Human beings are inherently social creatures. As far back as we can trace, people have traveled, hunted, and thrived in social groups… and for good reason.
Humans who were separated from their tribe often suffered severe consequences. Social groups provide us with an important part of our identity, and more than that, they teach us a set of skills that help us prosper in a complex environment. Feeling socially connected, especially in an increasingly isolated world, is more important than ever.
Among other positive effects, social connections:
Improve your Quality of Life: If you’ve ever moved away from your social “home base” then you probably understand the degree to which social connections shape your everyday life and well-being. One study showed that a lack of social connection is a greater determinant to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure.
Social connection doesn’t necessarily mean physically being present with people in a literal sense, but someone’s subjective experience of feeling understood and connected to others. One scale that experts use to determine a person’s subjective level of loneliness is the UCLA Loneliness Scale.
Boost your Mental Health: Friendships offer a number of mental health benefits, such as increased feelings of belonging, purpose, and confidence, amplified levels of happiness, reduced levels of stress, and improved self-worth. A study conducted at a free health clinic in Buffalo, New York found that respondents with insufficient perceived social support were the most likely to suffer from mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.
Help you Live Longer: Research has shown that social connections not only impact your mental health, but your physical well-being as well. A review of 148 studies (308,849 participants) indicated that the individuals with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival. This remained true across a number of factors, including age, sex, initial health status, and cause of death.
Decrease your Risk of Suicide: There are a variety of factors that can either increase or decrease your risk for suicide. Boost your chances of staying safe by raising your level of connectedness, which the Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines as “The degree to which a person or group is socially close, interrelated or shares resources with other persons or groups.” Relationships can play a crucial role in protecting a person against suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
If you’re not sure how to begin forming social connections start by looking inward.
What are your interests or hobbies? What kind of personalities are you naturally comfortable around? Devote time to becoming active in your community, volunteering, mingling at work, or joining a club or social organization. If you meet a potential friend, create an opportunity to spend time together.
Remember that social connections that impact your overall health and well-being may begin with lattes or a shared meal, but they require time and effort. Forming strong, healthy relationships with others means opening up, actively listening, and being open to sharing what you’re going through. Trying to establish a bond with someone new can feel scary, but it’s important to put yourself out there and attempt to make new friends. These relationships can change the course of your life.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2017 and has been edited and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.