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The Fine Line of Social Health

Filed Under: Sexual Health at 1:20 pm | By: Susan Coyle, Senior Editor
SolitudeSome are good at being alone. They enjoy solitude, taking pleasure in the quiet and the peace. Others blossom when surrounded by people. They are at their best in crowded, bustling social settings. Many, myself included, require a combination of the two. At times, I crave silence. I need to be alone to clear my head and de-stress.  At other times, I long for interaction, one person or twenty with whom I can talk and be. My social needs vary, just as I’m sure yours do. Satisfying each of those variations is the key to maintaining social health. When you want solitude, find solitude; when you want people, find people. It seems simple, but it is not hard for your social life to fall into a dangerous extreme. And when that happens, your overall health, not just your social health, suffers.

The first of the two extremes is loneliness.  This is not the same as being physically alone. Loneliness occurs when you are dissatisfied by your solitude. It is a lasting sense of isolation. It is when you feel that no one understands or sees you, even when you are surrounded by others.  And this feeling takes its toll on your body. Research has found that loneliness can increase the wear and tear attributed to aging.  If you are lonely, you are more likely to report having multiple chronic stressors in your life and to view the past with increased negativity. You are also likely to have an elevated level of stress hormones, which will keep you at a heightened state of arousal and can lead to poor sleep and daytime dysfunction. When all of these factors combine, your body is less prepared to fight infection and inflammation. You’re at a higher risk for any number of health complications. And the longer you’re lonely the worse it gets. What can you do to combat this? Reach out. Talk about your problems. Be willing to accept help. You may not be as alone as you feel, and a little social interaction could remind you of that. Of course, reaching too far beyond loneliness can lead to the other extreme: codependence.

Codependence is a term typically assigned to women, but in truth, a codependent relationship can occur between members of either gender. It happens when there is an imbalance of power and an unhealthy attachment.  You may find that you are controlling the other person or that you are being controlled. Or, you could find yourself constantly seeking more approval and recognition, never satisfied with the little that you are given and convinced that you will soon be abandoned. Either way, you are in a relationship that can lead to guilt, shame, repressed anger and low self-esteem. You can lose yourself.  If you recognize this, you can take steps to end the unhealthy behavior. As with loneliness, reaching out and talking to others is the key to breaking free.  Once you do, your social health will start to mend, and with that comes overall better health. You’ll feel better physically, mentally and emotionally. That is true wellness.

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