In a time when many of us are feeling more disconnected than ever, it’s becoming increasingly clear just how important social connection really is. Connection with others is an innate aspect of being human. We don’t just need each other to thrive; we need each other to survive.
What happens when our connection to others begins to wane? Our mental and physical health begins to suffer. Get this: some research shows that a lack of social connection can be more dangerous to health than smoking (this is not to say that we recommend smoking).
The impacts on the mind and our mental health are equally serious. People who don’t feel a strong social connection to others are more prone to anxiety and depression than those who do. They’re also inclined to engage in increased antisocial behavior which can ultimately cause further isolation from others.
Needless to say, staying connected to others is vital to our mental wellbeing. While loneliness and lack of social connection can cause some serious upset, staying socially connected has shown to have exactly the opposite effect.
How Connection Improves Mental Health and Improves Wellbeing
In 1938, scientists started following the health of Harvard sophomores in what would become one of the world’s largest studies on adult health and happiness. For almost 80 years, researchers have looked at participants’ health, as well as other aspects of their lives including achievements and disappointments in both career and marriage.
They discovered that those with the strongest social connections were the happiest and healthiest. According to the study, it’s close connections with others that make us happy throughout our lifetimes. In fact, social connection could be one of the biggest influences on our mental health.
“Personal connection creates mental and emotional stimulation, which are automatic mood boosters,” says study director Robert Waldinger, psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School. Isolation, he says, is a mood “buster.”
Just how much does social connection improve our mental health? Quite a bit, actually. Check it out.
Our social connections are our lifeblood. Connection with others gives life meaning, increases our happiness, and significantly reduces stress. Did you know the risk of depression is significantly higher among people who don’t have quality connection with other people? Not only can connection to others decrease the risk of depression, it can also decrease the risk of self harm.
Here’s something: If you’re suffering in the self-esteem department, positive connection with others could help. In a recently published study, researchers discovered that positive social relationships, social acceptance and social support all aided in the development of self-esteem in individuals throughout their lifetime from the ages of 4-76. The reverse was also true, meaning self-esteem led to improved social connection with others. Like lack of connection, low self-esteem is linked to its own mental health issues.
Reduced Feelings of Loneliness
It might seem obvious, but strong social connections can significantly reduce feeling lonely, and loneliness can be extremely damaging to both mental and physical health. In 2017, former Surgeon General, Vivek Murphy wrote, “During my years of caring for patients the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes, it was loneliness.” Vivek maintains that “loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduced lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
Mentally, loneliness can be equally as damaging. Experts say that loneliness is deeply connected to a host of negative repercussions on mental health, suggesting that loneliness is the social equivalent of physical pain, hunger, and thirst. Research shows loneliness is connected with impaired cognitive function, cognitive decline over time, personality disorders, depression, an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and more.
The relationship between connection and mental health is clear. Without maintaining connection with others, we become but a shadow of ourselves. Whether maintaining and nurturing the relationships in our lives in person, or virtually when we can’t physically be with those we love, keeping connected can be a serious boost for our mental health and general overall wellbeing.