by Wyn Lydecker
Many of us believe that our emotions can make us weak. But did you know that you can use your emotions to give you power over stress, and in the process, improve your health? This surprising news was unveiled by former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy at a symposium in Philadelphia sponsored by Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. “This is what science tells us,” Dr. Murthy said in an interview with Patti Williams, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School.
Positive emotions enable us to perform better and makes us resilient. Chronic stress, on the other hand, is a form of pain that can harm us physically and lead to illness.
When felt over long periods, stress creates high levels of cortisol in the bloodstream, which can increase the risk of heart attacks, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other illnesses. Murthy said that as a nation we need to work on reducing chronic stress so that we can raise the level of wellness.
He cited two practices that can help us reduce stress and become healthier:
1. Practicing gratitude: simply writing down three good things that happen each day can raise the feelings of happiness
2. Feeling socially connected: building social ties in your community.
Murthy noted that we all need to work on social connectedness because loneliness is becoming an epidemic in our country. Since the 1980s, the percentage of people who say they are lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent.
In fact, an article in the Washington Post said that the feeling of isolation has become a worse health hazard than smoking or obesity, putting lonely people at greater risk for illness. Psychologist Steve Cole and his colleagues at the UCLA School of Medicine, along with collaborators at the University of California at Davis and the University of Chicago, have been conducting research to learn why. They’ve discovered that social isolation changes our health at the cellular level, increasing the activity of genes responsible for inflammation, while dampening the activity of genes that produce antibodies to fight infection.
How to Get Out and Get Connected
We’re fortunate in Darien to have many organizations that provide easy and fun ways to meet people and socialize. A quick look at the At Home In Darien monthly newsletter shows dozens of group activities – from walking at Selleck’s Wood to lectures about World War II at the Mather Community Center. The Darien Community Association also offers interest groups and luncheons, as well as providing a home for the Darien Men’s Association with its own weekly lectures and other special interest activities. Houses of worship, nonprofits, and the local YMCA and YWCA provide countless ways to join a community, attend activities, do volunteer work, and get exercise in social settings.
The Darien Library hosts 1,400 programs each year including armchair yoga, free screenings of films, a short story discussion group, a Senior Moments monthly coffee and conversation group, lectures, and hands-on workshops. Mallory Arents, Director of Adult Programming said, “Over and over again we hear from our seniors that they’re looking for two different things when attending an event at the Library: 1. To massage their intellectual curiosity, and 2. To feel connected to the community.”
If you cannot drive, At Home In Darien can provide transportation to any local activity or event in our town car or accessible minivan. Volunteer drivers are also available after-hours.
For people who cannot go out, At Home In Darien offers other ways to be socially connected: Friendly Visitors, Friendly Shoppers, and a just-launched Friendly Caller program, in which volunteer callers are matched with seniors who would like to receive regular phone calls.
Peter Sosnow is one of those callers. He has worked in health care his whole life, and when he was a child, he went on home visits with his grandmother, who was a home health aide. “When I heard about At Home In Darien and this new program, I knew it was something I could do,” said Peter. “It’s rare today to have an uninterrupted conversation on the phone. Seniors have so much to offer. They give me a different perspective.”
Debbie Evans, another Friendly Caller, said, “It’s incredible. When I talk with the senior I’m paired with, I’m connected to another world. It works the same way for her. She has a very quiet life, and she says she enjoys hearing about my life and my family. The more you learn about someone, the more you can share.”
Debbie said it’s not hard to imagine what it would be like to be by yourself. And a phone call can make a very big difference for someone who has limited ability to get out. “It’s two-way. Both the volunteer and the senior benefit.”
To learn how you can get involved with the Friendly Caller Program or to find out about other community programs, call At Home In Darien at (203) 655-2227 or visit the website at: www.AtHomeInDarien.org.
This article first appeared in the "Out and About" newsletter. Wyn Lydecker was a founding board member of At Home In Darien. She is the co-author (with Ed "Skip" McLaughlin) of a book on entrepreneurship, “The Purpose Is Profit.”