Being social sustains our “being”

We have a new puppy at home. His name is Jack. Our other dog Millie was very helpful.

She will play with Jack, even if she is a bit reluctant. It’s probably more accurate to say she’ll get up and allow him to try jumping on her back. He’ll do it just high enough to crash into his ribs.

He will bite and pull on Millie’s long curly hair, especially her ears. Then they do their version of canine tug of war with a chew toy for a while.

At some point my wife will kindly explain to them how she is fed up with the heckling and would like some quiet, which is quite effective as long as it takes for the sound of her voice to reverberate off the wall.

Then they go back to it. At least until Mille gets too tired or Jack bites her ear too harshly. Just then, Millie growls deeply and bares her fangs. Jack knows how to rush, tail tucked, under the coffee table.

It would be nice if Millie had an indicator or gauge, like a fuel gauge, that would tell Jack when his patience was running out.

It would be nice for all of us to have – a little gauge that shows others, and even ourselves, that we are on the verge of being too exhausted, too worked, too stressed, too tired.

So how do you avoid overloading so you don’t constantly sizzle like a pressure cooker?

According to Dr. Craig Shachuk, a psychologist at the Mayo Clinic, one of the keys to doing this is to be social.

“We are social animals by nature, so we tend to function best when we are in a community and surrounded by others,” says Dr. Sawchuk.

“Just being able to shoot the breeze about certain things can be a very, very positive thing, he adds.

Years ago, Westview offered a family-focused program called Families and Schools Together. Under this program, each parent was paired with a parent from another family. These partners contacted each other once a week between sessions just to “pull the breeze”. Parents repeatedly said how much they enjoyed spending time talking to an adult in the community.

Socializing creates a kind of immunity to feelings of loneliness and promotes better mental health. Interacting with others reinforces the feeling of well-being and decreases the feeling of depression. Research has shown that one sure way to improve your mood is to work on building social connections.

One way to make those connections is to take advantage of our great local community events, like National Night Out.

Nikolas Velikopoljski of growglobal.com encourages us not to shy away from these opportunities.

“Sometimes being social can be easier said than done, as many people experience forms of social anxiety that make it difficult to communicate with others,” he said. “However, sometimes taking the extra effort of being social can help more than you think. Use community events to build new relationships with others and improve the way you communicate and interact. Although it may seem uncomfortable at first, it’s a great way to help you grow in a social setting.”

Research shows that there are also physical benefits to having an active social network in place.

First, you can live longer. People with more social support tend to live longer than those who are more isolated, and this is true even after taking into account your overall health.

Second, you’ll likely enjoy better physical health. Social engagement is associated with a stronger immune system, especially for older people. This means you are better able to fight off colds, the flu, and even some types of cancer.

And finally, you can even reduce your risk of dementia. More recently, there has been an accumulation of evidence that socializing is good for your brain health. People who connect with others generally score higher on tests of memory and other cognitive skills. And, in the long term, people with an active social life are less likely to develop dementia than those who are more socially isolated.

So whether it’s phoning a friend, chatting with neighbors on a walk, or attending our local community events, be sure to be social. There is more than social networks.

Alright, I have to go now. My car’s check engine light came on. Does anyone know what this means?

Hugh Gray is the executive director of Westview Behavioral Health Services and can be reached at 803-276-5690.