In MoFi’s inaugural issue, we emphasized to our new readers that our publication is about health, wellness, and fitness. One of the first articles in that issue was about the concept of wellness. We offered that such a concept is not easy to define, nor easy to achieve, but we maintained that “wellness” was a holistic state and “wholly interdependent upon many things.” If we are unwell in one category, other aspects of our lives will be affected.
Wellness often seems out of our control. Physical ailments, metal stressors, financial problems all tend to be out of hand. But our social health and wellness is something we can control, if given the opportunity. I was a school teacher in Compton CA, (yes – that Compton) and frankly, my only true social outlet was playing dominoes with the kids at lunchtime. As a resident of Long Beach for seven years, I must admit that though I lived in a region of over 9 million people, I never felt more alone. Activities were available, events for social gatherings happened all the time, but they never felt inviting or welcoming. They never felt very social as “membership” seemed to be key to entrance… membership in name and in “status.”
Billings doesn’t suffer from such cliques as the abundance of opportunities for being social only require attendance. A simple “hello” is your membership card. It seems like a “washed over” statement to say that most of the events which take place in Billings truly “welcome all comers” but it is true, and proven. My wife and I tested that hypothesis in our 10 activities in 10 hours excursion explained in the article “A Day in the Life.” We were right. Every activity we visited highlighted the fact that social acceptance in Billings seems to be a matter of course. But such acceptance only comes with participation – and the willingness to actively engage others. That is the rub, often, for those who are socially “unwell.” There seems to be three steps to start the road to being more social. Step one isn’t very easy for some, that simply being – go. Get out and go to or join one of the dozens of events and organizations available. Step three, participation and engagement is a bit more difficult. But step two… that is the real challenge. Read on.
A standard definition of “social wellness” gives little in understanding how to achieve it: According to the University of Riverside’s psychology site, it is “one’s ability to interact with people. It involves using good communications skills, having meaningful relationships, respecting yourself and others, and creating a support system that includes family members and friends.” Well, yes, OK, but there is so much more to it than that. If you don’t have great family relationships, or any solid friendships, the rest of the definition is hard to achieve. It’s hard to achieve because there is no clear path for achieving it, perhaps, because society is not addressing this aspect of wellness. There are guidebooks full of “how to” work toward wellness in nearly all the categories of wellness listed in the infographic on this page. But social wellness… not as much. Why? Society is just now understanding the impact of begin socially unwell.
Socially unwell… physically unwell.
Social wellness is rarely linked to general health and wellness. And that is a problem. As reported by LiveScience.com, John Cacioppo, a University of Chicago social psychologist who studies the biological effects of loneliness, and Steve Cole of UCLA “examined how the immune system changed over time in people who were socially isolated… Genes overexpressed in the loneliest individuals included many involved in immune system activation. In addition, several key gene sets were underexpressed, including those involved in antiviral responses and antibody production. The result is that a lonely person’s body has let its defenses down to viral… invaders.”
In the same article, the researchers found that “loneliness is tied to hardening of the arteries (which leads to high blood pressure), inflammation in the body, and even problems with learning and memory.”
This speaks to that connected nature of wellness we spoke of in our inaugural issue. “ If one plots their wellness in the typical categories defining it on the spokes of a wheel, a person whom is truly well has a complete wheel. That wheel rolls smoothly through life – that’s the goal. But if just one spoke of the wheel, say your financial health, is broken, the wheel eventually begins to roll in a rather lopsided manner… and that also stresses the other spokes. “
Since meeting my wife Stephanie at a local gym here in Billings, loneliness has never been a problem, but having experienced it in such an abject manner I still wonder if loneliness has a cure which carries with it a guide for administering that cure. There is a cure, in Billings, and its point of injection starts with courage. That is the difficult step two – the courage to engage people with a simple hello. It may take several simple hello’s before that engagement takes hold, but it can happen.
You may think you’re social
A lot of people have friends, family, and engage their co-workers. But that does not necessarily mean you are socially well. This article is not just about the shy and the lonely, it is about the busy and the disengaged. You may think you are socially well and perhaps you are, but if you question for a moment whether you truly are, then maybe you are at least slightly socially unwell. Or perhaps your social circles are not as healthy as they should be. The typical problems facing the social unwell and “somewhat” socially unwell are the same. Oddly enough, a “wiki-how” page provides a good short list of problems hindering social wellness – see the article “Are You Socially Difficult” page 17… does any of the issues listed describe you?
The Billings community is lopsided with things to do, places to go, and organizations to be a part of. For a community of its size, the number of opportunities to be social are what might be found in a city five times its size. There is literally something for everyone. This is one of the best cities for someone to find social healing. So, step one – go! Where? Get online or read this magazine and find something to do that you find of interest. Then go! Step two – courage… the courage to engage, the courage to try say hello, the courage to ask questions and actively seek a conversation. Don’t expect an instant friend. Just start engaging people – that is Step Three. Beyond the hello, you have to participate. Clubs and organizations are great for helping you participate. It may seem simple minded, but your health is dependant on your social wellness, and that is dependant on making the effort to get involved. Read the next article “A Day in the Life” and you may find some inspiration. Engaging people is easier than you think. But step four may be the hardest step of all. Don’t quit after a few attempts. Building friendships and being engaged in the community is a life long endeavor… it takes time, and patience, and courage.