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FEATURE: Here’s why face-to-face interaction could nourish you in 2018

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Publication date: January 12, 2018

For some January marks the start of a new year full of new possibilities but for others it can be a time of isolation with added pressures and the unknown.

UKCP Psychotherapist Julie Dearden suggests that one of the best ways to beat the winter blues is making time to have nourishing face to face conversations with the people in our lives, something that is becoming increasingly vital as our social interactions shift further and further into cyber space.

Since the dawn of the digital age many have questioned whether our fixation with handheld devices incessant scrolling, and hunger for likes on social media is bad for our health, in particular our mental health.

At the end of 2017 Facebook admitted that spending too much time on social media may have an effect on mental health and more recently the World Health Organisation listed gaming addiction as a mental health issue for the first time.

So why is our increasing reliance on online interaction ‘bad’ for mental health?

According to Facebook those who did not interact with others when using social media reported feeling worse afterwards.

In a blog post, in December, Facebook’s Director of Research David Ginsberg and Research Scientist Moira Burke said that ‘in general when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information — reading but not interacting with people — they report feeling worse afterward.’

They highlighted that this was backed up by an experiment which found that students from the University of Michigan who were randomly assigned to just read Facebook for 10 minutes were in a ‘worse mood at the end of the day than students assigned to post or talk to friends on Facebook’.

So it would seem that those who fail to interact on social media feel worse than those who actively engage with friends and loved ones.

Ginsberg and Burke said that: ‘actively interacting with people — especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions — is linked to improvements in well-being.’

They also highlighted that a study they conducted with Robert Kraut at Carnegie Mellon University ‘found that people who sent or received more messages, comments and Timeline posts reported improvements in social support, depression and loneliness’.

However, before jumping straight in and committing yourself to more hours of ‘active interactivity’ there is still much to be said for the benefits of putting down devices, stepping away from screens and having a good old fashioned face to face conversation.

With that in mind here’s why better face to face social interaction could nourish you in 2018:

Those who have meaningful social connections are happier, physically healthier and live longer, than people who are less well connected.

According to Dr Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, ‘good relationships keep us happier and healthier.’ The ongoing study, which has tracked the lives of men since 1938, has also found ‘that the people who fared best were the people who leaned into relationships, with family, with friends, with community.’

Connecting with friends and family can help us relax and can be a great stress reliever.

Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational health expert at the University of Lancaster, who shares stress buster tips on the NHS’ Moodzone, says: ‘the activities we do with friends help us relax. We often have a good laugh with them, which is an excellent stress reliever.’

Face to face social interaction can strengthens people’s mental health and stave off depression.

A study at the University of Michigan, which was released in 2015, found that ‘having little face-to-face social contact nearly doubles your risk of having depression two years later.’

In a statement at the time lead author and assistant professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University, Alan Teo, said: ‘Research has long supported the idea that strong social bonds strengthen people’s mental health. But this is the first look at the role that the type of communication with loved ones and friends plays in safeguarding people from depression.’ He added that ‘all forms of socialization aren’t equal’ and ‘digital communication with friends or family members, do not have the same power as face-to-face social interactions in helping to stave off depression.’

UKCP Psychotherapist Julie Dearden also believes face to face interaction is important because ‘human beings are designed to be in relationship and fundamentally we are more likely to survive if we are connected to others’.

‘When we have good face to face contact we simultaneously have an effect on each other e.g. If I say something and the person acknowledges what is said it changes and develops us both,’ Dearden added.

To see more tips on managing the winter blues from Julie Dearden and other UKCP therapists click here.