If you’ve followed our posts about wellness, you may remember the emphasis placed on physical wellness and its impact on mental wellness. The correlation between the two is incredibly intertwined, and we’ve written extensively on the importance of physical wellness and its profound impact on mental wellness. However, the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. As we’ve previously described, wellness is a “conscious, deliberate process that requires a person to become aware of and make choices for a more satisfying lifestyle.” In the Pillars of Wellness model, there are eight categories that determine the quality of our overall wellness. We’ve discussed physical wellness in-depth, but given the circumstances of the pandemic over the last couple of years, we’d like to emphasize social wellness in particular. Social wellness involves developing a sense of connection, belonging, and a well-developed support system, all of which contribute to our understanding of self-worth and overall wellness.
Why Connection is Imperative
Connection is an imperative aspect of the human experience that allows us to participate in something greater than ourselves. Granted, the idea of being social can be regarded as either harmful or beneficial depending on the circumstances – ex. having friends who are bad influences, codependent relationships, etc. However,the wellness aspect of our social connections helps us to understand which parts of our social lives are contributing to our overall wellness. In other words, some relationships we have can provide us with support, love, positivity, and positive influence. Others may elicit stress, conflict, or destructive behavior. The social wellness pillar helps us understand which of these in our lives are having the greatest impact and ways we can address negative social relationships to ensure our lives are being led in a productive, healthy way.
If you lean towards introversion like me, social wellness isn’t so much about evaluating existing relationships, though that certainly can be the case, but rather about overcoming tendencies that foster isolation and creating relationships to build upon the critical wellness component of connection. Alternatively, being an extrovert doesn’t necessarily mean having a surplus of friends and a large social circle is beneficial to wellness. Instead, wellness comes from the quality of those relationships and finding a balance between those in our lives who foster and reinforce positivity and recognizing those who don’t. But whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between, the toll this pandemic has had on our social wellness is tremendous for many, and we could all benefit from examining this crucial aspect of living a healthy life.
The Impacts of the Pandemic on Recovery
Though we’ve mentioned it a few times in past articles and social media posts, we cannot overstate the staggering statistics of substance-related deaths in our country. With a 28.5% increase from 2020, deaths from drugs and alcohol reached over 100,000 for the first time and are expected to increase substantially in the years to come. If we consider those numbers in relation to the pandemic, it is safe to say people are hurting — resorting to drugs and alcohol to alleviate the voids that have manifested through isolation, coupled with profound, often debilitating uncertainty. What’s more, these staggering numbers of fatal interactions with substances are likely indicative of a growing problem within the recovery community nationwide, as prolonged isolation creates a perfect-storm environment for relapse, using/drinking more frequently and in higher amounts. With that in mind, it is now more crucial than ever to do some self-evaluation, reflect on how this pandemic has impacted our sense of connectedness and social wellness, consider the underlying implications prolonged isolation can have on our overall wellness, and familiarize ourselves with ways we can reestablish the components of social wellness that have been circumstantially neglected during the past two years.
Why Socialization is Essential for Those in Recovery
Before we dive into how to socialize in a pandemic world, let’s first look at why socialization is essential, especially for those in recovery. The benefits of socialization have been studied for years, and the scientific consensus has been objectively unanimous — the most common being:
Mental Health — Socialization decreases depression, improves emotional health
Self-esteem — Prolonged loneliness/isolation can lower confidence and sense of self-worth. Socialization can help us see our importance in the lives of others and gain new perspectives on how we view ourselves.
Purpose — Socialization can give us a sense of purpose by having places to go, people to see, and new things to experience.
Increased quality of life — When we have people we love that count on us, make frequent plans to socialize, and continually have things to look forward to, we are more likely to take better care of ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally
Through the lens of recovery, these specific benefits happen to be some of the more common facets of wellness that are left neglected in addiction. If you think of the methods of addiction treatment that are widely considered most effective — Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous, in/out-patient treatment, sober living, etc. — each function primarily through some form of socialization due to the evidenced-based benefits highlighted above.
