and exercise” is at the top of the list. The story has been the same for the last 30 years. Eat right and exercise. Did you know that there is yet another area you need to ensure you are taking care of? It is a rather important category that should be remembered and discussed more often. It has received more attention now than ever before. Undoubtedly, it needs to be addressed more than it is.

Elderly adults are more susceptible to loneliness and depression, hindering socialization.

It is consequential for your mental and physical health to stay SOCIAL. The National Institute of Aging (1) has a great article called Loneliness and Social Isolation- Tips for staying connected (2), which discusses the health risks of not keeping a healthy social regimen. “…Studies show that loneliness and social isolation are associated with higher risks for health problems such as heart disease (3), depression (4) , and cognitive decline (5)…”

Socialization is such an important category for you to keep track of. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (6) (CDC) has even written about it. The CDC has several statistically-based facts to help support their reasoning behind the need for socialization. Their article titled Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions (7) tells us that Social Isolation is associated with

● 29% increased risk of heart disease
● 32% increased risk of stroke
● 50% increased risk of dementia
● Loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with a nearly four (4) times increased risk of death

I may not have a prestigious math degree, but from these statistics, I feel that it is safe to say Social Isolation does terrible things to your heart. Not only does it affect your mental health, but it also harms you physically.

Why is socialization so hard to achieve? Why is it something that we CONSTANTLY must remind ourselves to do? Socialization is such a broad category. Let’s start by explaining what it is exactly. The Oxford English Dictionary (8) defines Socialization as:

● 1. The activity of mixing socially with others- socialization with students has helped with communication skills
● 2. The process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society”

Socialization is the art of intermingling with others and doing it in a way that is considered “acceptable.” It is learning how to communicate with others verbally and non-verbally. How is this so pertinent? Why is not being able to talk to those around you detrimental to your health? Palomar.edu, in their article Socialization (9), discusses how “…as we age, we enter new statuses and need to learn the appropriate roles for them…”

As a young child, our mental capacity, knowledge, hobbies, and skill sets are entirely different than when we are in our fifties. Over time, our “agenda” changes. What interests us and what we like to do evolves as we do. Socializing helps us keep up with what we are doing. Or what we want to do. It is how we learn, how we know how to know how. We learn through communication. We talk with others to determine what we want to know or do.

We need to be able to communicate to get what we want. Wikepedia.org describes communication (10) as the “transmission of information.”

Socializing and communication almost run parallel to each other. Socializing is receiving information, while communication is how we receive it. We need to communicate to socialize, and we need to socialize to learn. Your personality and what you are “like” is also built by socialization. You create your perceptions, values, and morals through communication. Socializing helps you build who you are.

Socialization (9) describes this by discussing different tribes worldwide and how a whole tribe will have its own cultural beliefs. Each tribe will follow its policies and procedures even though no manual exists. You need socialization to have a collective unconscious, a “societal norm.” You can only build yourself if you know what other structures surround you.

The Mayo Clinic also believes in the importance of socialization, offering their reason for why we need it. In their article Mayo Clinic Minute: The benefits of being socially connected (11), A psychologist working for the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Sawchuk, thinks, “We are social animals by nature, so we tend to function better when we’re in a community and being around others.” As we read earlier, statistically, it suits our hearts and minds. That is all there is to it.

So now that we know what socialization IS and what all goes into making it work. Why is it such a challenging goal to obtain? Why does socializing or making sure we socialize seem like such a chore?

There are many stressors to our socialization categories. These stressors can cause our “socialization” areas not to work correctly, causing our body and mind a certain level of distress when we socialize. Some things that can make socializing hard are:

● Anxiety
● Lack of communication
● Socioeconomic Status
● Depression
● Race
● Age
● Gender
● Beliefs
● Fear
● Religion

Someone with anxiety might struggle with auditory or visual distractions, making communication and socializing hard. People living in certain socioeconomic situations sometimes have different access to resources to help promote socialization than others with higher socioeconomic statuses would have. Not to mention, socializing with others can CAUSE stress in itself. To socialize is the trigger in itself.

Socializing can be challenging for some people with specific underlying mental health concerns. Without friends, family, and a community, you have less chance for socialization. This less than is where the term loneliness comes from.

We learn from socializing throughout our lives.

Socialization (9) also speaks of two different kinds of socialization. Informal and Formal. Informal Socialization is what you would receive from friends, family, and the community you are surrounded by. Formal Socialization would be the Public School System, a job, or any Club/Programs you are involved with.

Each form of socialization is just as important as the other. We start our lives as babies with Informal socialization. We start off learning from those around us. As we grow into childhood, we enter the school system. This is where we switch to formal socialization. Formal socialization follows us throughout our schooling and careers, utilizing it throughout our employment history. Our life is “run” by traditional socialization, but informal socialization still occurs in the background. It shows itself through every friendship we make and the affection we give.

Suicide Prevention Resource Center has an article on Reducing Loneliness among Older Adults (12) where they talk of “the mortality risk of loneliness is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes per day. 3, 4, Lonely people are 50% more likely to die prematurely.”
Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions (7) Talks of a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) where it was shown that “…more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated…”

As I mentioned earlier, this category has yet to be spoken of. Social Isolation hardly hits the headlines. You are not seeing the New York Reporter writing pieces on loneliness and the hazards to your health.

Throughout the summer, I counted endless articles on diets. I could try any kind. Everywhere I looked, a resource offered tips and tricks to get into a better body, to change my image, and create something they found more fitting. Yet I read not one article focusing on socialization and staying connected with others. It is a bright season when you are usually surrounded by family and friends hanging out in the heat. I
found no resource on communication’s advantages and what it does for mental health.

Social media is not a good substitute for socialization.

In a world where technology is on the rise, limiting yourself to socialization with the new advances in electronics is the new norm. The better we can build up our homes, the less we need to venture out into the world, limiting our connections.

We have been fed loneliness on a platter of gold, and we have accepted it because it was shiny. You are not alone- I, too, am a victim of the struggle. As I type this article to you on a laptop- I enjoy the portable convenience of mobility while I work.

We do not need to feel guilt for the treasures we toggle but to ensure they are not affecting our ability to communicate with the outside world. Digital communication not being one that counts. We need to physically feel the presence of another. It is good for our minds AND our bodies.

1. https://www.nia.nih.gov/
2. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/loneliness-and-social-isolation-tipsstaying-connected
3. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/heart-health-and-aging
4. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/topics/depression
5. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/memory-forgetfulness-and-aging-whats-normal-and-whats-not
6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centers_for_Disease_Control_and_Prevention
7. https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/lonely-older-adults.html
8. https://www.oed.com/search/dictionary/?scope=Entries&q=Socialization
9. https://www.palomar.edu/anthro/social/soc_1.htm
10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
11. https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-minute-the-benefits-of-being-socially-con

Kristina Walsh is a freelance journalist who enjoys writing articles that impact our lives. Her tag line is Randomly Writing and can be contacted at [email protected]
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