#TogetherToday (with Chip Gaines!)

We had a fabulous time yesterday hanging out on the plaza with The Today Show cast - helping share the word about their new initiative #TogetherToday! From larger-than-life games of checkers, to photo booths, to great conversations with Chip Gaines (of HGTV Fixer Upper fame!) - we had a wonderful morning connecting together to help lessen the massive costs of loneliness. If you are looking for the segments, check out the initial broadcast here, and click here for their piece on the power of volunteering to help quiet loneliness.

But don't let the togetherness stop now! Why not keep using the tag #TogetherToday on the Today Show Facebook page as you and your friends get together this week!? And if you are here in NYC for any reason soon, why not pop down to the Today Show studio and show them how much you care about this cause? We've even made you a quick sign you can print out, write your own message on, and hold high as someone who is passionate about ending loneliness (and you just NEVER KNOW who you might end up connecting with!?! You too might befriend Chip Gaines!).

(And while you are at it, why not tag us @thecostofloneliness in your Facebook postings so we can be a part of all the togetherness too!)

Sending friendship and connectedness your way this afternoon -- remember, you are not alone.



Touch - the first sense developed, and perhaps the very last to go

They say a 20 second hug allows our bodies to release the neurotransmitter oxytocin - the bonding hormone that makes us feel comforted and connected. Even just a few of these physical connections can directly lower our heart rate, decrease our blood pressure, and drop our levels of cortisol (that fight-or-flight hormone that unfortunately also makes us gain unwanted and unhealthy weight around our midsection). We all know that touch is a crucial element of our physical and social wellbeing, but are any of us actually getting enough of it?

For some of us - yes! As young moms, many of us get over-touched. Sticky hands and dirty fingers paw at our bellies and beg for our arms. Some days, we yearn for LESS touch! Professional dancers and ice skaters are touched every minute for work, and teachers wash their hands 40 times a day in cold season to combat all the little runny noses that get wiped across their hands. Some of us get touched often by intimate partners, and some of us get cuddles and snuggles daily from our best animal friends.

But for many of us, touch is fleeting. We may get some, but most of us do not get enough of the touch that actually makes us feel better. And in our hyper-independent and overly-virtual world that continues to move farther and farther away from simple touches (and where many unwanted touches have become so destructive), our wellbeing is directly impacted from our lessened physical connectedness. 

Lack of touch harms our brains. We see this daily in our prison system, as those kept in solitary confinement often fall deeply into (or further into) mental illness. And we also see this in children unfortunately raised in no-touch environments, like some overcrowded and understaffed orphanages, where years of abuse and neglect and lack of physical stimulation actually causes the part of their brain that regulates emotion to shrink. Touch thus proves vital to our early brain development, and to our ongoing brain health.

But touch also impacts us at the very deepest gene level. Scientists studying rats have found that those babies who were licked less by their moms had their stress-response gene 'turned-off'. Thus, this lack of touch physically made them less able to handle the stress of their lives from the inside out. Amazingly, when the touch was brought back though, the gene also 'turned back on' (isn't the body an INCREDIBLE thing??). Lesson learned: the more positive touches we can get, the mentally healthier we can be from the inside out.

When we are lonely, sometimes it proves especially challenging to get enough good touches in our daily lives. So what can we do about that? Here are some ways to get touches without relying on a loved one to provide 'em:

Daybreaker. Cuddle Parties. Theater improv classes. While not always super easy to find, there are so many options out there to engage in meaningful, consensual touches even when friends or loved ones are not able to provide them. By having courage and reaching out, we can all find ways to boost our oxytocin and feel more deeply connected and alive (and at the same time, maybe make some wonderful new friends!)

At only 8 weeks, they say touch is the very first sense to develop in utero. And while many people will argue that hearing is the last sense we lose before we die, others believe it to be touch truly as the very last sensation we experience. Either way, touch is crucial to our human experience, and crucial to our capacity to quiet our loneliness.


If there's a whisk, there's a way...

Happy February, friends! How was everyone's January? Did anyone start a morning connectedness routine? Or perhaps commit to a new group exercise class (I'm still going to Barre, but I'm not going to lie, it's getting tougher!)?

We are thrilled to shift themes this month from Beginnings, to Belonging. Clearly, February is still a wonderful month to start new things, so don't feel bad if you are still slowly creeping toward those new year's resolutions (I'm still trying my best to crawl towards that Mindfulness app)! But no matter what new beginnings you have started, we are excited for you to join us this month as we focus our energy on increasing feelings of belonging as a tool to help lessen those feelings of loneliness.

We will have lots of ideas and suggestions as the month goes along to help boost belonging - so stay tuned! BUT -- we are most excited about belonging with ALL OF YOU in our brand new Cookbook Huddle! If you peeked at our Newsletter earlier this week, you might have seen our announcement - but if not, no worries - here goes!

We know that food is a wonderful way to bring people together. The smells, the tastes, the warmth of the oven. Food makes people feel loved and fulfilled - and is an easy way to bring friends and family together around a delicious dish! So we are excited to help make this 'togetherness and belonging' even easier by helping you create your very own Cookbook Huddle (we chose the word huddle instead of club 'cause it sounds much more active and a bit less exclusive!). 

