“Just as human beings have a basic need for food and shelter, we also have a basic need to belong to a group and form relationships,” author Emily Esfahani Smith shared in her 2013 article in The Atlantic. Social connections have always been an inherent need of all humans as we are a social species.
“To be kept in solitude is to be kept in pain…”
-- Sociobiologist E.O. Wilson
Research shows that social isolation can lead to stress, and stress can increase body inflammation, the risk of heart disease, and poor insulin regulation. It also can increase the risk of early death, similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and having hypertension, and it doubles the risk of becoming obese. Loneliness is the leading reason people seek psychological counseling.
Social connections come in different forms – families, romantic relationships, friendships, coworkers, social groups, activity groups, the person you see each time you go to your favorite coffee shop, and the stranger you say hello to on the street. The pleasures we receive from a positive social contact registers in our brains much the same way physical pleasures do.
Benefits of Healthy Social Connections
- Higher self esteem
- Better emotional regulation
- Increased ability to empathize with others
- Healthier romantic relationships as you do not rely on one person for social needs
- Stronger immune system and quicker recovery from colds, flu, and other illnesses
- Increased longevity
- Decreased incidence of anxiety and depression
- Decreased suicidal thoughts and attempts
- Less physical pain
How to Add or Deepen Your Social Connections
- Create routines, such as going to the same coffee shop or taking a class
- Say hello to strangers or clerks in stores (in other words, look up from your phone!)
- Spend time doing things you enjoy and invite others to join you
- Don’t count the number of friends you have, but look at the quality of your connections
- Ask questions and show interest in others to form a connection
- Volunteer with a social service agency, museum, theater, school, or community group
- Work out in a gym or join an exercise group
- Go to psychotherapy to resolve underlying emotional issues regarding socializing
- Cast a wide net to meet others
Keep in mind that there is no “one size fits all” approach for developing social connections. Also, take it one step at a time. Do your own research to find the activities and the amount of social connection that will be most satisfying for you. Positive social connections can help you live your life with a smile both inside and outside.
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