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  • Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

Can Facebook Make You Sick?

A controversial study from the Institute of Biology recently reported that social networking sites such as Facebook could raise your risk of cancer, strokes, heart disease and dementia. The reason: "Increased isolation could alter the way genes work and upset immune responses, hormone levels and the function of arteries and impair mental performance." In other words, not being around other people is bad for your health. Watch my appearance on FOX 4 Good Day last week where I discuss this issue.

The research went on to say that face-to-face conversations have decreased steadily since 1987 and that there is a difference between "real presence" and virtual presence. The study even identified "socially regulated genes" that affect our immune system. Last year I blogged about how Facebook helps you stay in the Smart Zone. And I still believe it does. I've embraced blogging, Twitter (sort of), YouTube, Facebook and of course, email. Plus, I'm lost without my iPhone. Just to prove I'm not "down" on Facebook, there are studies that show it increases productivity at work. An Australian study found surfing the internet for fun during office hours actually increased employees productivity. The study from the University of Melbourne says "workplace internet leisure browsing, or WILB, helped to sharpen workers' concentration." It goes on to say that people need to zone out for a bit to rest their mind so they can have a higher concentration level. But communicating with someone on Facebook does not replace human contact. When you minimize or eliminate contact with people you increase your chances of social isolation, loneliness, a negative outlook and ill health. This is true even for introverted people. Use these Smart Moves so that Facebook doesn't make you sick:

  • Call someone out of the blue. Not by poking them on Facebook or sending them an email. Pick up the phone and call someone - voice to voice.

  • Resist the urge to answer your cell phone when you are at lunch with a coworker. The only time I interrupt a conversation to answer my cell phone is if I see the school nurse calling. A fast way to lose connection with someone is to interrupt the conversation with a call from someone else.

  • Words are a tiny part of communication. Experts say that 7% of human communication comes from words, while 38% is from a person's tone of the voice and 55% comes from body language. Without face-to-face interaction you are only using 7% of your capacity to communicate.

  • Find ways to connect. Find a reason to say thank you, offer sympathy to a bereaved friend, give a birthday wish or congratulate someone. St. Patrick's Day is coming up - use this as your excuse to call someone!

  • Acknowledge people by speaking to them when they enter your presence. My Director of Client Relations, Zan Jones, is a stickler about this. It could be because she has had a career in sales and management and knows the importance of relationships. Zan says that she never passes by someone in the hallway without acknowledging them in some way - usually with a smile and a "Hi." Don't miss a day telling your coworkers, "Good morning."

  • Serve with someone. One of my favorite ways to connect with people is to volunteer for a project or cause. Volunteer to serve on the board of a nonprofit agency or on a church committee, answer the phones at the hospital or work at the concession stand during your kid's sporting events. By serving in the community you create a personal win-win.

Even the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, understands the importance of spending personal time with other people. In the March issue of Fast Company, he reveals that during what Facebook called its "Christmas break" he and several Facebook employees went to India for the week long family celebration and wedding of 2 Facebook staffers. Now that's a Smart Move! By the way, I'd love for you to join my Facebook Fan Page or follow me on Twitter!

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