You gotta have friends

In June this year the New York Times ran a chilling article. Titled Isis and the Lonely Young American, it described an interview with a young woman who was wooed and groomed online by ISIS.

The young woman (called Alex in the article) lives in rural Washington State. She’s a Sunday school teacher. She’s had a difficult upbringing and now lives with her grandmother. She’s also emotionally immature. Specifically however, at the time of her involvement with ISIS, Alex was lonely. She was isolated and bored, adrift from social interaction. And that’s why she went online, where she became perfect prey for ISIS because they focus on disaffected people, especially young people who feel worthless, cast out from community and without social support.

What ISIS did – and this is from their manual – is pretend to be Alex’s friend, talking to her just like real friends do, sending her presents and promising her a better life. In short, they pretended to fulfill her longing for greater social wellbeing.

What does social wellbeing mean? It means nurturing yourself and your relationships. It means ensuring you have friends and other people, including family, to turn to in times of need and crisis. It means giving and receiving emotional, practical and informational support.

Social wellbeing enhances our quality of life but it does much more than that. We can survive without it but we can’t live well without it. In fact, a 2001 study by Duke University suggests that social isolation, the reverse of social wellbeing, is as injurious to our health as cigarette smoking. And the University of Minnesota’s wellness site argues that people with a strong social network live longer, respond better to stress, have healthier endocrine systems, healthier cardiovascular functioning and stronger immune systems.

So how do you go about becoming healthier socially? Well, the answers lie in three areas: your relationship with yourself, your relationship with others, and forming new networks.

Let’s start with you. Eric Fromm puts it this way: ‘If an individual is able to love productively he loves himself too: if he can love only others he cannot love at all.’ (The Art of Loving1957). Unfortunately there’s no quick-fix way of learning to love and respect yourself more. It takes time, perseverance and practice. It’s a step-by-step thing and sometimes it takes counseling or therapy.

Similarly, relationships with family, friends and significant others don’t just happen. Relationships need to be nurtured. There are many sources of advice for improving relationships and most of them mention the need to own one’s part in the relationship by honoring commitments, being less hasty to judge, showing appreciation and breaking the cycle of blame and criticism.

Finally, how do you go about making new contacts and networks? Well, nobody’s going to knock on your door while you’re in your trakkie-daks watching television.  Sorry, but there it is. You have to take responsibility for getting out and engaging with life. The good news is you can do that in very many ways. You can volunteer. You can meet people by playing a team sport and joining a club (think netball, sailing). You can try new things, join a group (like my monthly Saturday blanket-knitting group), take a course, fight for a cause…the possibilities are endless.

What if you’ve read all this and you think you need help with your relationship(s) or to become more connected with your community? The first step is to ask for help. If you’re at work, go to your EAP. Or, if you like, email me and I’ll make some starting suggestions.

When John Donne said, ‘No man is an island’ he knew what he was talking about. Social connectedness and support is a basic human need. It’s not always easy but we can’t do without it, so let’s get on with getting healthier - socially. See you there!

What's going on

What are the three tenets of gamification? Feedback, friends and fun, that’s what – at least according to Gabe Zichermann. Incidentally, this article, from a presentation in Dubai, shows gamification’s global reach. It’s also got a couple of interesting case studies.

How the corporates co-opted mindfulness: mindfulness and meditation, those ancient practices, help calm and focus our minds and achieve balance and meaning in our lives. Are corporations using them to wring every drop of productivity from a stressed workforce?

Making decisions – how to: faced with a mountain of information, how do you make the best call? Recent research shows that heuristic decisions (that is, ‘rule of thumb’ decisions) are important, especially if balanced with experience. And being aware of this can turn your inner instincts into a powerful cognitive tool.

How the push for productivity will transform the workplace: companies are always looking for ways to cut costs and workplace real estate is no exception. We’ve already moved from offices to open plan and in future even the most conservative companies will use data to analyse desk occupation and energy usage, to make our workplaces even more freeform and flexible.

Professional women: stop complaining, start negotiating: I’m not sure about this one. It’s got typos and it’s even a bit of an ad. But it’s passionate and compelling. So what do you think – does she have a point?

Can I make my brain as plastic as a child’s? In early childhood, the brain is primed to take in a mountain of information. Children are open to new things and learn them much more easily than we do. Extending this plasticity could help heal conditions such as autism and physical damage and this kind of lifelong learning could change the world.

The ten warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease: by 2050, the number of people living with Alzheimer’s is expected to triple. However, early diagnosis can mean early intervention, with treatments likely to be more successful than later ones. So here, from the Alzheimer’s Association, are ten warning signs of the disease.

The longer you’re awake, the more calories you eat: well, duh! What’s interesting about this article is that it describes eating patterns exacerbated by not getting enough sleep.

Pain in your neck? Try virtual reality: it’s not here yet, but it’s coming. Experiments with virtual reality show that it helps chronic pain sufferers, and in future we may be able to train the brain to allow pain sufferers freer movement.

Tech tips

This is just what I need – apps which turn my phone into my PA. And for good measure, Gloop recommends good apps for travel, shopping, wellness and entertaining. Here they are.

And another thing

My silver hair: absolutely terrific short animation and article about why this author likes her grey hair.

The crazy things fitness models do before a photo shoot: after you read this, you’ll never envy them again.

Thought of the day

Be yourself'; Everyone else is already taken.

- Oscar Wilde