Each month, we will choose a cookbook that celebrates that month's theme - then you have all month to explore the recipes, and share your culinary creations with friends and family. This month, we are thrilled to have Trine Hahnemann's gorgeous book, Scandinavian Comfort Food - Embracing the Art of Hyggeas our selection! The Scandinavian countries do a wonderful job celebrating connection and belonging (especially in the winter months) through their focus on hygge, so this book is a beautiful tool to inspire delicious feasts!

So for now, grab your copy of the book! You can check your local library for a borrowable copy, head to your local bookseller to browse their shelves, or click the link above to order online. Then grab your whisk, and start cooking! You will notice that her recipes include measurements for European and American audiences, so use the one that works best for you. She also deliciously uses many ingredients that are central to Scandinavian cooking - feel free to make any adjustments that work for your tastes or are easier for you to find - that's the real pleasure of cooking!

We will start posting pics on our Cost of Loneliness Facebook page of our dishes, and we would LOVE for you to add yours as well! Post pics! Leave comments! Tell us who you have enjoyed sharing your treats with! For now, just play! Next week we will talk about how to create your 'huddle' for later in the month - but for now, just enjoy exploring all these delicious new recipes, and sharing them with your neighbors and friends (and maybe even your exercise-buddies at the gym!). We can't wait to belong together in this journey, and to hear and see all your delicious dishes!



Can group exercise lead to healthier minds, not just bodies?

For many of us, the beginning of a new year is the prime time to start a new workout routine. The months and months of holiday snacking and sugar-gorging has led to a slightly thicker waistline, and the cold January evenings are the perfect time to sneak in a few minutes on the treadmill or a few laps in the community pool. I am certainly not immune to this cycle, and found myself in this exact same situation this year. Yet as I was weighing my options for exercise (Do I join a gym close to my house, or the nicer one farther away? Do I need a gym at all, or can I be disciplined enough to go running after work? Where do I find the right shoes and equipment that I might need?), I started wondering if perhaps my physical health, and my social health, might be intermixable. Could I chose an exercise program that actually helped me feel LESS lonely?

The benefits of exercise are well documented. Nearly everyone can rattle off the positive outcomes of getting active - released endorphins (those feel good hormones), reduction of stress, promotion of stronger resilience, increased muscle mass, and lessening of body fat. For nearly all people, exercise is good for our physical health - making us stronger, leaner, and more flexible.

But is there any connection between exercise and social health? Is there any way to make exercise more fun, and at the same time, turn it into a boost against loneliness as well?

Committing to any exercise plan can be challenging. But research shows committing to a group exercise experience, instead of a solitary one, can lead to wonderful outcomes far beyond the physical fitness ones. In a recent study in the Telegraph, researchers found that working out in groups led to increased mental well-being, physical fitness, and emotional stability - all things that together can help ease many of the feelings of loneliness. Armed with these insights, it was an easy decision - no more treadmill for me! I joined a group exercise studio in late December, and have yet to look back. With people (who are becoming new friends!) around, it's easy to show up even on rainy days, push a little harder than my brain says is possible, and come back even when every muscle is tight and sore. I'm equally as excited to get stronger as I am to make new friends who I can see multiple times a week. In so many ways, the research was right -- I do feel physically and socially stronger already, and you can too.

So what can you do if you want to add a group exercise routine to your Year of Connectedness as a way to help get both physically and socially fit?? It's easy!

1) Talk to your doctor if you have any questions at all

No matter how physically fit you feel, it's always helpful to chat with your primary care provider about her/his ideas on the best exercise for you. Get their check off, and then get going!

2) Find an activity you love

It's hard to gather the energy to go to any class you don't love. As a 'fallen' ballerina (with so many childhood recital pictures to prove it!), Barre has been a wonderful choice for me. I love the music, and the structure, and the focus on strong and flexible muscles. If you loved playing basketball as a child, why not join an adult league? If martial arts are your thing, most communities offer classes for teens and adults at the local YMCA. Find an activity you love and actually WANT to go to!

3) Start small

You do not need to exercise for hours every single day to reap the physical and social health rewards. A few minutes here and there can really start making all the difference in your body and your mind. It's totally ok to start small and work your way into longer sessions if you want to later - it's smarter for your muscles that way too!

4) Get your friends and family involved

Remember - the benefits toward lessening loneliness in group exercise comes from the 'group' component - so try to get your friends and family to join you in your social group exercise as well! It's a wonderful way to continue to build on the relationships you already have, and keep everyone's bodies healthy too! Those who sweat together, stay together ;)

5) Just go (even if you just lie on the mat for the full hour!)

Most days, just showing up is the hardest part. No matter how tired or how busy you feel, really push yourself to just GO. Remind yourself that your friends will be there. Remind yourself that you are worth it. Remind yourself that you will feel so much better during and after the class. Even if you have to just sit for the full class, being around others and supporting them as they exercise will do wonders to help quiet some of the pangs of loneliness.

As always - we are here for you! So let us know how your group exercise is going! We are so excited for a 2018 of healthier bodies, AND healthier minds!!