Did you know that your relationships with family, friends, co-workers, and others can impact your health?
It’s true. Your connectedness with others - sometimes referred to as social wellness - is one of many social determinants of health that affect a variety of health and quality-of-life risks. Social wellness is all about nurturing yourself and your relationships. That means being able to give and receive different types of social support. The good news is that by building stronger social ties, you can improve your health, too.
There’s no time like the present to start taking some small steps, especially during July, social wellness month.
Why social wellness is important
Many research studies have shown that your relationships with others affect how you feel on a daily basis, whether you might develop certain diseases over time, and how quickly you can rebound from an illness. In fact, the health risks associated with being alone or isolated in one’s life are comparable to those associated with cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and even obesity. These health risks are present for all age groups, and they steadily increase with age.
For example, did you know that the risk of death among men and women with the fewest social ties was more than twice as high as the risk for adults with the most social ties? In some cases, social wellness can also contribute to the development and progression of cardiovascular disease, cancer, delayed cancer recovery, slower wound healing, and more. It can also affect one’s resilience to stress. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social isolation increases a person’s risk of developing dementia and other serious medical conditions by 50%.
Main types of social support
Social support isn’t just about surrounding yourself with others. It can also take a variety of other forms, such as:
- Emotional support. Emotional support refers to your ability to show care and affection to - and receive care and affection from - other people during a time of need.
- Instrumental support. Instrumental support refers to an actual service or tangible aid that someone provides to you or that you provide to someone else. For example, it might be a family member who takes care of your kids so you can go to work or someone who runs an errand for you when you’re sick. Likewise, it could be mowing someone else’s lawn when a person becomes loses the ability to do so themselves.
- Informational support. Informational support includes access to the information and advice you need to solve problems and take necessary steps toward a happier, healthier life. For example, it could be a co-worker who gives advice on how to deal with a difficult boss or a cancer patient in remission who helps you get through a tough round of chemotherapy.
- Esteem support. Esteem support includes expressions of confidence or encouragement from someone else to let you know they believe in you. This could be a life coach, manager, therapist, teacher, or other role models, for example.
As you can see, at times social wellness can be complex and multi-faceted. However, even ramping up one of these types of support can make a big difference in your overall health and well-being.
5 ways to grow and nurture your relationships
Improving your social wellness starts with nurturing and growing your relationships with others. Consider these five strategies:
- Become active in your community. For example, can you participate in neighborhood events like a park cleanup or creating a community garden?
- Communicate openly. Share your feelings with others, and ask for what you need. Allow others to support you, and do the same for them when they need it. Also, be receptive to their feedback, and use it as an opportunity to foster closeness.
For example, if a loved one asks you to quit smoking so they can spend more time with you without worrying about second-hand smoke, you might want to consider making this life change that can also greatly benefit your health. There are many ways to quit, everyone has their own journey, and you don’t need to do it overnight.
- Join a community. This could be an online community or one that meets in person. Some examples include a group focused on a hobby that you’re interested in, such as reading, hiking, cooking, or jogging.
It could also be a group of like-minded individuals such as working parents, small business owners, or those trying to lose weight. It might even be a group of people trying to quit smoking who can help you figure out whether you’re ready to quit and how to take the first steps.
- Learn something new. For example, consider taking a class in writing, music, or art. You’ll undoubtedly meet new people and expand your social circle while at the same time gaining a new and exciting skill.
- Volunteer. Helping others can go a long way in terms of helping yourself. There may be volunteer opportunities at your school, library, hospital, or place of worship. Your employer may even provide paid time off for you to pursue volunteer opportunities that nourish your social wellness.
And most importantly, remember that, when you improve your social wellness, you improve your health. Even the smallest of steps can make a big difference.
Social wellness is integral
Social wellness is integral to physical and mental health and well-being. What’s one of the best ways to jumpstart your social wellness month efforts? Reduce or quick smoking. Your body and mind will thank you for it.