Human beings are inherently social creatures. As far back as we can trace, humans 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 to live our lives. Feeling socially connected, especially in an increasingly isolated world, is more important than ever. The benefits of social connectedness shouldn’t be overlooked.
If you’ve ever moved away from your social “home base” then you have a good idea of just how much social connections shape your everyday life and well-being. One study showed that social connection is a greater determinant to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. And 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.
Friendships offer a number of mental health benefits, such as increased feelings of belonging, purpose, increased levels of happiness, reduced levels of stress, improved self-worth and confidence. 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.
Research has shown that social connections not only impact your mental health, but your physical health 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.
There are a number of factors that put people at higher or lower risk for suicide. One of these factors is connectedness, which the Centers 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, or joining a club or social organization and 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. These relationships can change the course of your life.