1 – Connect
Human beings are social animals and therefore social relationships are very important to us, alongside many other socially interactive creatures on this planet. Social relationships and feeling connected are critical to our well-being. In social science the definition of a social relation or social interaction is any relationship between two or more individuals.
Social relationships both the quantity and the quality affect mental health, physical health and health behaviour. Health behaviour is an action that we take to maintain, attain or retain good health and to prevent illness – common health behaviours include exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet. There is now a large and growing evidence base showing the link between social relationships and well-being.
Social relationships can even affect our mortality. Captors are known to use social isolation to torture prisoners of war sometimes to drastic effect. Social isolation of otherwise healthy, well-functioning individuals may eventually result in psychological and physical disintegration, and possibly even death. Over the past few decades, social scientists have gone beyond the evidence of extreme social deprivation to demonstrate a clear link between social relationships and health in the general population. They found that extreme loneliness can increase a person’s chances of premature death by up to 14% and that those adults who are more socially connected tend to be healthier and live longer.
The health consequences of feeling lonely are dramatic. Researchers found that feeling isolated from others can:
- disrupt sleep,
- elevate blood pressure,
- increase morning rises in the stress hormone cortisol,
- alter gene expression in immune cells,
- increase depression
- and lower overall subjective well-being.
It is often not actual solitude or physical isolation itself that is a problem, but rather the subjective sense of extreme loneliness that is most disruptive. Many people living alone are not necessary lonely. Feelings of extreme loneliness are subjective and malleable.
Healthy relationships as we mentioned before are therefore a vital component of health and well-being. Relationships build a sense of belonging and self-worth. Strong relationships with family and friends allow us to share our feelings and know that we are understood. They provide an opportunity to share positive experiences, and can give us emotional support. They give us a chance to support others – something else that is known to promote mental wellbeing. There is also evidence that wellbeing can be passed on through relationships. Being around people with strong mental wellbeing can improve your own mental wellbeing.
Try connecting with the people that are around you – work colleagues, family members, friends, neighbours and people in your community. These people can help to support you and you them, you can bring enrichment to each other’s lives on a daily basis. Invest time in building these relationships and connections – a quick hello or a smile in greeting can go a long way towards enhancing your feelings of well-being and more than likely theirs too.