Healthy relationships and connections with others play a key role in our overall health.
Isolation and loneliness have been shown to negatively impact not just mental and emotional health, but physical health, too. Social isolation is known to increase health problems like inflammation and hypertension, for example.
Unhealthy relationships release stress hormones in the body, which can shrink the hippocampus — the part of the brain responsible for memory — and the amygdala — the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions.
The solution is building social bonds, making time for relationships, and staying connected to friends and family.
Healthy, positive relationships, along with close community bonds, have been shown to have an impact on longevity. They can also help an individual mature, learn and understand who they are as a person.
“Social connectedness,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a feeling of being cared for, valued and supported. It can help cope with stress and build resiliency.
The opportunity to make friends is at its height in elementary school through high school. However, it diminishes in college, and marriage and family life is a time when the emphasis shifts to core family and professional pursuits.
As a person grows older, it’s important to expand the friendship pool, but that can also be challenging when busier schedules and more responsibilities present obstacles. The COVID-19 pandemic and remote working also changed the dynamic of interacting with others.
Building Positive Connections
Making friends takes time. Experts recommend starting small and finding people who lift you up and share your healthy interests. Begin with making acquaintances and move forward slowly. Some opportunities that can help to connect with others who share similar interests include:
• Cultural, spiritual or religious activities.
• Volunteering with organizations of interest.
• Getting outside and exploring nature.
• Book clubs and sports leagues
• Adult education classes
• Parenting groups
• Senior centers