#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!!

Three steps to a morning connections routine

Those first few beginning moments of the day truly set the tone for how the rest of the day is going to flow. We've all been there - those crazy mornings when the alarm fails to go off, and the dog has peed on the kitchen floor, and the car battery is dead, and all we want to do is crawl back in bed alone and hit re-start on the day (or on our lives!). But we probably have also had those incredible mornings where everything just seems to click into place - it's easy to wake before the sun rises, breakfast miraculously appears on the stove, and the kids beg to leave for school early (ok that last bit may be a stretch). Those mornings fuel us for positive, productive days. And the truth is, we have more control over that outcome than we might think.

Morning minutes are precious. We never seem to have enough, and they always seem to pop up earlier and earlier (who can honestly say they want to wake up at 4:30am?!). But study after study show that cultivating a morning routine for those first 30 minutes of your day can dramatically bring more calmness and structure to your entire day - and we think that by focusing a few of those minutes on connectedness, you can also bring drastically more social wellness into your life as well.

Morning routines can certainly vary, but all are grounded in their repetitive, meditative nature. Great thinkers and doers throughout time have had their own versions of morning routines - some rising absurdly early, some plunging their feet in ice water, many journaling, most writing lists of one sort of another. These routines have brought focus and clarity to their lives, and can do the same for yours. But as this is our Year of Connectedness, we also want your routine to help lessen loneliness, and bring connections and relationships to yours. 

What if YOUR morning routine could help you feel less lonely, and more connected, every single day? We think it can.

Your routine is completely yours, and the most important element is to create a plan that you love, and that works for your life. 30 minutes is more than plenty. The important thing is that you carve out time specifically in there to focus on the people in your life who are meaningful to you, or with whom you would like to build more meaningful connections. Here is an example of what could be done in those 30 extra-focused, purposeful minutes, but the important thing is that you craft that time to meet YOUR needs.

7:00 - Wake up

7:05 - Stretch, breathe, or meditate

7:10 - Coffee, tea, or orange juice for all


7:35 - Slowly move into your day

Morning connection routine.jpg

Starting your day thinking about your relationships is a way to center your energy on maintaining close emotional ties. Just 15 minutes focused on reaching out can drastically help curb the feelings of loneliness while strengthening and solidifying our meaningful relationships. So, during those daily morning minutes, we recommend accomplishing the following tasks:

  1. Think about one person who you feel especially close to now, and reach out with a quick text or call to say hi and let them know how much they mean to you. This can be really short - but it works to strengthen the connection of already existing relationships.
  2. Reach out to one 'distant' friend to just check in and say hello. This can be a friend from childhood that you have lost contact with, or a more recent friendship that has just taken a seat on the 'back burner'. Say hi. Let them know that you are thinking about them.
  3. Finally, make a plan for an upcoming relational activity. This can be a movie date with friends, an afternoon of volunteering in your community, a night out with your significant other, a walk around the block with your neighbors, a game of pick-up flag football - anything that lets you connect with others in a meaningful way. THESE REAL-LIFE CONNECTIONS ARE SUPER IMPORTANT to lessening loneliness - so please don't just stop after sending the first two texts ;) 

That's it! No more than 10 to 15 minutes of your new morning routine of focused energy on your social health can do wonders for lessening your overall feelings of loneliness, and hopefully will strengthen the meaningful relationships that are important to you.

The sound of the alarm clock does not have to be the worst moment of your day - instead, focusing for just a few minutes on your own social wellness before the chaos of the day starts can truly be a beginning to look forward to!