2.6 Social Relationships

“Love is the greatest refreshment in life.”

Pablo Picasso, Spanish painter and sculptor

We are all social creatures, from the dawn of mankind we have lived together, hunted and shared stories in our clans. Feeling socially connected is more important than ever, especially as our lives have changed, are faster paced, we relocate more often, and our environments and relationships change more frequently than they did in previous generations. A review of 148 studies (308,849 participants) indicated that individuals with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival –a strong argument for taking a closer look at our social contacts, regardless of the fact that social exchange is fun and important for quality of life, isn´t it?

There are different categories of social relations:

  1. Partner & Family
  2. Friends
  3. Colleagues / working life
  4. Neighbours, Acquaintances
  • Have a look at your relationships and imagine how they will change a few years down the road and through the changes of older age. Right now you may spend more time with your work colleagues than with some family members, but what will it be like when you retire? Will the working relationship turn into a friendship, or will it end with the termination of your working life and the absence of common topics?
  • Assess how important these categories are for you and what effort you are willing to make to maintain these relationships.
  • Which networks may gain importance? Which ones would you like to maintain or intensify and how can this be achieved? For example, you might consider relocating to be closer to the children or grandchildren. This again requires new efforts to maintain friendships at the old place of residence or make new friends.
  • Consider how to develop new relations! Getting to know new people will keep you active and will provide new input. Making contacts is sometimes not so easy. It can work well through common interests and hobbies. Attend a course or organised meetings of like- minded people, which can be anything from joint sports or cooking to painting and learning a new language. Also volunteering is an option.

Life situations change, especially with a serious illness – no matter if you are affected yourself or maybe your partner and you become a caregiver – or other things that throw you off track. And it is precisely here that social ties count. A certain proactivity is also required here, to approach people, to seek conversations and also to accept help when needed.

Social isolation has serious implications for mental and physical health and it is not the number of contacts that necessarily accounts for (not) feeling lonely or isolated. It’s never too late to get connected to new people, and there are support services available.

New contacts can be made at any time

A good practice example from Cyprus: “A Pleasant Company”

To promote the active ageing, the health and mental fitness of senior citizens, the Municipality of Nicosia and the Social Welfare Services of the Ministry of Labor, Welfare and Social Insurance cooperate on the program “A Pleasant Company”. This program aims to provide quality services for a better quality of life of the people served, while facilitating them to maintain their independence. The program is open to residents of the Municipality of Nicosia who have reached the age of 65 and are self-served. There is a wide range of offers like music, arts and crafts classes, hairdressing workshop, informative lectures, religious talk, Aqua Aerobic classes at the Municipal Swimming Pool during the summer months, Yoga classes, several excursions… and the option for daily communication with a social worker, responsible for the operation of the program to provide mental support, and emotional empowerment as well as guidance for daily problems.

More information: https://www.nicosia.org.cy/el-GR/municipality/multipurpose-centre/elderly-people/

Offers like the one from Nikosia Municipality are available at many places. If you are lonely then give it a try, there are many who feel the same way and together you are stronger.

References & further reading

Holt-Lunstad, Julianne; Layton, J. Bradley; Smith, Timothy. Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta- analytic Review. https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316