Social connection and your health
Humans are social beings. And just like you need fresh air, clean water and nutritious food to thrive, you also need meaningful relationships in your life. It’s true! From coffee with a friend to snuggles with your partner, the feel-good emotions that come from connecting with others have very real and positive impacts on your health and overall well-being. Let’s learn more about how social connection and health are intertwined, along with some simple ways to cultivate connection.
Why social connection matters
Did you know, we’re literally wired to connect? When observing and interacting with others, mirror neurons in our brain light up to mimic or mirror their emotions and behaviors. These mirror neurons are at the core of our humanity, helping us relate to and feel empathy toward others. And feeling connected to your friends, family and greater community creates a positive feedback loop that boosts your mental, emotional and physical health.
For example, research shows that people who report feeling socially connected enjoy better cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure and stronger immune systems. They’re also better at managing stress and are more likely to engage in and stick with health-promoting behaviors like exercising, eating healthy and completing preventive health screenings.
From your age and personality to where you live, work and play, many things influence how socially connected you feel. And in recent years, a lot of people report struggling to feel connected. In fact, according to a 2021 Harvard University research study, 36% of Americans reported experiencing “serious loneliness.” And loneliness and lack of social connection can negatively impact your health – increasing your risk for developing heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety. Plus, feeling disconnected hits you on a cellular level – increasing inflammation markers and weakening your immune system, which makes you more vulnerable to a host of common viruses and illnesses.
Be honest with yourself
Everyone feels detached and lonely sometimes. But when those feelings linger for days, weeks or longer, it’s important to reach out to a healthcare professional who can connect you with the help and resources you need.
We all benefit from having authentic relationships where we truly feel bonded and connected. But as more of our lives move online or we’re confronted with disrupting life events like a loved one’s death, a breakup or health challenges, it can be difficult to find the time and energy to connect. Keeping these five simple tips in mind can help.
5 tips for more connection
When engaging with others, be mindful of how you’re showing up. How often do you check your phone or half listen when your partner, child or friend is talking? Giving your full attention and focus to the people in your life lets them know they matter and helps you feel more bonded and connected.
Focus on quality vs. quantity
You lead a busy life, and it can be hard to carve out time for yourself, much less to connect with others. But social interactions that fill you up don’t necessarily need to involve lengthy conversations about the meaning of life. Go for a walk with a friend you wish you could see more often or plan an annual get together to reconnect with friends or extended family. Being intentional and thoughtful about how you want to engage with others helps maximize feelings of belonging and connection.
You fulfill many roles in life, and each offers an opportunity to dig a little deeper and connect a little more. Think about the roles you play in the lives of others. From partner, parent and friend to co-worker, neighbor and community member – look for ways to grow these relationships. Ask a co-worker if they want to grab coffee, check in on a neighbor or volunteer at a community event. Feelings of social connection grow when you actively seek out ways to contribute and matter to others.
Make connection an inside job
You can be surrounded by people and still feel disconnected and lonely. That’s because a true sense of connection comes in part from how comfortable you are in your own skin. Dedicate time each day to check in with your body, mind and soul. Journaling, meditating, deep breathing and moving your body are all ways to connect with and get to know your true self better.
Watch what you’re watching
If scrolling Instagram makes you feel sad, lonely and somehow less than – just don’t do it. Taking a break from the artificial worlds of the internet, social media, TV and gaming consoles provides opportunities to interact more with the people and things in the real world around you.
A healthy dose of connection
In our busy modern lives, it’s sometimes easy to feel disconnected and apart from others. But we need each other more than ever. It’s our connections – no matter how big or small – that make our bodies healthier, experiences richer and lives more meaningful.
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