The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on many things: the economy, the health of the global population, and the mental health of millions of people all over the world. Research has shown that the number of people suffering from mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety has increased fourfold, with four out of every 10 people reporting feelings of anxiousness or depressiveness. In reports from 2019, those numbers were at only one in 10.
Along with the increase in depression and anxiety, many adults also reported issues with sleeping, eating, and drug or alcohol use during the pandemic because of worry and stress about COVID, job losses, and social isolation. The effects of isolation can be detrimental, even in the best of circumstances, but with the majority of the population feeling the sting of loneliness, a new global crisis has emerged.
The good news is that in many places, widespread vaccination is occurring, things are slowly reopening, and people are getting back to their regular lives. All that social interaction that people have been missing for the better part of a year and a half is finally being put back onto the table – and this is vital. Here’s why socializing is so important for mental health in 2021 especially.
Why is socialization important for mental health?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social isolation can take a severe toll on overall health. It has been linked to the increased risk of premature death as well as things like dementia, heart disease, stroke, and heart failure. Feelings of loneliness have also been closely tied to an increase in depression, anxiety, and suicide rates. However, the CDC also reported that suicide rates dropped by 6% during 2020, which shows that when people rally together, they are much more inclined to feel better about their circumstances, no matter how dire they are. This is just one piece of evidence that supports the benefits of socialization for mental health.
Socializing with friends and family has also been shown to help reduce feelings of depression while increasing a person’s overall feelings of wellbeing. By building and maintaining solid social relationships, a person has a better chance at coping with mental illness, as well as reducing their risk of developing a mental illness in the first place.
How does social interaction improve mental health?
Human beings are social by nature. We rely upon one another to function in society. Being around others is how we learn, grow, and work towards a better future. Social connections have also been shown to help shape people’s personal identities, thus confirming the saying that “you are who you surround yourself with”.
When it comes to the improvement of mental health, the type of social interaction affects how well it works. For example, medical professionals have found that face-to-face contact – something that has been off the table throughout the worst of the pandemic – has been shown to trigger the nervous system to release certain neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters have been shown to regulate stress and anxious feelings, thus improving mental wellbeing. One specific neurotransmitter, dopamine, is released during social interaction. Dopamine triggers feelings of wellbeing, essentially providing you with feelings of lightness and joy.
On the opposite side, feeling isolated or alone can hinder mental health in a serious way. Research looking at older adults has shown that increased levels of isolation have led to the risk of developing poor mental health, even if there is no history of it. That just goes to show how important it is to find a good social group and spend time with those you love as much as possible throughout your life.
How does socialization help depression?
Depression is one specific mental illness that can be greatly improved with meaningful and authentic social connections. Studies have shown that people who suffer from depression often report a lack of contentment surrounding their social lives. When a person with depressive symptoms finds a good social circle where they feel a sense of belonging, their satisfaction in their life increases greatly.
Many people have been so isolated for the last year and half that reentering social situations may bring about a sense of anxiety. They may feel as if socialization is now foreign to them, and that they need to essentially relearn how to do it. Although these are valid feelings considering the toll the pandemic took, it’s important to remember why socialization is important.
If you are scared that you need to relearn how to be social, you can ease back into it. You don’t have to jump into the deep end right away. Start by taking stock of who you have in your life, and what relationships are the most rewarding and can be prioritized over others. It’s also important to remember that everyone is in the same socially awkward boat that you’re in. The readjustment period may be difficult, but it’s vital to overcoming any lingering feelings that have resulted from the pandemic. Just remember to socialize safely by wearing your mask or social distancing when necessary, and soon enough, you’ll be back to socializing as you were pre-pandemic.