If laughter is the best medicine, then talking is the second best. For many, particularly those who feel lonely or isolated, it can often feel difficult to open up and be heard.
But for those who do, there’s major payoff. Research continually shows that engaging in daily conversation—whether it’s simple chat about the weather or a deep and meaningful conversation—can improve mental and physical health, particularly for seniors. Here are some of the benefits:
Talking reduces stress. Considering that the image of a patient on a psychiatrist’s couch is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of “therapy,” maybe it goes without saying that conversation is a powerful form of therapy.
However, there’s actual proof that the brain undergoes changes when you’re discussing your feelings. A 2007 UCLA brain imaging study revealed that verbalizing feelings lights up the prefrontal cortex, which is related to both processing and inhibiting behaviour. In other words, sharing your feelings—including negative ones—can actually make them less intense.
“This is ancient wisdom,” Matthew D. Lieberman, the UCLA associate professor of psychology in charge of the study told Science Daily. “Putting our feelings into words helps us heal better. If a friend is sad and we can get them to talk about it, that probably will make them feel better.”
Reminiscing can help organize thoughts and improve memory functions. While mindfulness can be a powerful tool for fighting loneliness, focusing on the past also has benefits. Giving older adults the opportunity to share their stories can help them to organize their thoughts, including where they fit into the overarching narrative of their own lives. Storytellers are able to identify and understand the themes and goals that have driven their lives, and to focus on their achievements, which improves self-esteem and a feeling of control over ones’ life.
Research has also shown that in addition to helping people deal with negative feelings, “nostalgizing” may also ignite parts of the brain that would otherwise remain dormant, ultimately boosting overall recall and memory. Talking about the past has also been linked to lowered blood pressure and heart rates.
Engaging in meaningful conversation results in deeper happiness. According to University of Arizona psychologist Methias Mehl, people who have more deep and meaningful conversations are more likely to be happy. He recorded the conversations of 79 college students and found that those who had more profound interactions also self-reported as being happier. In fact, the “happiest” person in the study had twice as many substantive conversations per day.
Talking to people creates a sense of belonging and community. Surprisingly, it’s the conversations you have with total strangers that may drive your sense of community. While you might think that you want to be left alone or that you hate small talk, research demonstrates otherwise.
According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, individuals who strike up conversations with strangers—whether it be in taxis or while commuting—report having a much more positive overall experience while taking care of mundane tasks.
Whether you want to discuss politics, share the story of your life, or just chat about the weather, Keeping Connected is ready to listen.