Thanks to smartphones, our fingers do most of our socializing these days. But more and more studies are finding that in-person contact is the way to go when it comes to our mental health.
In an October 2015 study from the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), researchers found that older adults (age 50 and up) who had more face-to-face social interactions were less likely to show depression symptoms than those who spent more time chatting with people over the phone or email. In fact, they found that not getting enough "live" social interaction can double your risk of developing depression as much as two years later.
"From my experience as a psychiatrist — as well as just a regular human being — is that time spent together face-to-face is somehow more meaningful," says lead study author Alan Teo, MD, MS, assistant professor of psychiatry at OHSU and researcher at the VA Portland Health Care System.
"It seems that people have something more invested in this type of interaction. And exactly what the mechanism is — is it something about being physically close [or] that we're able to have a warm embrace, which you cannot do on FaceTime — we don't know exactly, but it's probably a combination of these factors."
But What About Introverts?
As for non-social butterflies who may find expanding their social circles more challenging, Dr. Teo suggests reaching out to relatives first. "People on the shy side… tend to be better at socializing with those they've known for a longer time."
He also suggests putting yourself in a group setting where an activity will take place. "You may want to think about joining a club or taking a class where the focus on getting together is more on the activity," he says. Hobbies that involve many people, such as volunteering at a local shelter or caring for a community garden, "could potentially translate into new friendships and socialization."
You may even want to use Facebook or other social networks to find groups you'd like to join in real life. "The take-home message isn't that social media is bad or that we should cut it out of our lives," Teo says. "But it is not a substitute for good, old-fashioned face-to-face meet-ups."