There are many things people know they must do if they want to be healthy: eat well, get adequate movement, refrain from smoking, and limit alcohol. But now we can add “enjoying social connections” to our list of healthy habits!
Social Connections Impact on Physical Health
Research is showing that social connections have a major impact on both our mental and physical health. It is not hard to believe that those who feel more connected with others tend to struggle less with anxiety and depression. They also have higher self esteem, greater levels of empathy, trust others more, and tend to be more cooperative.
While the impact of social connections on emotional wellbeing may be expected, the extensive impact on physical health may come as a surprise to many. According to Dr. Emma Seppala, the American Association for the Advancement of Science published a study that found that “a lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.”
A lack of social connections has been linked to obesity levels, inflammation, and hypertension. It may be shocking, but strong social connections actually improve your immune system and lead to a 50% increased chance of longevity. More research is needed to discover why social connections have such a dramatic impact on health, but the research is clear that social connections are extremely important if you want to live a long and healthy life.
Insights From the Research
- Research shows that the quantity of relationships is important both with teens and the elderly, while the quality of relationships matters more in midlife.
- It is also important to realize that you don't need to be physically with someone to have a social connection. If you feel seen, heard, and understood, that is enough to feel connected to others.
- Recognize that it is possible to feel isolated and alone, even if you are surrounded by people.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of feeling connected to yourself.
How to Cultivate Connection
In this season, with Covid-19 and the social distancing mandates, it is more important than ever to find ways to cultivate social connections. You may have to be creative, but your health is worth the effort.
- Make time for important people in your life. If you are lucky enough to have people that you connect with on a deep level, make them a priority. It might look different than it used to, but hanging out on the patio, connecting on a video call, or simply having a conversation on the phone can cultivate closeness.
- Put the cell phone away when you are connecting in person. Research has found that the presence of a cell phone can interfere with feelings of closeness and connection. It can also lead to distraction and keep you from enjoying the moment.
- Talk with people that you interact with on a daily basis. Even saying “hello” to a service provider or someone you pass on the street can begin to create a feeling of connection with your community. Learn to "smile with your eyes" when you are wearing a mask in public places.
- Don’t forget that connecting to yourself is extremely powerful. While everyone needs this important connection, it can be an especially important tool for those combating loneliness.
- Check out the following article, 10 Ways to Deepen Your Connections with Others.
- If you are in a romantic relationship, consider using the 7 Daily Rituals Intentional Couples Use to Cultivate Lasting Love.
“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” ~ Brené Brown
For more great ways to improve your social connections check out the National Institute of Health’s Social Wellness Toolkit. I hope you find ways to connect with yourself, others, and nature during these crazy times!