Why Your Social Life Matters to Your Health
Did you know research suggests that close relationships and social integration are among two of the strongest predictors of how long you live? They are actually stronger indicators of mortality than how much you exercise, whether or not you are obese, whether or not you smoke, or if you have had a previous heart attack.
According to the American Association for Cancer Research (AARC), there are even studies that show links between social support and relationships, and cancer mortality rates. (1)
That’s right - your social life greatly affects your overall health and well-being!
Susan Pinker, an American psychologist and author of The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter, shared in a Ted Talk that face-to-face interactions help boost the amount of “good-feeling” hormones that are released in our bodies.
- This can help our immune system function better.
- This can lower our level of stress hormones.
- This can decrease the amount of inflammation in our bodies.
- And this can positively affect our overall health over time.
In a way, it’s almost like these interactions and connections create chemical cocktails in our brains that serve as a protective mechanism against our declining health. (2)
The Public Health Risk of Our Time
Social isolation is the public health risk of our time. Now that we are coming out of a global pandemic, being required to physically distance ourselves for the last year and a half, and relying heavily on virtual platforms to keep us connected, social isolation is an issue that is especially relevant in the current state of our world - yet it is highly overlooked.
Most of the time, we don’t take into account how important it is to cultivate meaningful social connections, nor do we realize how much it affects our well-being. We take for granted our relationships with our friends, our partners, our family, and most of all, our interactions with strangers. Believe it or not, establishing social connections with people you don’t know is just as important as nurturing your close relationships.
Your Social Wellbeing
Here are 10 questions to ask yourself to see if you are interacting and integrating yourself socially:
- Who would drop everything they are doing and take you to the doctor if you’re not feeling well?
- Who in your life would sit with you if you were having a nervous breakdown, a panic attack, or experiencing intense grief?
- Who could you call at any time and be able to have a deep meaningful conversation with?
- How much do you interact and connect with people as you move throughout your day?
- Do you make an effort to engage in small talk with people when you are waiting in line at a coffee shop, post office, or grocery store?
- How often do you smile and say hello to your neighbors or people you pass on the street?
- How many times do you make the effort to join groups and communities that align with your values and interests?
- How often do you interact and share with people in these groups?
- Do you make an effort to look directly at the camera when you are connecting with a friend or family member virtually?
- How often do you make intentional moments of eye contact with others?
These questions are not meant to judge where you are in your social life. But rather to serve as prompts for you to reflect and assess the social aspect of your wellbeing, as well as offer suggestions for things to try more often to elevate that sense of social connectedness. If you feel there are elements of your social well-being that are missing, or if you feel like there is something that could be improved - explore that! Lean into the areas where you feel less fulfilled and know that you have the power to create the social life that brings you joy.
As things start to open back up, and we all rejoin society again post-pandemic, we have an opportunity to look at our social interactions in a new, rejuvenated way. We have a fresh start to re-integrate ourselves into our communities and create an overall sense of belonging.
And when we belong, we live longer.
1. Social Relationships, Inflammation, and Cancer Survival
Courtney E. Boen, David A. Barrow, Jeannette T. Bensen, Laura Farnan, Adrian Gerstel, Laura H. Hendrix and Yang Claire Yang
Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev May 1 2018 (27) (5) 541-549; DOI: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-17-0836
2. Ted Talk: The secret to living longer may be your social life.