Are you socially well?

July 25, 2016 | by Laura Setlur, M.D.

When was the last time you took an afternoon to bond with friends or family?

And I don’t mean sitting next to a friend on the couch while you’re both glued to a television show or scrolling through your phones. I mean activities such as going out for lunch, taking a walk, or attending a baseball game together.

The people we keep close – good friends and family – play an important role in our health.

Sure, healthy living requires annual check-ups with your doctor, healthy food and exercise. But our  physical health is also affected by the friendships we maintain.

Studies have found that social relationships can also affect mental health, and even affect mortality risk. The health consequences of feeling lonely include depression, elevated blood pressure, impaired immune function, and heart disease to name a few.

Social connection is important. Good news! You can improve your social wellness just as you can improve your physical wellness.

The American Psychological Association offers some great suggestions for improving your social wellness by growing and strengthening your social support network:

  • Start the conversation.  Make the plans. Often people expect others to reach out to them, and then feel rejected when people don’t go out of their way to do so. To get the most out of your social relationships, you have to make an effort. Make time for friends and family. Reach out to lend a hand or just say hello. If you’re there for others, they’ll be more likely to be there for you.
  • Befriend a variety of people.  When it comes to your social supports, one size doesn't fit all. You may not have someone you can confide in about everything — and that’s okay. Maybe you have a colleague you can talk to about problems at work, and a neighbor who lends an ear when you have difficulties with your kids. Look to different relationships for different kinds of support.
  • Get texting!  It’s nice to sit down with a friend face-to-face, but it isn't always possible. Luckily, technology makes it easier than ever before to stay connected with loved ones far away. Write an email, send a text message or make a date for a video chat. Don’t rely too heavily on digital connections, however. Some research suggests that face-to-face interactions are most beneficial.
  • Find people who share your interests.  You’re more likely to connect with people who like the things you like. Join a club, sign up for a class or take on a volunteer position that will allow you to meet others who share your interests. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t make friends overnight. Try to enjoy the experience as you get to know others over time.
  • Hone your skills.  If you feel awkward in social situations or don’t know what to say, try asking simple questions about the other person to get the ball rolling. It can be less intimidating to get to know others over shared activities — such as a bike ride or a knitting class — rather than just hanging out and talking.
  • Join a group. If you lack a strong support network and aren’t sure where to start, there are resources you can turn to. Places of worship, senior and community centers, local libraries, refugee and immigrant groups, neighborhood health clinics and local branches of national organizations such as Catholic Charities or the YMCA/YWCA may be able to help you identify services, support groups and other programs in your community.

The bottom line is that we all need friends and family. They help us enjoy life and they get us through the rough patches. They keep you healthy driven!

How have your friends helped you? What’s your favorite family activity? Share with us in the comments!

Looking for something different to do with your friends? Try a Healthy Driven Challenge!

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