We all function as part of society — whether we classify ourselves as introverted or extroverted — and within that society, we learn, grow, work, and dream. The truth is, we choose which societies we want to interact with, which communities and groups of people we belong to, and those choices we make shape the core of our personal identities.
So what does this mean if we distance ourselves from everyone and every community that we could be a part of? Well, we lose out on those core shaping ideas and concepts that help us to define our own identities and we end up feeling lost, alone, and oftentimes, unhappy with life.
For as long as history is recorded, humans have lived, traveled, hunted, and simply existed together. We are inherently social creatures who have developed, over time, incredible technologies — like pens and paper, telephones, and video meeting apps — to help us stay connected with people who are separated from us by location. When we feel a part of a group, we are much more likely to be productive and overall more satisfied with life.
Maintaining our connections is incredibly important no matter where we are or what we are doing. But in a world where we have all just spent long periods of time locked up in our own homes without being able to see friends, family, colleagues, or even the barista at the local coffee shop who knows your coffee order, we could all use a little help getting our social connections back on track. In this piece, we’re going to dive into what makes social connections important for us as humans, some risks that can come from isolating ourselves, and some ways that you can start nurturing those connections again.
Why are Social Connections Important?
As we mentioned above, the social interactions and connections we have play a big role in determining our own identities. We rely on these connections to help us form not only our views of ourselves but also our views of the world around us and the people in it. We thrive in supportive communities and wither in communities that shun or alienate us.
Good-quality social connections can do a lot for our overall mental and even physical health. According to Psychology Today, having these connections allows our minds and bodies to feel more secure and can help to create a positive feedback loop of both mental and physical well-being.
Here are a few examples of the benefits that social connections can bring with them:
- Feeling a sense of belonging
- Satisfaction with life
- Feeling supported by others
- Finding a purpose
- Higher self-esteem
- More trusting of others
- Living a longer life
- Experience more empathy towards others
- Decreased risk of suicide
- Decreased risk of depression and anxiety
Whether you are able to cultivate social connections in person or not, it is incredibly important to ensure that you are making efforts to continue connecting with others. With all of the amazing advances in technology over the past decades, it is easier than ever to stay in contact with friends, family, and other loved ones without physically seeing them.
So, now that we have looked into the benefits of meaningful social connections, let’s dive into the risks of forgoing these connections.
The Risks of Social Isolation
If quality social connections are a key part of maintaining our mental and physical health, then wouldn’t ignoring those connections negatively affect our overall well-being? Yes, it would. And the truth is that forgoing social connections does actually negatively impact our health. One study found an increase in the risk of devastating health issues — such as cognitive decline, depression, infection, and more — for people who lack good social connections in their lives.
Some of the risks associated with a lack of meaningful social connections include:
- Higher risk for depression and anxiety
- Higher stress levels
- Increased inflammation
- Higher risk of disease
- Delayed recovery from illnesses
- Higher rates of morbidity and mortality
- Increased cognitive decline
As you can see by this (non-comprehensive) list, there are both physical and mental health repercussions to long-term or chronic social isolation in people, and to combat these negative effects and increased risks, one must ensure that they are seeking the healthy social connections they need.
But how exactly are you supposed to know what these needed connections are? Well, there are actually a few different kinds of social connections that we need to thrive, so let’s dive into those next.
The Kinds of Social Connections
There are three kinds of social connections that we can have with people: intimate, relational, and collective. The truth is, we need to nurture healthy relationships in all three of these categories to ensure that we are living happy and healthy lives. So, before you can answer whether or not you feel you have healthy relationships in all three of these categories, we need to know what exactly they mean.
First up is intimate connections. These are your relationships with your family and friends — the people who love and care about you. These are the relationships that most of us think of when we are asked if we feel we have healthy relationships with others.
Second is relational connections. Relational connections are like your relationships with your classmates, colleagues, or any other people that you regularly interact with. Essentially, these are the “acquaintance” relationships that we nurture each day we interact with these people — even if it is not on our minds.
And third, we have collective connections. These connections are often overlooked because they are often much less individual or overtly personal. These are connections with the larger communities or groups you identify with. For example, this type of connection could be with people who share your faith, area of study, voting preferences, or other more broad subjects like these.
How to Meet New People
Luckily for all of us wanting to get some more social connections (especially after the forced isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic), humans are social creatures. We all want to interact with people who share our interests and care about us. But it can be difficult to put yourself out there and find situations that enable you to build these social connections — especially if you are naturally more introverted than extroverted.
Now, we’re not saying that all introverts need to become extreme social butterflies to stay happy and healthy, but as human beings, we do need to avoid outright isolation, whether it is self-imposed or societally imposed.
So, here are some ways that you can branch out and encourage more social connections of all kinds:
- Take a class
- Join a club
- Call an old friend
- Volunteer somewhere
- Eat your lunch in a public space
- Introduce yourself to your neighbor
- Compliment someone
- Get a penpal
- Look for social opportunities
Starting with some of these tips can be a great way to introduce (or re-introduce) yourself to the process of creating meaningful social connections with others. However, we recognize that some of these practices — or even most of them — can seem incredibly intimidating, especially after the years of outwardly-imposed isolation that we’ve had to face because of the COVID-19 virus.
Just know that you do not have to go through this process of finding ways to connect to others on your own. If you’re having trouble with trying out these ideas or you simply would like more individual guidance on how to meet new people and nurture your relationships with others, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow. Whether you’re wanting to schedule a session with one of our therapists or you’ve just got a question or two you’d like answered, we’re happy to hear from you!