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A Recipe For Connection

Across continents, cultures, and centuries, gathering together for a meal has always brought people together.

When we “break bread,” we build and strengthen our relationships — with family around a dinner table, with friends at a community gathering, even with coworkers in the company cafeteria. Children mimic this universal ritual by having tea parties and mud-pie-making contests.

Over a meal, we share a part of ourselves: our culture, our family history, our memories. Older adults struggling with social isolation, whether from the coronavirus pandemic or from other life circumstances, have fewer of these vital opportunities to enjoy the many benefits of companionship.

What Is Social Isolation?

Social isolation is the result of feeling detached physically or psychologically or being disconnected from friends and family. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, it had reached epidemic proportions among older and midlife adults.

Two-thirds of adults said they were experiencing social isolation and 66% said their anxiety levels increased during the pandemic; that’s according to The Pandemic Effect: A Social Isolation Report, a survey released by AARP Foundation with support from United Health Foundation. If you’re worried about [socializing in person again](link to new article about socializing after isolation), remember that connecting with others can boost your mental and physical health.

One surefire way to reduce loneliness? Expand your social network by getting to know your neighbors. Only 33% of midlife and older adults who have ever spoken to their neighbors are lonely, compared with 61% who have never spoken to a neighbor.

Start by Reaching Out

A friendly wave or saying hello to your neighbors is a great way to begin showing you’re open to making connections. These simple conversation starters can help you know what to say to keep conversations flowing and relationships growing.

Next, look for opportunities to socialize more and get to know people better. Keep things simple by suggesting a quick chat over coffee or a simple potluck for the neighborhood where everyone brings a dish to share.

Potluck Meals: Breaking Bread and Building Social Bonds

Merriam-Webster defines “potluck” as “a communal meal to which people bring food to share.” Its first known use was in 1592, and yet this centuries-old practice can be a remedy to the modern ailment of social isolation. At a potluck, many hands make light work, taking the stress out of providing all the food for the group. Even better, there’s usually a story behind each dish — and sharing that story is a perfect way to connect.

Try one (or more!) of these potluck themes:Food plate being handed to a person

  • Community Cookout. Each person brings something for the grill: veggie burgers, sausages, corn on the cob, cut up veggies wrapped in foil, even fresh peaches to grill and serve with vanilla ice cream.
  • Picnic in the Park. Everyone brings a signature dish that doesn’t need heating. The host assigns starters, mains, and desserts across the group for a well-rounded menu.
  • Make Your Own Pizza. The host supplies the dough, either homemade or store-bought. Everyone else brings their favorite toppings and can assemble the pies together.

No matter which potluck option you try, gathering together and enjoying a meal “family-style” encourages conversation and connections. Everyone leaves full and happy, in both the literal and the figurative sense.

To get a potluck on the calendar, reach out to your neighbors (or friends or family members) with possible dates and times. Ask them to tell you what works best for them before deciding when to hold the event. (People with small children, for example, won’t want to meet during nap time, for example.) A rain date for outdoor events is also a good idea, so if you have to cancel for bad weather, you can still get together.

Bon appetit — and happy connecting!

Do you think you’re struggling with social isolation? Take this self-assessment and learn how to reestablish connections and protect your health.

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