What do tribes and packs have in common? Strength in numbers. People need people — humans are built for connection and wired to need one another.
But did you know that social connections are also essential for good mental and physical health?
It’s true. Apparently, the key is feeling a sense of closeness or belonging with others. Research has found that social connection and relating to others is a basic psychological human need. It in fact benefits your well-being in quite a few different ways.
Here’s what you need to know about social connections and health, including ways to form and keep these connections strong.
The benefits of social connections
Mood and mental health benefits
Loners, beware! There’s science backing up the importance of social connections. After seeing these, you may want to consider prioritizing social connections for your mental health and mood.
One study found that happiness spreads through social connections.² The researchers found that when those in your circle have happy or positive attitudes, it can positively impact your behavior and mood.
Another study with 1,200 people looked at ways to increase life satisfaction.³ They found that those who focused on social connection, like spending more time with friends and family, were happier and more satisfied with life than those who focused on themselves or their fortune.
Friendships, in general, promote a sense of belonging that is a crucial part of emotional health. According to one study, scientists found that this feeling provided by friendship helps decrease feelings of depression and hopelessness.
On the flip side, research on more than 580,000 adults found that social isolation is associated with higher rates of depression, insomnia, and cognitive decline.⁴
Physical health benefits
You might be surprised to learn that social connection isn’t just an essential aspect of your mental health but also your physical health. Research published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that feeling connected with others can help empower overall health, wellness, and well-being.⁵
They found that social connections can impact everything from blood pressure to mortality. Another review of 148 studies found that people with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival. This was true across the board regardless of age, gender, or cause of death.
Another landmark study on social relationships and health found that a lack of social connection is a more significant detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure.⁶ Plus, research on older adults, loneliness, and social isolation found that poor social relationships were associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.⁷
How to connect with others
Focus on quality and frequency
So now that you know it’s time to try going from wallflower to social bee, how do you get started? First, know that you can go from zero to one hundred. There are no hard and fast rules here.
If the idea of connecting with others sounds daunting, know that it’s about the quality of the connection and the frequency. One 2020 study backs this up by finding that more frequent and deeper social interactions link to greater well-being.⁸
Note this doesn’t mean you need to have hundreds of friends! It just means you need to connect with your people deeply and often, even if that’s just a few special folks.
Start with your passions
Finding those special folks doesn’t need to be a challenge. Start small and focus first on what you like — is it movies, trivia, sports, or something else?
Your interests and hobbies are a great place to find your people. Branching off from there, look into events (in person or virtual) and social sites that focus on these topics. For example, bookworms might make some meaningful connections on Goodreads. Sports enthusiasts will find like minds at casual sports leagues.
Consider joining virtual and in-person groups
Apps like Bumble BFF and MeetUp are also worth looking into to meet like-minded people with similar interests who want to make social connections. (Virtual book clubs, anyone?)
Also, consider joining a local volunteer group. Food banks and hospitals are good places to start. Prep with some conversation starters to spark conversation, like asking how they found out about the volunteer opportunity or what motivated them to get involved.
If the concept of socializing in person sounds daunting and connecting digitally is piquing your interest, there are some dos and don’ts — especially when it comes to social media connections. Research on Facebook users found that passively scrolling the social media platform could make you more depressed or arouse feelings of inferiority or envy.⁹ Meanwhile, those who actively used social media to comment, post, and like had lower levels of depression. It’s about intention — using social platforms to connect instead of compare is the ticket.
How to form deeper social connections
If you’re not looking to create more connections, you should focus on deepening the ones you currently have — not just maintaining them.
This involves touching base and making (and sticking to) social plans, including coffee or FaceTime dates. Catching up with people you haven’t seen in a while can be a natural mood booster. So reach out when you think of that friend and wonder how they’re doing.
Meet in person
Meeting up in person is ideal. It’s not shocking that a study on physical touch found that receiving a hug relieves negative emotions like stress, but it is a motivation for seeing your loved ones IRL.¹⁰ Consider creating shared experiences to grow closer together, even sans hugs, like taking cooking lessons together.
To really deepen your connection with your circle, you need to initiate intentional conversations to reconnect. For example, try playing a question game with your crew to practice active listening.
Again, there’s science to back this up. Research on 2,171 adults found that having good conversations with people protects your brain health.¹¹ The study found that those who reported having supportive listeners were more likely to have better cognitive function and resilience. (AKA better brain health that’s protective against things like brain aging and disease, such as dementia.)
Life isn’t always as easy as we’d like it to be. And when your life starts to get a bit complicated, a personal life coach from Wellavi can be there to help you!