NIH’s Social Wellness Checklist
Now, as we enter the third year of this pandemic, the social component of overall wellness in most of our lives is due for some much-needed attention. If you’ve been having a hard time with social distancing, are feeling particularly lonely, and could use some tips for ways to re-establish a connection with the outside world, look no further than the National Institutes of Health’s Social Wellness Checklist below. As you will see, social wellness is more than going out and “being social”. It’s about meaningful connections and establishing healthy relationships.
Positive social habits can help you build support systems and stay healthier mentally and physically. Here are some tips for connecting with others:
Social connections might help protect health and lengthen life. Scientists are finding that our links to others can have powerful effects on our health. Whether with family, friends, neighbors, romantic partners, or others, social connections can influence our biology and well-being. Look for ways to get involved with others.
To find new social connections:
Join a group focused on a favorite hobby.
Take a class to try something new.
Try yoga, tai chi, or another new physical activity.
Join a choral group, theater troupe, band, or orchestra.
Help at a community garden or park.
Volunteer at a school, library, or hospital.
Participate in neighborhood events.
Join a local community group.
Travel to different places and meet new people.
GET ACTIVE TOGETHER
Where you live, work, or go to school can have a big impact on how much you move and even how much you weigh. Being active with others in your community can have a positive effect on your health habits and create opportunities to connect. You can help your community create ways to encourage more physical activity.
To help make a more active community:
Start a walking group with friends.
Drive the speed limit and yield to people who walk.
Consider joining an exercise group.
Participate in local planning efforts to develop walking paths, sidewalks, and
Join other parents to ask for more physical activity at school.
Try different activities!
BOND WITH YOUR KIDS
Parents have an important job. Raising kids is both rewarding and challenging. Being sensitive, responsive, consistent, and available to your kids can help you build positive, healthy relationships with them. The strong emotional bonds result in helping children learn how to manage their own feelings and behaviors and develop self-confidence. Children with strong connections to their caregivers are more likely to be able to cope with life’s challenges.
BUILD HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS
Strong, healthy relationships are important throughout your life. They can impact your mental and physical well-being. As a child, you learn the social skills you need to form and maintain relationships with others. But at any age, you can learn ways to improve your relationships. It’s important to know what a healthy relationship looks like and how to keep your connections supportive.
To build healthy relationships:
Share your feelings honestly.
Ask for what you need from others.
Listen to others without judgment or blame. Be caring and empathetic.
Disagree with others respectfully. Conflicts should not turn into personal attacks.
Avoid being overly critical, angry outbursts, and violent behavior.
Expect others to treat you with respect and honesty in return.
Compromise. Try to come to agreements that work for everyone.
Protect yourself from violent and abusive people. Set boundaries with others. Decide what you are and aren’t willing to do. It’s okay to say no.
Learn the differences between healthy, unhealthy, and abusive ways of relating to others.
In the pursuit of overall wellness, socialization can be one of the most impactful components in recovery. However, it can also be the most difficult. Addiction fosters isolation and seclusion, both physically and mentally, both of which have been monumentally amplified during the past two years and counting. In that time, we’ve gained enough insight to recognize some of the implications imposed social distance has on our wellness. Namely, drug and alcohol consumption as a means to cope has increased so significantly, we are now experiencing historic substance-related deaths. While the increased use of substances is revealing in itself, it is likely indicative of a growing, underlying problem that isn’t as obvious — wellness is being neglected in the wake of the tumultuous reality we find ourselves in today and the uncertainty of its conclusion. Each one of us has been impacted by this pandemic in some form, but social wellness is a component that has been overwhelmingly mutual for all of us. As we head into Wellness Week with Herren, we’d love for you to join us as we highlight all the pillars of wellness, including social. Getting involved is a perfect way to reestablish connection with yourself and the world around you. Even if you are taking small steps to safely engage with others, you’re already headed in the right direction towards a healthier life in wellness!