blog connection and physical health 2023Enjoying social connections is more important for our health than most people realize! In fact, it can directly impact not only your mental health but your physical health as well!

While most people think eating well, getting adequate movement, refraining from smoking, and limiting alcohol are the most important things you need to do to stay healthy, research shows that meaningful connection is extremely important too.

In a culture obsessed with hard work and accomplishments, social connections can feel like a luxury reserved for when the real work is done. But if we are truly putting our health first, connection is of utmost importance for both our physical and mental health.

Let’s look at some research that may lead you to add social connections to your list of healthy habits!


Social Connections Impact on Physical Health

It’s not hard to believe that those who feel more connected with others tend to have higher self-esteem, greater levels of empathy, and struggle less with anxiety and depression. But 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 is actually linked to obesity levels, inflammation, and hypertension.

The health community needs to recognize the importance of connection as the healthy habits it is. When you look into the research, you will understand how crucial these connections are.


Show me the Research 

Research done by Housekarl, Landis, and Umberson found that “studies… consistently show increased risk of death among persons with a low quantity, and sometimes low quality, of social relationships.” 


They explain that “social isolation is a major risk factor for mortality from widely varying causes.” These are legitimate studies that control for baseline health status. It may be shocking, but strong social connections...

  • improve your immune system. 
  • lead to a 50% increased chance of longevity.

More research is needed to discover why social connections have such a dramatic impact on health. One factor may be that it lowers the stress hormone cortisol. We may not know why, but the research is clear that social connections are extremely important if you want to live a long and healthy life.


What Counts as Social Connection

Brené Brown defines 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.”

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. In fact, it is possible to feel isolated and alone, even if you are surrounded by people. A sense of connection doesn't automatically happen when you get together with people. 


How to Cultivate Connection

Connection doesn’t always come naturally. It can take effort and intention to make it happen. Here are some ways to start to incorporate it into your life...

  • Make Time - If you are lucky enough to have people that you connect with on a deep level, make them a priority. It may be important to schedule time with those you love. If you don’t make adequate time for this, you will miss out on the opportunity to deepen your connection. 
  • Minimize Distractions - Some people find they need to get out of their house because at home too many other things are vying for their attention. It can also be important to put the cell phone away when you are with those you love. (Research has found that just the presence of a cell phone can interfere with feelings of closeness and connection.)
  • Fostering Community - Simply 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.
  • Romantic Relationships - Don't take your significant other for granted. It is good to feel a sense of security, but don’t allow that to keep you from working on the relationship.
  • Sometimes it is helpful to build little rituals into your day so that you can connect with your partner in a consistent intentional way. (Consider using the 7 Daily Rituals Intentional Couples Use to Cultivate Lasting Love.) 
  • Young People in Your Life - People often forget how life-giving it can be to intentionally connect with the young people around you. You don’t have to impress kids. They simply want a little attention and love. Kids love to connect. 
  • Don’t Forget Yourself - Connecting to yourself is extremely powerful even if you are surrounded by people. We connect better with others when we are truly connected to ourselves. Set aside a little time for solitude each day. One great way to connect with yourself is through guided meditations. (Kristen Neff has some amazing self-compassion-guided meditations that you can find here.)


How are you actually doing this in Real Life?

Here are some of the things that I am currently doing to deepen my connections with others:

- During dinner and in the 15 minutes before the kids go to bed, we have chat time. We talk about our days, what we are thankful for, and say prayers.

- My husband and I are reading "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work" by John Gottman. In the past, we have spent many nights just sitting and watching tv or on our phones, but it has been nice to be intentional about connecting and discussing some of the principles in this book at least 1-2 nights/week. We are also discussing this book with a couples bible study that meets every other week. 

- I try to listen to patients when they are in my office and connect with them so that they feel heard and appreciated. 

- I have a goal of having a local moms night at least once a month. So far this has only happened once (and it was way more than a month ago), but I am putting my intention out there to all of you now, so hopefully that will help with my follow through!

- In the nice weather months, we try to have a fire outside of our house weekly. This always leads to hours of connecting with whichever family and friends come to join us. 


What can you do this week to build a sense of connection in your life? As always, it doesn’t have to be something big. Little changes done consistently can add up to a fulfilling outcome! Tell me about what you are doing, or what you plan to try!


Dr. Jamie