Why are our social relationships so important for our mental health?

By Sally Evans

People love people. It is natural for us to want to interact, communicate, maintain and build healthy relationships. And if this is true, then any lack of social interaction is likely to cause many harmful effects on our well-being. In this blog, we want to share how connection to other people is so helpful for our mental health and its importance in our lives. We also offer some tips on what we can practically do to increase our level of social interaction.

Social relationships; a source of help for depression. 

We all know that depression and anxiety are on the increase. It is understood that depression is due to an imbalance of serotonin and other chemicals in the brain. In order to address this, we also know that many are turning to pharmaceuticals and quite often our doctors don’t really offer anything else. The waiting list to see a talking therapist can often be long.

But pharmaceuticals can have quite a few side effects like fatigue, drowsiness, constipation, blurred vision etc. What we now know, is there is another way to fight against depression and it’s been scientifically proven to be reliable. Several peer reviewed studies claim that the risk of depression is high when individuals lack social support or have poor quality relationships within the family or at their workplace.

Social relationships are at the core of all bonding. Those who have high social support and good quality relationships with others seem to be happier, contented, and have much better emotional and physical health. The social relationships enjoyed by many, also increase one’s problem-solving abilities, hence, many are better able to cope with daily life challenges and stresses better.

Adverse effects of disconnection with others.

There is a strong relationship between social support, and physical and psychological health. There are number of studies showing evidence that people who have social support whether at home or at workplace have better physical and emotional health than those who have fewer resources. The social relationship offers an outlet – sharing and expressing your feelings with a friend or colleague is a form of therapy. In return, we may get empathy, ideas, support and we may feel listened to and valued. The danger is that sometimes, when we are really low, we may have a tendency to withdraw from others, and this can often be the worst thing we can do for our emotional health.

Importance of social interactions.

At the end of the day, we all human beings and what makes us human, is our ability to connect with others and show empathy and understanding. The feeling of being close to someone, at the very least is a distraction to our low mood but at its best, make us feel special and our social relationships can help us with our confidence. The scientific evidence is now overwhelming and so much so, that the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises that social interactions have a positive impact on individuals dealing constructively with life problems. Even, simple communication with someone you like and respect, is believed to have a pleasant, uplifting effect on our mood.

Ways to increase social interaction.

There are some simple ways that can help us to increase social interaction and become physically and emotionally healthier.

1. Showing respect to others – acknowledging people in the street.

2. Choose to use small gestures throughout the day, such as saying thanks to others.

3. Increasing your eye contact and body language; smiling outwardly. 

4. Encourage others to talk about themselves and what is going on in their lives.

5. Trying to help others with seemingly small tasks.

6. Giving positive reviews verbally to others and offering positive feedback when you get great service.

7. Joining a class or group of volunteers for something you are interested in. 

Restrict your social media!

Social media is a great way of staying in touch with what is happening, but we need to be so careful not to overuse it. Too much scrolling the photos of celebs and perfect families, can find us ‘comparing and despairing’! We know that over attention to social media, is being linked with really unhealthy emotional behaviours such as narcissistic behavior, loneliness, depression, and anxiety. The fear of missing out (FOMO), can cause a real adverse effect on our self-esteem too.

So next time you are feeling low, check in with yourself. When was the last time you spent quality time with someone (a real person!); having a laugh; interacting in an interested way? When was the last time you did a small kindness for someone else? Getting out and having some ‘social’ time will really make a difference to your emotional health and take your mind off you’re your own troubles for a while. Go on, try it.

Sally is the Founder of LifeBuddy. She is an Organisational Development consultant and is a Practitioner with the Association for Business Psychology.