Is Hanging Out Healthy?

By Jessica Campbell, MS, FNTP

We’ve been missing out! Especially those of us that took the safety guidelines seriously, stayed home, stayed away from our extended families, our friends, stopped going out, stopped hanging out, and stopped sharing time together.

Missing these collective experiences may have a more serious impact on your health than you’re aware of. We’ve been doing our part to contain the pandemic, but we’ve been missing out on the community, which is not healthy, and so... it’s time to rediscover it!

“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone”, cliche, but so true!

I think back to all those times I had a busy week and didn’t really want to go out for a drink, or how many times I came up with some excuse to skip out on a dinner party. 

Now, I know what it’s like to have all those opportunities taken away.

Learning to Savor The Moment

After spending a few weeks in NY reconnecting with old friends, I felt so invigorated. Sure, it was a scary time when everyone was newly without a mask and I was outside my normal cohort, but my little heart was bursting with love and laughter. If I walk away with any wisdom from the last year, it’s that I will always allow myself some quality time to spend with friends, family, and community. I hope from now on I will be more grateful for community events and make more of an effort to participate.

Collective Effervescence 

Have you heard the term Collective effervescence? It was new to me, but after reading this article from the New York Times, I couldn’t stop thinking about it!

Collective effervescence was a term created by sociologist Émile Durkheim. It’s the idea that when we gather in groups we experience things as a group and share more powerful emotions.

The Power of A Group

Think about it… have you ever been in a group, someone says something funny, you giggle, someone else chuckles, and pretty soon nobody can stop laughing? Then at home you try to retell the same funny story, the one person listening doesn’t quite have the same response, and you simply think you must not be funny. Well, it’s not that, there’s still hope you may be funny, research shows that people laugh five times more often in community settings. 

Think back to the last time you were in a big crowd, I know it may have been over a year ago, but maybe it was in a movie theater or at a wedding…

Were you bored and tempted to look at your phone? 

Probably not! 

Being part of a shared experience, witnessing the joys or fears together can be completely engaging. This is when all of your senses are engaged, maybe you remember the smell of the food, the colors in the sky, the sound of the laughter, or the tears welling up in your eyes. Your  attention was totally focused and it was probably an experience you were excited to share later with your family and friends. That is the magic of collective effervescence. A whole feeling that we just can’t achieve while sitting on the couch watching tv alone. 

I know.

I tried.

A lot… during quarantine and I bet you binge watched a few more shows than you would like to admit to as well.

Social Relationships

It’s time to find the safest way you can achieve your collective effervescence. I know, you may be scared of the Delta variant, or maybe you have a family member that is unvaccinated, but we have to stop making excuses, and do better. 

How many social relationships do you have? Is it enough, honestly? If you shared that number with me right now, would I agree or would I recommend that you broaden your circle a little bit?

Our social networks are built out of family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and even people we may not know well but still interact with during our days. There are so many ways we can interact safely, outside, on a walk, in a park, even while following science and not jeopardizing your immune health. 

Social isolation is defined as a noticeable lack of these relationships and something prisons have used to punish people for a long time. There’s no reason to punish yourself by remaining indoors alone when the science has shown that being outside has extremely low risk of spreading COVID-19 vaccinated or not, and wearing a mask or not, because of the way in which tiny aerosol particles move. However, social isolation can lead to a higher mortality rate

If you want to think about it in a more positive way, your social relationships are extending your life expectancy! 

Yes, I love to look at the glass half full and know that my social support systems promote a more positive mental health as well. We know that reducing depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems often starts with talking to your support system and realizing you aren’t alone, but did you know that reaching out can extend your life?

The Connection Between Mental and Physical Health

I take mental health very seriously because it is such an active part of our physical health, and I think most research institutions agree. The World Health Organization, has reported that our mental and physical health are intertwined and we have evidence that individuals suffering from mental disorders can see a 10-15 year reduction in life-expectancy. I know this is the second time I’m mentioning grim statistics on life-expectancy, but I really want to emphasize that spending time with your friends is important and not just you being lazy or ditching out on work. It can lengthen your life! 

In a similar way, my article about relaxation a few weeks ago talked about how finding time to relax can benefit your mental as well as physical health factors. I think we live in a really competitive environment where we sometimes believe that hanging out is a waste of time and I’m writing this epic tale of a blog to try to convince you otherwise. 

The fact is, we cannot allow quarantine to disconnect us from one another. Our mental health and our physical health depend on our relationships and sense of community. 

So my health challenge to you this week is to confidently schedule a few more interactions, get engaged safely in your community, and allow the collective effervescence to bring you more joy and more years to live!

Your wellness muse,