Sometimes, we think that taking care of ourselves is about eating our greens, staying hydrated, getting a good night’s sleep and going to the gym. While all of these are the basics of good health, social connections have been found to be just as critical to our wellbeing.
Think back to the last time someone really heard you and you felt understood, or the tension and distress you felt after an argument. Have you ever noticed how some people can boost your happiness and energy levels just by hanging out with them for a short period of time?
Research shows that a lack of social connections or feelings of loneliness can have serious physical effects, making it riskier than obesity, smoking or high blood pressure. The other side of this shows that good connections can increase your life-span, help recover from illness faster, lower chances of anxiety and depression, boost your self-esteem and most importantly, make you feel happier.
So what does that mean? Studies show that our relationships are the key to bringing us good health and happiness, however it also shows that loneliness is on the rise.
We sometimes forget that these social connections need to be nurtured; or we get caught up trying to put a number on our connections to fit in. But there’s no one magic number – you could feel lonely in a crowd, or be someone who always needs people around them, or feel connected with just a few people, or even just within yourself. Regardless of your preference, building and maintaining social connections takes some effort.
It might mean looking within yourself to figure out if you’re investing your time and energy into connections that make you feel happy. It can also be a challenge to forge new connections, but the benefits are worth it.
Besides making the effort to spend time with those close to you or having a chat with a friend, there are other things we can do to build connections, such as:
- Start a conversation: Stike up a chat with someone you see everyday at the gym, park, bus stop or shops (while keeping yourself safe in a public space)
- Join a group of like-minded people: Find a group or class with people that share a similar interest to you, such as a sports team, a hobby group or local community group.
- Give back: Volunteer in your community to share your skills and knowledge.
- Online social networks: Utilise social media to connect with friends, family and colleagues. Engage in conversation, share content and join online communities with people who share your interests.
- Take classes: Enrol in classes or workshops, whether its cooking, dance, fitness or a new language. Learning in a group setting can help facilitate social connections.
Remember, it’s not one size fits all; if something doesn’t work for you that’s okay, there’s plenty of options out there for you to explore.
What’s most important, is the kind of person you are, and building those qualities that help to create these connections, such as kindness, empathy, compassion and having a positive outlook to life. The key to building connections is to share your time and experience with others, as well as being a good listener.
As your connections grow, your physical and mental health will benefit hugely. This Mental Health Month, we encourage you to explore how you can level up your social connections, and what role you can play to make the world a brighter place for yourself and others.