Medical experts agree that engaging in meaningful connections with others can combat the loneliness that so many Americans are experiencing, especially right now. WebMD Health Services is taking steps to help foster healthy social connections with the launch of Stay Connected, the newest Daily Habits Plan. Read on to learn about how Stay Connected helps users take proactive steps each day to boost social interaction and live a healthier, happier life.
Loneliness affects more than just our emotional state.
Loneliness is impacting many people today, but it’s been an issue well before this year. In fact, a Cigna study conducted before the pandemic revealed that over 60% of those surveyed were lonely.
As one of our five dimensions of well-being, we know how critical social connectedness truly is to our overall health. Loneliness is now considered a health risk that can lead to all sorts of serious problems down the road, like heart disease, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, and more. Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy characterizes loneliness as an epidemic and claims “the reduction in life span is similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”1
Add on COVID-19, social distancing guidelines, and increased time spent on social media—and you begin to see how the pandemic might tip the loneliness epidemic into a full-blown crisis.
Stay Connected uses behavioral science to create positive change.
Stay Connected seeks to raise awareness of the importance of social connections in our daily lives. It works like other components of Daily Habits by dividing goals into small, manageable steps over a period of 28 days.
When users start the Stay Connected Plan, they’ll first fill out a short survey about their current lifestyle and habits and how they’re feeling—this creates a baseline for the Plan. Once complete, users are ready to learn and track the small habits they can build to feel more socially connected.
Some examples include:
- Did you make time to speak with a friend or family member today? Studies show that even a short phone call or video chat can boost mood.
- How many times this week did you use social media for more than one hour? We know that increased time on social media is linked to greater feelings of loneliness, especially among younger individuals.
- Were you able to focus on positive thoughts today? An optimistic attitude can have a tangible impact on mental health.
- Did you take time to engage in some physical activity? The link between exercise, the release of endorphins, and improved mood is well-established.
The Stay Connected Plan also shares helpful resources, tools and guides on social connectedness that participants can access on their own time. After completing the Plan, a short questionnaire lets WebMD evaluate its usefulness for participants—and lets participants see where they’ve improved and where there is still work to be done.
As with so many health goals, the key to lasting behavior change is to build small daily habits and acknowledge that we often can’t solve everything in 28 days. WebMD’s personalized recommendations constantly evolve based on a user’s interactions and the programs available. For example, the user might be asked to work on the Stay Connected Plan again or begin a new Plan within Daily Habits, like Cope with the Blues or Sleep Well.
Need more ways to stay socially connected?
Here are a few ideas:
- Exchange recipes with friends and family members to try mixing up your meal plans.
- Start a virtual book club.
- Call or video-chat with friends while learning something new—learning to make the same recipe, taking virtual tours together of museums or national parks, or learning to play an instrument.
- Plan walk-and-talk calls or attend the same online workouts to get in some physical activity while also keeping in touch with loved ones.
- It may seem counterintuitive, but try to limit your time on social media, especially if your feeds are impacting your mental health.
Research on loneliness shows that we need to treat the lack of social connections in our lives as a health concern and take it seriously, just as we would a physical health issue like diabetes or high blood pressure. Stay Connected brings much-needed awareness to this issue by encouraging simple social connections and positive interactions that users can engage in every day.