The loneliness epidemicWhen nearly half of US adults are "lonely," there's clearly something wrong:
- The percentage of US adults who self-describe as lonely has doubled since the 1980s—from 20 percent to 40 percent
- Around one-third of Americans older than 65 now live alone
- Around half of those over 85 live alone
"Going it alone" is hazardous to your healthRecent research gives us abundant evidence that social separation is bad for us. Individuals with fewer social connections have:
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Altered immune systems
- More inflammation
- Higher levels of stress hormones
- 29 percent higher risk of heart disease
- 32 percent higher risk of stroke
The role of family in healthBroadly speaking, it seems there are two belief systems when it comes to family: “I sustain myself with the love of family.” — Maya Angelou versus "Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family—in another city." — George Burns I understand both perspectives. Family can be our best friends or worst enemies. Some recent research has looked specifically at adult siblings and their role in family members' health.
Siblings, when you're all grown upMost of the research on sibling relationships looks at early childhood. With good reason—a lot goes on in those years. Young brothers and sisters learn from each other and their parents about how to interact with peers, co-workers, and friends as their lives move on. Less studied are our relationships with our siblings when we're all adults. That's a surprise, as they're the longest-running family ties we have—usually from cradle to grave. Within this universe, happily, recent data tells us, that most adult sibling relationships are close and caring. Two-thirds of respondents in one study, for example, said a brother or sister was one of their best friends. That's very good medicine. Just having a best friend is a great gift. When the friend is family, the gift's value increases. A Swedish study, for example, concluded that satisfying contact with siblings among the 80-plus population is closely linked with good health and positive mood—more closely linked than close non-family friendships or relationships with adult children.
Up close and personalAnother fascinating study, small, but wonderfully revealing, looked at two groups of couples to see whether their levels of dyadic coping—their ability to communicate and collaborate with each other—would affect their immune response to stress. Maybe the results would help explain the links between social isolation and poor health. In the group with high dyadic coping, there was no immune response to a stressful situation designed into the study—discussion of an area of disagreement. The couples worked out their solutions with no signs of stress-induced inflammation. But in the group with low dyadic coping, there was a detectable immune response to the stressful situation. In both members of the couples, tests found interleukin (IL)-6—a compound that always appears when the body responds to inflammation. So a social interaction caused
Stay in touchLiterally, in touch. Close enough to engage face to face with your fellow, social, human brothers, sisters, friends, aunts, uncles, and any others. Don't be shy, don't be stressed—you need each other. I know it's hard to step outside your comfort zone. But acting outside your comfort zone can have immediate rewards. I remember a study that found people with positive attitudes can, yes, have a moment of stress—but the positive attitude prevailed, and immediately calmed the stress response. So think how gratified you are when someone gives you their attention and engagement. It's the same when you give it to them. You're giving them a gift. You can see it in their smiles. And you'll feel it in your own smiles. Talk about win-win ... take good care.
- Brogan, Kelly. "Why Social Isolation Leads to Inflammation" GreenMed Info. Published October 17, 2016. Last accessed December 25, 2016.
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- Henig, Robin Marantz. "Give Thanks For Siblings: They Can Make Us Healthier And Happier" Published November 24, 2016, Last accessed December 25, 2016.
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- Khullar, Dhruv. "HUMAN TOUCH—How Social Isolation Is Killing Us" New York Times. Published December 22, 2016. Last accessed December 25, 2016.
- Holt-Lunstad, Julianne et al. "Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review" PLOS Medicine. Published: July 27, 2010. Last accessed December 25, 2016.