The Importance of Social Connections for Mental and Physical Health

by | Updated June 3, 2019 | Wellness

When we are talking about mental health, what do we mean? One way of describing it is as an overall look at how we are doing – emotionally, psychologically, and socially. Part of being mentally healthy is proactively creating a positive environment for ourselves. Social interactions are an important aspect of that.

Given how much awake time we spend working, it is a good idea to look at healthy social connections with people we work with. We have all had days where a fun lunch with colleagues just made our day or a fun conversation at the Keurig put some extra spring in our step, but the opposite is also true; social disconnect at work, a sense of loneliness, or feeling like you don’t have a friend at work can have a negative impact on our overall well-being or overall mental health.

Imagine people who live alone and do not have a family or many friends. Maybe they are new in town. The office may be the only place where they can be social, and meaningful connections at work become even more important. Most of us know the feeling that life is OK as long as at least one aspect of it is going well, whether that’s personal or work. But when both feel off and lonely, we do not just suffer mentally, we actually hurt physically too.

Researchers at Brigham Young University released a study about the link of social interaction and its impact on mental and physical health and the outcome was surprising in just how direct that link is. For example, it turned out that social isolation may actually be one of the biggest risk factors for human mortality. As an example, here is how the study corresponds low social interaction to some of the more common risks to our wellbeing:

  • As bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
  • As dangerous as being an alcoholic.
  • As harmful as never exercising.
  • Twice as dangerous as obesity.

But how exactly do we build a strong social connectivity?

Tips

  • Greet people in your neighborhood, the coffee shop or grocery store, especially if you are a regular customer, introduce yourself!
  • Accept invitations to neighborhood outings, street festivals, or school reunions. Even if you do not feel like going, at least attend for a little while and see if you connect with someone new or old.
  • Volunteer or mentor: there are so many ways to spend time purposefully with strangers and it takes a lot of the “I am not sure what to say” out of the equation.
  • Look for a MeetUp group nearby that unites people with a common interest. Whether that is crocheting, beer brewing, hiking or planting a garden, there are likeminded people to connect with, or a whole new quirky hobby to find.
  • Call someone you have not spoken to in a while, or send an email or reach out on a social networking site. You may just make that person’s day.
  • Learn a new skill, take a cooking class or learn a new language, build a new branch to your network.
  • Smile! We smile when we feel good, but we also feel better when we smile!

Resources that connect: 

  1. Meetup.com
  2. MN DNR Volunteer Opportunites
  3. VolunteerMatch

Sources to read more on the topic:

  1. Social Interaction: Useful Tips for a Healthy Brain
  2. The Importance of Being Social
  3. Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health
  4. Friends with Health Benefits

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