The health benefit of social connections

Feel a boost from being with buddies
Humans need humans to survive and thrive. We are social creatures by design, even if we think of ourselves as shy, introverted, or sometimes isolated. “Being a social species has all sorts of advantages,” says neuroscientist and psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett in an article for “We live longer if we have close, supportive relationships with others. “If social connection influences our longevity, it’s because our brain has a way to keep a running tally of our social assets and deficits, something Barrett refers to as our “body budget.” In other words, our brain produces something like a bank statement of our social “capital.” Every day, without being aware of it, we are conducting social transactions with one another – making social deposits and withdrawals in one another’s body budgets.

How can the people you interact with throughout the day have an impact on your brain? Barrett explains:

Your brain changes its wiring after new experiences, a process called plasticity. Microscopic parts of your neurons change gradually every day. Branch-like dendrites become bushier, and their associated neural connections become more efficient. Little by little, your brain becomes tuned and pruned as you interact with others.

In other words, all humans are influenced by others. Says Barrett, “Your family, friends, and even strangers contribute to the structure and function of your brain and help it keep your body humming along.”

The very words we exchange can impact our health as well. “If you raise your voice or just your eyebrow, you can affect what goes on inside other peoples’ bodies,” says Barrett. That’s because the region of the brain that processes language also controls major organs and systems that manage your body budget. Barrett describes:

The power of words is not a metaphor; it’s in our brain wiring. Words, then, are tools for regulating human bodies. Other peoples’ words have a direct effect on your brain activity and your bodily systems, and your words have that same effect on other people. Whether you intend that effect is irrelevant. It’s how we’re wired.

Our social connections can also alter how our next trip to the doctor might go, according to research published in the National Library of Medicine.

The study, The Connection Prescription, says our social lives can impact health issues as varied as weight management, diabetes, cancer, and depression. According to the study, “Some psychiatrists go so far as to compare social connection to vitamins: Just as we need vitamin C each day, we also need a dose of the human moment – positive contact with other people.”

The link between maintaining our social connections and our physical health is clear, according to the study. Specific correlations require further research, but the study concluded that doctors should consider asking patients about the quantity and quality of their social connectedness during routine checkups.

The study puts forth that “connecting with friends and family, with whom a person has a good relationship, is recommended on a daily – or at least once a week – basis. This could be a phone call, a [video] call, or a face-to-face interaction. Experiencing a sense of belonging to a group is also beneficial and engaging in group activities once a week or at least once a month is a good place to start.”

It’s heartening to know that our relationships can bring a sense of fun, and also energize us and boost our overall health.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

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It’s never too late to rekindle a relationship from your past. Try these tips.

4 steps for building social skills

Improving your social skills is worth practicing. And you can work to feel more comfortable socially by starting small. Take baby steps toward being more confident and social, then build on those successes. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Smile at someone you pass on the street.
  • Compliment someone you encounter during your day.
  • Ask someone a casual question (at a restaurant, for example: “Have you been here before? How’s the steak?”)
  • Chat with a friendly cashier, receptionist, waiter, or salesperson.


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