Thursday, August 27, 2015

Socializing To Good Health

I grew up in a Navy town, where new people were always coming and going on a regular basis. We weren’t Navy and we stayed put, spending all of my school years in the same town, but I do have a strong understanding of what “military brats” go through. As the awkward kid who didn’t have many friends, I often found my friends in the pool of new people who didn’t know anyone and didn’t have any preconceived notions. I didn’t move around every two or three years, but my friends did, so I understand the part about having to meet new people all the time, at least.

As a result, I never had a very large group of friends. This got better as I got older and better learned how to work around my own awkwardness (a work in progress to this day, but greatly improved), but it’s unlikely that I will ever have a large group of friends. That is just not who I am. These days, I do have a far larger number of people with whom I am on friendly terms - I like to believe that I am pretty easy to get along with, and I do try to be, at least in social situations - but if I were calling people to hang out … Well, to be honest, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I would probably start going through the numbers in my phone, realize how long it had been since I last called any of them and decide that it would be too awkward to do so now, get frustrated and ask Heather to call people instead, and then go back to what I was reading.

Yes, I know I have issues. That’s why we’re here, isn’t it?

I don’t do well with large groups, or even with small groups on a continuous basis, but I’m still as human as the next guy, and humans require socializing. Some of us need more socializing, and some of us need more frequent breaks from socializing, to recharge to batteries (I’m in that latter category, in case it wasn’t obvious), but we do all need to socialize. Long term isolation is known to cause serious psychological and emotional damage, and it often tends to be a self-defeating cycle. If you spend too much time by yourself, it can become more and more difficult to remember how to successfully socialize and, after a while, the more you need to socialize, the less you are able to socialize. It’s a skill, and like any other skill, it needs to be used to keep in practice.

That does not mean that it has to be used constantly, and different people will have different needs. As I already mentioned, some of us need time off occasionally in order to keep the socialization skills working. You should know your own symptoms better than I could possibly list (and if you don’t, you may want to consider taking that as a homework assignment), and you probably notice when you are starting to feel deprived of socialization, but do you pay attention? We have become very good at ignoring warning signs and disregarding our bodies’ cries for attention. It should come as no surprise that we’re just as bad about not paying attention to our mental and emotional needs. We are even worse about those, considering that we have always known at least some basics of the physical needs. As a group, we’ve only truly acknowledged that mental and emotional needs even exist for about a century or so. There were people trying before that, but they weren’t playing to a sympathetic audience. Even today, it is still far too easy to find social groups - not just individuals, but entire mini-cultures - who are quick to dismiss anything health-related that isn’t physical or tangible. Worse, it is often the people who could benefit the most from an acknowledgment of mental and emotional needs who refuse to acknowledge anything of the sort. If they can’t hold it in their hands - or, more often, punch it with their hands - they won’t even talk about it.

This should not be confused with metaphysics arguments. I’m not talking about the age-old debate over whether or not something spiritual exists, and it’s various religious-flavored offshoots. Spirituality is intensely personal, and no one can answer that question for you except for you. This is not about that kind of tangible versus tangible experience.

This is, instead, about strictly physical experiences that can be expressed through both tangible and intangible forms. The air we breathe is intangible to our five senses (It’s supposed to be, anyway. When it’s not, that usually means that something has gone wrong.) but it is still very physical and physically necessary. That is the kind of tangible versus intangible that I am talking about here.

The more we study and the more we learn, the more we discover that our emotional well being has physical ramifications. Most people understand that if you are physically sound then you are more likely to be happy, and if you are physically unsound you are more likely to be unhappy - that is often just basic cause and effect - but it turns out that the reverse can be equally true. Your emotional state can directly affect your physical health. Feeling blue can make you physically ill, and sometimes laughter really is the best medicine.

Part of being emotionally healthy is determined by how we socialize. Do we get enough interaction? Not enough? Too much? Are we interacting with the right people? Do we spend time with people who build us up or who tear us down? (On a related note, are we being people who build others up or who tear others down?) Remember when your mom used to fuss at you for hanging out with the wrong people? She may have been right, even if not always for the reasons she thought. Good moms have a well-developed sense of protecting their children, and reminding you to be careful about who you let influence your life certainly falls under that protection.

Healthy socializing is not about the number of friends you have, or even the numbers of hours you spend with those friends. As with so many things involved in building a better you, this is definitely a case where quality far surpasses quantity. There is nothing necessarily wrong with quantity - If you can spend more time with friends, and doing so makes you happy, do it! - but quantity doesn’t need to be the goal. Spend time that you enjoy spending. Spend time that you need to spend. Spend time in a way that makes you a better person. That’s what it’s all about. There is a strict No Refunds, No Exchange policy on spent time, so spend it well. Be all there, and get the most out of every moment.

If you want to build a better you, it’s best to make use of all of the tools available to you. Take a few minutes to review your own socializing needs and realities. Ask yourself the questions posed earlier, and be honest about the answers. If it helps, do this in your personal journal, and then come back in a few months and see how your answers have changed. If you’re going in the direction that you want to go then your answers should show that. If not, it’s time to take stock and see what changes might be necessary. Having good friends is a great place to start. Being a good friend is even better.

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