Is it fair to say everyone wants to know the secret of a long, happy, and healthy life? You can include me in that statement. Whenever I get to meet vibrant people in their 80s I want to know what they owe their success to. How have they managed to be so happy and healthy when their younger counterparts can’t pull it off?
I noticed something more interesting and fun in their answers.
- “I bought a subscription to the summer theatre. Sometimes I don’t feel like going but I never skip it. My wife and I dress nicely, go out to dinner, and then watch a play. It’s fun!”
- “Every week my friends and I go to the casino and spend $10 on the slots before we poke around the shops.”
- “On Fridays I meet up with the guys hanging out in front of the local bodega. I have to help them keep sharp, you know?”
- “My husband and I started skiing lessons!”
Notice what’s missing from this conversation? Sudoku, crossword puzzles, exercise, or eating healthy.*
Instead they talked about socializing. Doing fun things with other people, outside of their homes, was what would make their eyes light up when they talked to me.
Socializing keeps you mentally fit at any age
One thing I’ve seen time and time again in my therapeutic practice is how people who feel depressed, upset, sad, or anxious tend to withdraw. The very opposite of socializing.
Think about the last time you felt down in the dumps. Did you want to stay in bed and hide? Or go home right after work without talking to anybody?
Withdrawing is a natural urge when we’re hurting. Unfortunately isolating yourself only makes you feel worse. It becomes harder to emerge from your hiding spot.
When you want to withdraw from the world, see that urge as a symptom
It’s also hard to fight the urge to withdraw. I once blogged about realizing I felt tired and sad. My natural urge was to go to bed early. But as I interviewed my tired and sad parts, I recognized what I really needed to do was spend time with my family. I had been working so hard I was missing them.
If I were to break it into steps I’d say:
- Notice that feeling of wanting to go into your room and close the shutters. Don’t act on it. Instead, see it as a signal that something is up in you.
- Get curious. Find out from this protecting part of you that thinks withdrawing is the best way to keep you safe.
- Collaborate. Find out what this part really needs, and see if there’s a better way to meet that need.
Imagine your urge to withdraw shows up as feeling sad and really wanting to take a nap. When you use your Self qualities to interview this withdrawing part, you’ll want to ask/say things like:
- What’s happening for you right now that you want to take a nap this very second?
- If you don’t take a nap, what are you worried will happen?
- Does that usually work for you? If not, what might be a different way to help meet your need?
Maybe you’ll will find out that you still need that nap. After, check in with the part of you that presented with feeling tired and see how it feels. Can you gently move it toward going out and being in the world? There’s an old expression that a problem shared is a problem halved.
Start small with your socializing. Maybe it’s just taking a walk to get coffee at a local shop. Or calling a friend on the phone. Or visit with some eighty-somethings. They really know how to keep it fun!
*Please note: I’m not saying you should forego any of those activities. This is not medical advice.