Why socializing is important to our health

By Francesca McKernon

Opinion Contributor 

We’re with ourselves seven days a week, 24 hours a day, whether we like it or not. While it’s necessary to have time to ourselves without the noise of the universe, it’s also necessary and healthy to maintain social relationships during stressful times at school. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 85 percent of students have felt overwhelmed by their workload at least once in the semester, while 41.6 percent of students reported anxiety as their highest concern. While we can’t get rid of schoolwork or stress, we can definitely minimize it by confiding in close friends and partners. The University of Minnesota reviewed 148 studies showing that people with stronger social relationships were 50 percent less likely to die prematurely. The type of relationships we foster and nurture matter though; like Jim Rohn said, “We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” Therefore, if you have negative and stressful relationships, bouncing back from a stressful semester, or even just a stressful day, will take longer than if you had positive relationships. Psychologist Sheldon Cohen commented that college students with stronger and more supportive relationships were less likely to catch a cold.

Having strong relationships with supportive friends, family, and partners is ideal and great, but what happens when we don’t have time to contribute to these relationships? When we are alone? Studies have shown that individuals who don’t have many social interactions were more likely to experience loneliness and depression than those that do. Also, they were more likely to have a lower functioning immune system and and higher blood pressure and stress levels.

Physically, we know why relationships are important, but why are they important emotionally? Well, relationships fulfill our need for love, according to Donald Latumahina. We as humans like to love and be loved in return, but in order for this exchange to occur we need to give in order to receive. And the fact is that we humans like to give because, well, it makes us feel good. We give our friendships and relationships love in the form of advice, listening, and validating their feelings and thoughts. Honestly, I have found throughout my 19 years of living on this earth that we just want to be understood and listened to. And, unfortunately, it’s difficult to do that alone. Maybe this is a good thing, though, because it forces us to get out of the house and join new clubs and meet people. I myself have considered hermitage after a failed human social interaction, or lose my faith in humanity after some horrible event has occurred. But the reality is, we can’t be alone. I mean, sure, physically we can, but emotionally? Yeah, that would be a disaster.

A study by Bruce A. Arrigo and Jennifer Leslie Bullock from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte examined the psychological effects of solitary confinement on prisoners in supermax units. The prisoners had little contact with correctional officers and other convicts, and feature limited mental stimulation. The prisoner’s perception of the room’s environment becomes based off the limited interactions the prisoner has with the correctional officers. Haney in 1993 reported that these prisoners without the presence of a social context became extremely malleable, unnaturally sensitive, and vulnerable to the influence of those who controlled the environment. Long-term confinement creates a shift from the prisoner craving social interaction to ultimately fearing it. The results also included depression, and long-term impulse control behavior, as well as psychosis, suicidal behavior, and self-mutilation. The prisoners also experienced hallucinations, distortions of perception, feelings of derealization, and rage.

While the solitary confinement example is an extreme case of isolation, it highlights the mental need to socialize and be around people for our own mental health. You may have experienced this when you are cooped up in your room for hours writing a paper or studying, or as is common in Buffalo, catching “cabin fever.” You may feel like you’re going crazy without the social interaction with other people, and it’s because you are. Well, not going crazy, but needing social interaction to balance your own thoughts and self. So maybe we should close the computer, get up, and meet some friends for dinner, because it might just improve your academic work by taking a social break.

 

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