The STEPN Guide to Social Health
Ever since the COVID pandemic, people across the world have paid more and more attention to their well-being and health. But health isn’t one-dimensional. As we’ve written about before, this includes all sorts of facets — physical, emotional, mental, social.
These days, most people are focusing on their physical and mental health. And that’s great! Taking care of your body and making sure that you’re moving regularly is a fantastic thing. And keeping tabs on your mental and emotional state is incredibly important as well.
But one thing that most folks overlook is the state of their social health, and that’s something that we here at STEPN thinks is something that we must pay more attention to.
Today, we’ll be explaining our philosophy around social health and diving deep into how integral it is to your overall well-being. It’s definitely not something to be overlooked. We’ll also be discussing our latest STEPNEMBER challenge in tandem — let’s dive in!
First, let’s set some context. During COVID, people across the world found themselves socially isolated and alone, sitting behind their screens during lockdown. Physical distancing rules kept us away from our loved ones and friends. And with the switch to remote work, our interactions with others became more and more infrequent.
In fact, several reports have found that the pandemic led to another, twin epidemic — the rise of loneliness around the world
- In a national survey of American adults, 36% responded that they experienced loneliness, feeling lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time or all the time” in the four weeks prior to the survey. 61% of young people and 51% of mothers with young children responded this way.
- Young adults have been hit hardest. Nearly 50% who reported increases in loneliness said that no one in the prior few weeks had “taken more than just a few minutes” to ask how they were doing in a way that made them feel like the person “genuinely cared.”
- The elderly have struggled with isolation too. Due to their ailing health, infrequent social contact hit harder amongst older adults. About a quarter of older adults are considered sociallsy isolated, with 43% report feeling lonely.
The pandemic isn’t the only thing that’s contributed. A number of other factors are contributing to our rising loneliness.
For example, even in more recent years, spiritual communities like churches made up a good part of our community. But today, religious prevalence has plummeted. The number of Americans who say they belong to a church has rapidly declined, from 70% in 1999 to less than half today. Many folks live in isolated nucleated families, and COVID only exacerbated these isolations.
Furthermore, social media and the 24/7 online cycle seem to create more connections than ever, but shallow interactions and the rise of the “like, comment, and subscribe” era has superseded deeper relationships and more intimate contact. Researchers have found that though people turn to social media when they’re feeling lonely, they actually feel more isolated and lonelier, due to comparing themselves with others and feeling less happy.
All this makes us arguably the most isolated generation in all of history, with younger generations reporting higher and higher rates of loneliness. More than 79% of Gen Z say they feel lonely, and more than 71% of millennials report the same. A staggering statistic — one in five millennials say they have no friends at all.
This is a serious problem.
Why? Well, humans by nature social animals. We evolved within tribes and villages — vibrant communities where we had plenty of connections and support from friends and family.
As a result, we are quite literally hard-wired for social relationships. We have mirror neurons that allow us to match each other’s emotions unconsciously and immediately. We are instinctively empathetic and compassionate, feeling sympathy for other’s pains, especially our loved ones.
When we feel too disconnected from others for too long, there are serious health consequences across a variety of spectrums.
Neurologically, the impacts are numerous. Scientists at MIT discovered that being alone for 10 hours causes activity in the brain similar to going without food for 10 hours — we become socially hungry. Prolonged loneliness is associated with a laundry list of psychiatric disorders: depression, alcohol abuse, child abuse, sleep problems, personality disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Physically, loneliness has been linked to greater risk of cardiovascular disease, inflammation, diabetes, and high blood pressure. In fact, people with stronger social relationships have a 50% increased likelihood of survival over a period of time versus those with weaker social connections.
Social isolation is killing us, writes The New York Times, citing studies that socially isolated individuals have a 30% higher risk of dying in the next seven years than those with socially satisfying relationships.
Quantifying this, the toll is enormous. The cost of our ‘epidemic of solitude,’ writes Chiara Burlina and Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, has damaging economic consequences:
“First, more people feeling lonely and/or living alone may reduce the number of interpersonal and face-to-face interactions at the heart of the development of new ideas and innovation (Storper and Venables 2004).
Second, many people affected by solitude may shy away from engaging in economic activities.
Third, different forms of solitude may undermine trust and prevent the formation of bridging social capital, which has been identified as an important factor for regional economic growth (Muringani et al. 2021).”
All together? Economists say that loneliness costs a whopping $2.7 billion a year in Australia alone. Elsewhere, analysts place the estimate at about $960 billion annually for Americans. In the Netherlands, experts said that roughly 31 billion euros have been spent on curative care for loneliness-linked health problems.
Community, community, community
Here at STEPN, we believe that the loneliness epidemic is one of the most pressing problems in the world. When we first launched our app, we were deep in the throes of the pandemic, seeing the pain of isolation and its consequences across the world.
With STEPN, we’ve created a nudge for people to get out of their houses, away from their screens, and create real-life connections with people from their neighborhood, make new friends, and work on not just their physical and mental health, but their social health.
Countless studies show that people with good social circles are more resilient to stress, recover from sickness better, have stronger immune systems, and are generally happier through and through.
Our mission is to make the world a happier and healthier place. It is with this goal in mind that we launched our latest challenge — Best Running Friends Forever, to focus on social health as a part of our #STEPNEMBER series of challenges.
It’s been an amazing month for sure though. Seeing all the inspirational posts that our users have posted certainly moved many in the team to shed a tear (in joy, of course). We are bountifully thankful for having our community with us through the thick and thin, and wouldn’t trade you folks for the world.
It’s a wrap…until next time!