When was the last time you went out for a meal with your friends? Or hit the town for a few drinks and a whole lot of dancing? When did you last get together with someone important to enjoy dinner and a movie? Do you even remember the last time you and your significant other had a date night? You may think that occasions such as these are a rare luxury that you can ill afford. You’re not a teenager anymore, heck, you’re not even in your early twenties anymore. Life’s supposed to get a little quieter and more insular as you get older, right? Wrong! A healthy social life is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. A healthy social life not only keeps you smiling and feeling carefree and youthful, it’s necessary for peak mental health and maintaining your quality of life. Human beings have evolved to be social creatures and access to others to whom we’ve formed an emotional attachment is crucial to our wellbeing.
Sure, you may have a high powered job, a loving partner, kids and a mortgage, but that doesn’t mean you need to resign yourself to life as a worker drone. No matter what your age, your job or your social circle you owe it to yourself to be socially active…
The insular age
Make no mistake, there’s a time and a place for alone time. There’s a particular form of delight that comes with treating yourself to a spa night in the bathroom where you can unwind and rejuvenate with your beauty products. Likewise there are times when a night in with a bottle of wine and a season of Orange Is The New Black is the embodiment of bliss. Enjoying your own company is an absolutely integral part of a well developed psyche, but in today’s increasingly insular age we can tend to take it too far.
The rise in affordable home electronics, combined with cheaper cable TV and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have conspired to turn us into an international community of couch potatoes. It’s easier than ever to get lost in the fantasy worlds we experience vicariously through our TVs. Movies, TV shows and video games (to say nothing of hours of free content on YouTube and the like without engaging with the real world around us. Sure, there’s an embarrassment of riches in terms of the content we can enjoy in our spare time, but it should be consumed as a balanced diet of activities not as a substitute for one.
Social media is no substitute!
Social media has revolutionized the way we communicate in the 21st century. It has the capacity to reunite old friends, raise awareness of important news and causes, and enabled individuals and groups to hold big businesses and even politicians to account. Social media absolutely has its place, but it’s not (and was never intended to be) a substitute for meaningful interactions with our friends and family.
There’s also an unfortunate and sinister side effect to viewing the world through the lens of social media. Social media enables others to stage manage their lives and even their appearance and this can have a negative effect on our self esteem. It can result in us feeling (however erroneously) that everyone else is more successful, more popular, more attractive and enjoying a better quality of life than us. This can have the unfortunate consequence of making us retreat inward, becoming yet more insular. Don’t live your life through an app, engaging with filtered profile pictures. Get out there and get social!
Your partner is not your keeper
There are times when a quiet night in with your significant other may be infinitely preferable for a noisy night with the girls (or boys). They are, after all, the person around whom you can be the most comfortable and the most at ease with who you are. If, however, your partner is actively preventing you from fulfilling your social obligations, we may have a problem. Whether they’re trying to strong arm you into staying in because they don’t like or trust your friends or trying to guilt trip you by telling you how lonely they’ll be, this is not acceptable behavior. We’re not saying that they have to go, but they need to be educated as to what they can reasonably respect of you without straying into the realms of abuse.
How many social engagements have you had to shy away from because you had an important presentation or a meeting with a key client the night before? How much did it tear you up inside when your friends started exchanging stories about the fun night that you missed out on? As admirable as it is to take pride in your job and work hard to progress within your career there’s a fine between professional pride and a solid work ethic and sliding down the slippery slope to workaholism. Pursuing your passion in the world of work is a wonderful thing but your job will never give you back as much as you put in, nor will it be able to give you love and support when you need it. Taking the time to interact with others and to tear yourself away from work is an important step to achieving a healthy work / life balance. So, you may need to be a little more sensible, drink a little more water and a lot less wine if you have a big day at work the morning after… But that doesn’t mean that you should miss out.
Your hearing loss
Do you ever feel like your hearing is a social barrier, especially on big nights out? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Hearing loss doesn’t just affect the geriatrics. There are some conditions like Meniere’s disease which can strike in your forties, thirties or even twenties. These can seriously impede your social life if left unchecked. Hearing loss can prevent you from being able to follow along with conversations, especially in noisy or crowded areas. You smile and nod at points where it feels like you should while desperately hoping that nobody turns to you to ask your opinion. Before long you feel isolated and outside of the group, even when you’re amongst friends you’ve loved all your life.
After a while this can cause you to eschew the company of your friends out of embarrassment and social anxiety. There’s no need to suffer in silence. See an audiologist to learn more about what’s causing your hearing loss, what you can do to prevent it and how to prepare for a hearing aid fitting. Today’s digital hearing aids aren’t as bulky or obtrusive as you may think. Widex hearing aids are discrete and affordable and their settings can be attuned to suit your surroundings meaning that you need not miss out on conversations. If you feel that your hearing loss is impinging on your social life, see an audiologist as soon as you can. It might just get you your social life back.
Your social anxiety
There’s evidence to suggest that social anxiety is on the rise, particularly amongst people in their teens and twenties. There could be a number of explanations for this. There’s the way in which the Netflix age quietly coaxes us to stay at home and eschew social interaction. There’s the increasing deterioration of a sense of community. It could be that the social media has convinced us that everyone else is out there having more fun than we can possibly imagine. Even the food we eat could be a contributing factor. Whatever the cause, social anxiety can seriously impede your social growth, confidence, communication skills and sense of self. Don’t let it ruin your social life. If the rest of your friends have something raucous in mind try suggesting a quieter alternative that will make you feel more at ease.
Your self image
Most of us have, at some point, found ourselves unhappy or frustrated with the way we look. It could be those few extra pounds that refuse to melt away no matter how much you bust a hump at the gym, or it could be that little tuft of hair that refuses to do as it’s told. Sometimes it’s just an inconvenience but other times it can prevent you from stepping out of the house, even if it precludes you from engaging with others socially. There’s absolutely no reason to let your poor self image keep you shut in at home to ruminate on your self loathing. Getting out and interacting may in fact allow you to feel better about yourself and more confident as you start to see yourself how others perceive you.
As well as anxiety, depression seems to also be on the rise, especially amongst the younger generations. As socially crippling as it may be, keeping yourself to yourself is the absolute worst thing you can do. Even inviting a friend over for some relaxed chat can work wonders, although being out and about and amongst people is proven to be more psychologically beneficial.
Keeping to yourself can only exacerbate your depression, warping your perception of the world around you and how others perceive you. Staying socially active, on the other hand, can help you to cope with your depression more ably than you would expect.
The next time the phone rings and you’re tempted to bow out of that social engagement, try just saying yes. You’ll be glad you did!