For the past few weeks, we have been celebrating National Mental Health Awareness Month by highlighting ways to foster positive and fulfilling mental health. Yoga, gardening, meditation, and journaling are all excellent ways to bring in joy and inhibit anxieties.
As important as solo self-care rituals are, one of the best, most important, and enriching ways to ensure a positive headspace and alleviate depression or anxieties is spending time with others to connect and bring joy.
According to Time Magazine, “a robust social life can lower stress levels; improve mood; encourage positive health behaviors and discourage damaging ones; boost cardiovascular health; improve illness recovery rates; and aid virtually everything in between.” This means that “a social component can boost the effects of already-healthy behaviors such as exercise.”
“Social connection is a pillar of lifestyle medicine. Humans are wired to connect, and this connection affects our health.” American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine “From psychological theories to recent research, there is significant evidence that social support and feeling connected can help people maintain a healthy body mass index, control blood sugars, improve cancer survival, decrease cardiovascular mortality, decrease depressive symptoms, mitigate posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, and improve overall mental health.”
Why is Social Connection Important?
The society that we live in today is highly individualistic. People are praised for working the hardest, being better than the rest, and living their lives seamlessly. Oftentimes, it feels like a competition on who can do the most, the fastest. This causes people to feel inadequate, loney, and even envious at times.
But, why are we praising solo victories when we could have small victories with people that we love and care about? Life can be a lot more fun when you have someone to share it with…and this is actually backed up by science.
Researchers have found that human connection is a crucial requirement in maintaining a healthy mental health and well-being. Connection is a human need, equally as important as food, water, and shelter. In fact, the human need for connection is literally written into our genetics and ingrained in our evolution.
If we think back to the caveman days, and the earliest recounted history, we can clearly see that humans are social creatures. According to the National Institute of Health, “hunter-gatherer social organization can also be viewed as a social network” where people were reliant on one another for “the exchanges of energy, material, and information.”
Therefore, our brains are genetically wired through evolution to respond positively to social interaction, and research has shown that social isolation and loneliness can have a negative impact on our mental and physical health.
Another aspect of the benefits of a social network is the human need for a sense of belonging. When we have a community of like-minded individuals surrounding us, we have people who will lift us up emotionally, but will also push us to grow in other aspects of our lives, such as knowledge, health, and passions. This sense of community gives us a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives. As mentioned above, life is much more enriching when we have people to share it with.
There is a substantial body of research supporting the positive impact of social connection on mental health. Here are some key findings:
Reduced Risk of Mental Health Disorders: Strong social connections have been associated with a lower risk of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that individuals with greater social support had a decreased likelihood of developing depression.
Improved Mental Well-being: Social connection has been linked to improved mental well-being and higher levels of happiness. Research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found a positive association between social relationships and subjective well-being, indicating that people with stronger social connections tend to report higher life satisfaction and happiness.
Buffering Effect on Stress: Social support can act as a buffer against the negative effects of stress. The presence of supportive relationships can help individuals cope with stressors more effectively and reduce the impact of stress on mental health. A study published in the journal Health Psychology demonstrated that individuals with greater social support experienced lower levels of psychological distress in response to stressful events.
Enhanced Resilience: Social connection plays a role in building resilience, which is the ability to bounce back from adversity. Having supportive relationships and social networks can provide emotional support, guidance, and resources that help individuals better navigate and recover from challenging life circumstances.
Prevention of Loneliness and Isolation: Loneliness and social isolation are associated with negative mental health outcomes. Research suggests that social connection can help prevent and alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation, promoting better mental health. A systematic review published in Perspectives on Psychological Science found a strong association between loneliness and poor mental health outcomes.
Leaders Globally are Working to Bring Connection to a Hybrid Work Force.
Managers are quickly adapting their culture-building efforts for their hybrid workforce, they are refreshing their strategies knowing that an engaged team impacts the bottom line of the business. “We see leaders creating the future they want for their organization.” Doug Platts COO Gardenuity “We have learned all connections don’t have to be in person but we see experienced leaders creating opportunities for personal interactions and engagement.”
As the loneliness epidemic rises growing a company’s ability to create human connection is one of the greatest predictor of success. “We work with leaders globally on how to grow connected in the reality of the hybrid work policies. It is exciting to see conversations move from how many days employees must come into the office to what teams are actually doing on the days they come into the office and how the connections they form move effortlessly from the office to home.”
How to Foster Connection?
Connection can begin with the simplest of gestures like a call to check in or a text wishing someone a good day. In order for our relationships to continue to grow and flourish, it is important to connect regularly, in person or through the phone.
Some of our favorite ways to connect with others to bring joy are…
- Dinner with friends and family
- Movie night with your loved ones
- Exploring a new area of town
- Taking a hike
- Talking to others
- Cooking with friends
- Going on a walk with someone
- Volunteering together
- Attending a comedy show
- Dance lessons with your partner
- Yoga classes with friends
- Build a garden together
No matter what you love to do and who you choose to do it with, activities with people you love will make you feel loved, accepted, belonging, and transfer into a positive mental health space.