With Thanksgiving just behind us and the end-of-the-year holiday seasons fast upon us, our minds often turn to our loved ones.
In my family, we have made a conscious effort (and yes, with airfares these days, not a cheap one either!) to gather with an assortment of family members around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Though it can be an effort to meet up with family and friends, recent research brings home the point that this extra effort likely translates into significant benefits for our mental well-being.
In a study I led examining data from over 11,000 adults over age 50, we found that those regularly spending face-to-face time with friends and family had significantly reduced risk of developing clinically significant symptoms of depression years later.
Other modes of having social contact—calls on smart phones, emails and letters—were not robustly associated with depression.
Here I offer a few practical tips to keep in mind as you prepare for the holidays.
Schedule face-to-face visits with friends and family into your monthly calendar.
The more often you spend time face-to-face the better, but our data showed that even those who got together once or twice a month had significantly lower rates of depressive symptoms. Just like other important activities in your life, make sure you schedule it in!
Don’t get together if it’s going to stress you out.
Social relationships contribute to our happiness and healthiness, but they actually do more damage if the relationship is toxic. Face time should be fun time, not argument time.
For those with loved ones far away, try to develop local support networks for them.
Let’s face it: if your parents live 3,000 miles away, it is not realistic to get together every week with them. However, if you can see to it that they join a club or social group (pick one based on their hobbies or interests), they can get together weekly and offer similar mental health benefits.
Detailed results from our study are published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Alan R. Teo, M.D., M.S, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at OHSU and Core Investigator, VA Portland Health Care System.
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