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TRANSFORMING YOUR WELL-BEING THROUGH SOCIAL CONNECTIONS

It’s truly amazing how our minds, bodies, and behaviours are shaped by the bonds we form with others. Research has revealed that being socially connected doesn’t just enrich our lives emotionally, but it also plays a significant role in enhancing our overall health and longevity. In fact, studies indicate that fostering social connections can lead to a longer, healthier life and contribute significantly to our overall well-being. 

WHAT IS SOCIAL CONNECTEDNESS? ​

Social connectedness refers to how individuals perceive the relationships they desire in quantity, quality, and diversity. These relationships foster a sense of belonging, where one feels cared for, valued, and supported. 

Humans are social beings, and our social connections are vital for survival. Our relationships with family, friends, coworkers, and community members significantly influence our health and overall well-being. 

Having stable and supportive relationships through social connections plays a crucial role in shaping our lives positively. Research shows that individuals with strong social ties are more inclined to make healthier choices, improving mental and physical health outcomes. Moreover, these connections provide valuable support during challenging times, helping individuals effectively cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023). 

What impact does loneliness have on your health?

Loneliness has a significant impact on health, affecting our overall well-being significantly. Loneliness can disrupt sleep patterns, elevate blood pressure, and increase cortisol levels (a stress hormone), considerably impacting overall well-being. It weakens the immune system and diminishes the sense of contentment. Moreover, loneliness is a significant risk factor for antisocial behaviour, depression, and even suicide. 

This vulnerability is particularly notable among older individuals. Decreased mobility can make it challenging to engage with others, but older people who maintain strong connections and nurturing relationships tend to experience:

  • A higher quality of life 
  • Greater life satisfaction 
  • Reduced risk of dementia and mental decline 
  • Decreased need for domestic support. 

(Better Health Channel, 2023) 

Five simple ways to connect

1. Stay connected with your network. 

Reaching out to family and friends can be challenging, especially if it’s been a while. A simple call or message can make a big difference. Consider combining catchups with outdoor activities, boosting your health and well-being. 

Additionally, people in your network experiencing major life changes, like retirement or becoming parents, might feel lonely. Your connection could mean the world to them. 

2. Explore new connections

Discovering new connections can be as simple as finding shared interests. Consider these options: 

  • Explore events at your local community centre, church, library, or leisure centre; you might find unexpected activities. 
  • Experiment with a new sport, hobby, or activity. 
  • Join a class, workshop, or social group in your area. 
  • Connect with a walking group. 
  • Visit local food or clothing markets to engage with your community. 

3. Prioritise face-to-face interactions

While the comfort of home has its appeal, there are immense benefits to connecting with others in person. Consider these steps: 

  • Plan in-person meetups instead of phone or video calls. 
  • Opt for shopping at physical stores instead of online. 
  • Prepare a homemade meal for someone rather than ordering takeout. 
  • Balance working from home and spending time in the office. 
  • Finding the right mix of online and in-person activities that suits you is crucial. 

4. Bond over food

Food is more than just nourishment; it brings people together, fostering connections and celebrations. Eating with others also tends to promote healthier eating habits. Simple gestures such as inviting someone for a meal, organising a picnic in the park, or sharing extra food with neighbours can create meaningful connections. 

5. Positively use social media.

Social media can be an excellent tool for connecting with others – as long as it’s used positively. 

When social media is used for social support and connectedness, it is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety. However, negative interactions with social media, such as prolonged use and social comparisons, have been associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety. 

One way to connect with social media is to join a local support group or your local community’s page. This is a great way to connect with what’s happening in your neighbourhood. 

(Heart Foundation, 2022). 

Three fundamental dimensions of social connectedness

Researchers have identified three fundamental dimensions of social connectedness, all contributing to building healthy relationships and combating loneliness. These dimensions are: 

1. Collective Connectedness:

This dimension stems from the sense of belonging to a collective or group beyond your individual existence. You might experience this feeling when you are part of a close-knit family or a supportive community. 

2. Intimate Connectedness:

This dimension arises from having a special person in your life who validates your identity. For example, you might feel this with a partner, such as a spouse who truly knows, loves, and supports you for who you are. 

3. Relational Connectedness:

This dimension comes from the belief that personal interactions with others are mutually fulfilling. It occurs when you have a circle of close friends and genuinely enjoy each other’s company every time you spend time together—whether over coffee, lunch, or a movie. 

Understanding and nurturing these dimensions can significantly enhance social connectivity and overall well-being. (Shape Your Happiness, 2023). 

 In conclusion, our lives are profoundly shaped by our connections with others. Research consistently highlights the immense impact of social connectedness on our emotional well-being and physical health. Being socially connected enriches our lives and plays a pivotal role in enhancing our overall health and longevity. It acts as a buffer against loneliness, a significant threat to mental and physical well-being, particularly in older age. 

This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Please consult with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance. 

References

Better Health Channel. (2023, October 2023). Strong relationships, strong health. Retrieved from Better Health Channel:
https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/Strong-relationships-strong-health

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, March 30). How Does Social Connectedness Affect Health? Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
https://www.cdc.gov/emotional-wellbeing/social-connectedness/affect-health.htm#:~:text=When%20people%20are%20socially%20connected,stress%2C%20anxiety%2C%20and%20depression.

Heart Foundation. (2022, November 16). The power of social connection – your health depends on it! Retrieved from Heart Foundation:
https://www.heartfoundation.org.nz/about-us/news/blogs/the-power-of-social-connection-your-health-depends-on-it

Shape Your Happiness. (2023, October 25). The Importance of Social Connection and Why You Need It In Your Life. Retrieved from Shape Your Happiness:
https://www.shapeyourhappiness.com/the-importance-of-social-connection-and-why-you-need-it-in-your-life/

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