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In the before times, James and I were on the road more than we were home. I’d say about 60% of the year on the road, and 40% home. COVID changed all that; and it wasn’t until last summer of 2021 when James and I started carefully easing back into RV trips that involved socializing. Like attending Winnebago’s annual rally.
After hunkering down as we all had to for so long, stepping out of our COVID cave felt odd. We’d gotten accustomed to our life inside our own little bubble. Our world had shrunken down to a two-person (plus one cat) world. I know you all get it. Your worlds shrank, too.
It’s not news to anyone that the pandemic isolated us all from each other, but perhaps a less appreciated off-shoot of that is how that isolation affected both our physical and mental health. In studies by the Kaiser Family Foundation, around 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. reported they developed anxiety and/or depression during the pandemic. Many also noted their physical health was negatively impacted, including worsening chronic conditions. To social scientists, this is far from surprising.
The Correlation Between Being Social and Longevity
In the past few decades there have been hundreds of large-scale studies that show socially-connected people live longer lives with less risk of mortality from premature causes. In fact, according to BYU professor of psychology and neuroscience Juliane Holt-Lunstad, being socially disconnected rivals other well-established risk factors for mortality including obesity, physical inactivity, and air pollution. Put another way, she’s saying we need human connection just as much as we need exercise and clean air.
The research backs her up. From boosting cognitive function to lowering blood pressure to improving one’s mental health, having strong support networks has been shown to have a wide range health benefits. So it’s not just making your life longer. It’s also making your years healthier.
This is certainly good news for you extroverts out there. You’re already great at this stuff. James and me? Less so. If extroversion and introversion were on a scale with extreme introversion being a negative 10 and extreme extroversion a positive 10, I’d place myself around negative 2. James would be about a negative 7. But don’t misinterpret that. It doesn’t mean we’re shy, or we dislike being around other people. Introverts just have a more inward focus. In social situations, we have to work to draw our attention outward, which in large doses can become draining. Extroverts naturally have an outward focus, so they’re in their element when others are around.
There’s no way around it: Humans need connection.
No matter where you fall on my imaginary scale, we are all built for socializing. Everyone needs human connection, even when the voice in your head tries to tell you otherwise (ahem, I’m talking you, fellow introverts). The pandemic made that a challenge, but thankfully we’ve learned a lot since it started, and these days we know how to reconnect safely in person. Taking the opportunity to reengage with other people is worth it, even when it feels like work. Because the research on this is hard to refute. Having strong social connections boosts both your mental and physical well-being.
For James and me, even though we’re still not RVing at the same level as ‘before times’, I’m glad we’re getting back out there and have been able to reconnect with friends and family we hadn’t seen in ages. With research pointing to the health benefits of a social lifestyle, I know this is something we—and our introverted natures—need to continue to work at. We’re great at exercising, eating well, and sleeping right in our quest to live and RV longer. Yet we easily overlook a powerful weapon in our healthy living arsenal: our friends and loved ones.
I like to think of it as putting coins in the Stef Longevity Bank. The more socializing I do, the more longevity coins I earn. And since we’ve already established my introverted nature, this is work for me. Necessary work, though. My health depends on it.
So, as you journey forward on your own quest to live your best life, my hope is that you’ll take a moment to evaluate your own social health. Do you have meaningful relationships? A group of friends that support you? Are you involved in clubs and activities (whether online or in person) that allow you to interact with others? If so, great! You’re earning your own longevity coins! If not, consider taking steps to change this.
Besides, we all want more RVing years, that’s a no-brainer. Getting social is another powerful weapon to get us those extra years.
And now that I’m done here, I’ll be packing up the RV for our next trip; headed to Texas for a cycling event! On our way, we’ll be overnighting in a friend’s driveway who I haven’t seen in years. She’ll be hosting a friend-reunion party where I’m sure we’ll have lots of “remember when …” laughs over a pitcher of sangria. Another coin in the Stef Longevity Bank… clink!