Social connection can help boost your mood and manage your emotions.
Through the years, we’ve thrived as a species by connecting with others. Whether we were hunting for meat, gathering berries, or traveling in stagecoaches — we did it together in social groups.
It’s this human connection that has advanced our world from gathering and hunting for our food to shopping for it in grocery stores.
But with the rise of digital interactions, we’ve also seen an increase in loneliness.
We no longer meet for drinks after work or gather with our friends for game or movie nights. Meetings and social gatherings are now done virtually. We celebrate the events in our lives with a heart or thumbs-up emoji.
In 2019, before the pandemic, 3 in 5 Americans reported being lonely. After the pandemic, this number increased, particularly among young people.
The proposed reason for this rise in loneliness is lack of social interaction and support from our peers and poor mental health.
Simply put: We need human connection. Connecting with others on a physical and emotional level can improve our health and overall well-being.
Human connection is the sense of closeness and belongingness a person can experience when having supportive relationships with those around them.
Connection is when two or more people interact with each other and each person feels valued, seen, and heard. There’s no judgment, and you feel stronger and nourished after engaging with them.
Human connection can be a chat over coffee with a friend, a hug from a partner after a long day, or a hike in the woods with a family member.
Connecting with someone doesn’t have to always include words, either. Time spent in relative closeness and experience can also be a bonding experience.
Our day-to-day lives are busy. We spend our days balancing between endless meetings, school activities, and family responsibilities. On top of that, we try to squeeze in exercise and running errands.
This leaves us with no time to connect. In a world of more virtual interactions than physical, human connection is now more important than ever.
Here are some benefits to social connection.
Mental health boost
Social connections can offer a number of mental health benefits, such as boosting mood, reducing stress, and improving self-esteem.
A 2018 study led by researchers with the American Cancer Society (ACS) examined data from more than 580,000 adults and found that social isolation can contribute to depression, insomnia, and cognitive decline.
Other research suggests that social isolation can increase chances of death by at least 50%. A lack of human connection was found to be more harmful than even obesity and smoking.
Improved quality of life
Loneliness has been shown to impact not only our physical health but our emotional health, too.
The same 2018 study conducted by the researchers from ACS also found that lack of social connection may be associated with obesity, heart disease, and smoking. Another study linked social isolation to up to a 30% increased chance of stroke and heart disease.
A 2015 study found that social isolation might also be associated with lowered immune system, making you more vulnerable to viruses and disease.
When we reconnect with friends, whether that’s through a quick phone call or on a nature hike, we can go through a multitude of emotions. We’re either laughing, crying, or venting.
When we express these emotions, our brains release dopamine and endorphins — the “feel good” neurotransmitters responsible for happiness and mood.
Social connection can look different for everyone. If you’re an introvert, it might be overwhelming trying to find ways to be more social.
If you’re not sure where to start, try some of these tips.
- Consider volunteering at a nonprofit organization near you. Helping others is a rewarding way to build friendships and connect with others.
- Consider joining a local group, like a book club or hiking group, that meets regularly. Routine interaction is a great way to get comfortable with socializing and getting to know others.
- Try to find an engaging activity in your area and consider signing up. Common interests are a great way to bond and form relationships.
- When engaging in conversations, try to actively listen. The more interest you display, the more genuine you’ll come across. Try to ask questions, so the other person knows you’re listening.
- When you enroll in a class or are scheduled to meet for a bike ride, try to avoid canceling. Doing this repeatedly can only delay connecting and engage with others.
- Try to get more physical. Regardless of the type of relationship, a hug can go a long way. Touch can deepen our relationship bonds (as long as the other person is willing of course).
It’s never too late to engage in human connection. The benefits can have a lasting impact on your mood and stress levels.
If thinking about joining a group or starting a discussion with a stranger gives you extreme anxiety, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. They can work with you on strategies that may help you manage your responses to triggering thoughts and events.
Support groups may also be a beneficial first step toward connectedness. Knowing you aren’t alone and others also have trouble cultivating relationships can improve your outlook on forming connections in the future.
Also, support groups are a great way to learn coping strategies and gather suggestions about different ways to connect with others.
Remember that not everyone has to connect socially in the same way. If you’re more introverted, hanging out with a group of people may not be your thing. Try to find a way to connect that fits you and your unique lifestyle.