Sharon Baker award

How’s your social health? Don’t laugh. When I have shown the flyer about this topic to my friends, I frequently get a look of disbelief and laughter. However, it is a very serious topic! Just think about all the songs written about the topic. “Are You Lonely Tonight?” “Or I’m So Lonesome, I Could Cry.” Turn that into “Don’t Worry, Be Happy!”

Mark your calendars for Feb. 7 and plan to join the Women’s Information Network Inc., for our upcoming seminar on a variety of aspects of social health. Why should you come?

There are numerous diagnostic tests to track physical health, but do you know what determines good or poor social health? Public health officials and psychologists are saying social isolation, otherwise known as loneliness, is now an epidemic. Yikes! Why?

Researchers and those who look at health trends are suggesting that people have a fundamental need for social connection. Yet census data shows 25 percent of households consist of ONE person.

Studies show that social connection is a greater determinate to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure. At your last health check up, were you asked if you were lonely? Probably not.

What is going on and what can be done about this issue? First of all, recognize that as humans we are wired to be physical, emotional and social people. Loneliness is a symptom indicating that action needs to be taken to meet our human social needs — like pain is a symptom that there is a physical issue in need of attention.

There is a clear imperative to act on loneliness and to combat social isolation. So what can be done? Put away the idea that if you are lonely you are a loser or needy, or unable to make friends. Identifying a feeling of loneliness does not mean we have deficient social skills.

Many circumstances for all ages can trigger loneliness. For example: moving away from home for the first time, friends or family moving away, loss of a job, retirement, loss of a friend, pet or spouse.

Use the feeling of loneliness as a motivator to find out what can be done. First of all recognize the difference between being alone and loneliness. For example: studying, writing, artistic creations, practicing an instrument, prayer and meditation are solitary activities and are quite satisfying.

These activities can help reduce loneliness, but social interaction is also needed. It means we need to be intentional about finding out where there are realistic opportunities for connecting with others in meaningful ways.

Loneliness is the feeling of aloneness — even when in a crowd of people. Feelings of loneliness and isolation affect all types and ages of people, although some, like adolescents and the elderly, are more likely to be impacted than others.

Additionally, people living alone are special targets of people who sell bogus products and services by telephone and social media. Another reason to engage with others. Technology, interestingly enough, can cause social isolation and some “virtual” hazards, but can also be used as a remedy for isolation issues caused by illness, distance or disability.

Social networks, ironically, can generate friends, and help link people in many ways. It is not a replacement for close, satisfying, interpersonal relationships. In this case, fewer, but more personal relationships are important. Meaningful engagement needs real people. As a bonus, research reveals that social interaction improves our mental and physical condition and boosts the immune system.

The “How’s Your Social Health?” seminar has been developed by Women’s Information Network, in partnership with AARP. We are bringing together experts to put all the factors together to improve social connection. We will provide experts on social health, fraud prevention and new uses of technology. Come learn, have lunch and meet a friend. Remember to pre-register so I can have lunch for you.

For more information or to register, please contact Sharon Baker at baker8483@comcast.net or call 706-506-2000. You can also register for the Feb. 7 seminar at inforforwomen.org. The seminar is being held at the Floyd campus of Northwest Georgia Technical College.

Sharon Baker is the president and founder of The Women’s Information Network, a local non-profit organization that has been operating in the Northwest Georgia area for the past 26 years. WIN’s mission in these seminars is to present information that encourages dialogue with experts and other participants in order to improve total well being.