Rockliffe Hall's Wellbeing Manager Peter Bell shares his advice on the importance of social connections.

Social connections are central to our mental wellbeing, humans from the beginning of time relied on one another for survival. The world we live in is very different from the beginning of time, there is without doubt a higher need for social connection as technology connects us more than ever with relative ease to people all over the world.

Studies have shown that very happy people are highly social and tend to have strong relationships, children with a richer network of connections grow up to be happier adults and that socialising is one of the most positive everyday activities.

Researchers who specialise in social connection concluded that a deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to belong. When those needs are not met, we struggle to function mentally and physically and that the root of our desires is a need to belong, to be accepted and connected with others.

Lack of social connection risks to wellbeing 

  • Low social connection has been generally associated with declines in physical and psychological health as well as high propensity to demonstrate antisocial behaviour that can lead to further isolation.
  • A landmark survey showed that lack of social connectedness predicts vulnerability to disease and death above and beyond traditional risk factors such as smoking, alcohol misuse and lack of physical activity.
  • Because our physical and mental health are intertwined, when one goes down this affects another, therefore this supports research in their claims that the more stressed we are the more our immune system becomes depressed, therefore the more likely we are to get illnesses and diseases and struggle with recovery.
  • There is an old saying “as we age, we become more grumpier and nit pickers, (serial complainers) however there is scientific validity in why this does occur. Generally, as we start moving into our older years we become more socially disconnected, this can lead to a release of negative hormones due to underlying stress/mild depression, which in turn effects our mood and behaviour.
  • Isolation is one of the key factors that can lead to depression. Studies have shown that the stress hormone cortisol which lowers our mood can drip feed constantly into our body, therefore over a prolonged period of time increasing the risk of taking us into a depressive state. This can also increase blood pressure.

How social connection improves your wellbeing

  • Research has shown that people who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression. When we connect in a positive context, this puts us in a state of elation, therefore we release hormones such as endorphins into our body, which calms us and puts us into a happy state.
  • It has been proven from many studies that people who have good social connections have higher self-esteem, are more empathic to others, more trusting, and cooperative, therefore generating a positive feedback loop of social, emotional, and physical wellbeing.
  • Social connection strengths our immune system according to research by Steve Cole, he demonstrates that genes impacted by social connection also code for immune function and inflammation, which helps us recover from disease faster, and may even lengthen our life.
  • Connecting with people is great for brain health, helping to keep the mind active, discussing current affairs, debating about issues, having/being a sympathetic ear, helps keep the mind agile, improves cognitive function and can help prevent mental decline and reduce the risk of dementia.

Social connection does not just include family and friends, this can be acquaintances who you meet through various recreational group activities or the workplace. Leisure facilities are great places to chat and build acquaintances/friendships with people who enjoy social interaction. However, it is important to be mindful that interacting with negative, judgemental, critical, and unsympathetic people can reverse the positive affects social connection has on your mental wellbeing.

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