Relationships

Reach out and touch someone

Positive social contact can not only really brighten up the person you are reaching out to, but it can also improve your own life

Special to The TribuneOctober 19, 2012 

A woman I didn’t know approached me a few days ago near the bulk bins of New Frontiers. She wanted to tell me how much she enjoyed two of my recent columns. We spoke for a very short time, then continued with our shopping.

Our interaction lasted less than three minutes but its impact was profound. I felt uplifted and appreciated. My feel-good endorphins kicked into play. My outlook on life turned a few shades rosier. The effects of her tiny act of kindness continued for several days.

I’ll bet she felt better, too. Every time I say something nice to another person, I feel warm and fuzzy myself. It seems the milk of human kindness is able to flow two ways at the time.

We’re not only happier. We’re healthier as a result. Repeated studies show that positive social contact lowers blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol. Research has discovered that social interactions increase levels of the brain chemical oxytocin, leading to feelings of contentment, calm and decreased anxiety.

Unfortunately, face-to-face social interactions are an endangered species. According to a study reported in the 2006 issue of the journal American Sociological Review, 25 percent of Americans have no close friends, and the average total number of confidants per person has decreased from four to two since 1985.

Some of the blame can be attributed to modern lifestyle. We cite such factors as hectic schedules, long commutes or financial hardship for our lack of keeping in touch.

Social media also play a role. We may boast having legions of friends on Facebook. We can text, phone and email all we want. Still, we spend almost no time actually engaging with other human beings.

It’s this dearth of contact that can lead to feelings of isolation and separation. Most of us are surrounded by members of our own species. Yet we seldom take the initiative to reach out and say, “Hey, I care.”

That’s why I’m proposing that today is Reach Out And Touch Someone Day. I’m suggesting that each of us expends a moment of effort to connect with someone else. You can chat with a complete stranger as you wait in line at Costco. Or call a friend who’s recently lost her mom to cancer. Your feel-good quotient will immediately kick into high gear. And, as Diana Ross so aptly sang to us, “you’ll make this world a better place.”

USE THESE SIMPLE STEPS TO REACH OUT SOCIALLY

• Start up a random conversation. These are always the most fun. Make a comment about someone’s cute baby or simply state, “I love this restaurant. Don’t you?” Your bright mood and sparkly vibes will be contagious.

• Call someone you’ve been meaning to call. There’s always someone you need to contact. You might need to thank the neighbor for watching the cat while you were away. Perhaps your mother-in-law deserves a phone call, no matter how annoying you think she is. Don’t make any more excuses. Pick up your phone and push the number. The recipients will be pleased with your efforts. You can cross the call off your to-do list.

• Begin the healing process. Sometimes we have a relationship that’s been tarnished. For instance, you may have spurned your sister because she said something you felt was unfair. Now’s a good time to bury the hatchet. It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong. Call her and say, “Let’s make things better. You mean way too much to me.”

• Be present. Reaching out requires your full attention. It can’t be done while you’re on hold with the insurance company. Devote all your energy to the person you’re contacting. Any less sells both of you short.

• Keep it brief. The goal is to initiate contact. You don’t need to schedule the entire day. In fact, contact is best when it’s focused and time-limited so that both of you can move on with your day.

• Be positive. Your mood should be upbeat and cheery. This isn’t the time to complain. Cast your love and good will toward a fellow human. You’ll both be grateful that you did.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com

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