The Health Science of Connection

How do we live longer, happier, healthier lives? We’ve been trained since early childhood to understand this is attained by exercising and having a healthy balanced diet. While this understanding is part of the picture, there’s an even greater detriment that leads to overall good health: social connection.

by | Jan 18, 2022

Social connection is becoming increasingly important as mental health issues have become a growing global concern over the last decade that has risen dramatically due to the pandemic. As a result, we’re now experiencing a loneliness epidemic.

What is Social Connection?

Social connection is feeling close and connected to others. It’s the extent to which we engage with the important people in our lives that gives us a sense of belonging. People feel connectedness through meaningful interactions – focusing on the quality of connections. 

The Link Between Social Connection & Mental health 

Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives.” – Harvard Gazette 

An 80-year study by Harvard found a strong association between happiness and close relationships like spouses, family, friends, and social circles. With respect to mental health and living longer, the study found the role of genetics and long-lived ancestors proved less important than the level of satisfaction with relationships. 

Other studies on the science of social connection have shown that we perceive the world around us differently when we’re more socially connected. For example, consider a person who is going through a tough time and how the absence of receiving support from another person can make it more challenging to endure, triggering anxiety and stress for example. Conversely, a person who is receiving support, i.e. being offered help, advice, or just having someone to talk through your situation with you, triggers the release of stress-reducing hormones thus releasing emotional distress.

The effects of social connection extend to both the giver and receiver. When you’re able to share a vulnerable experience in this way it, in turn, strengthens the trust with the person giving the support, creating space for them to feel more comfortable sharing a vulnerable experience. However, the relationship has to be regularly maintained to develop a deeper connection for sharing in this way.

Shared Values for Longer, Healthier Lives

Strong social connections can increase the likelihood of adopting better health habits from the influence of other people. People tend to take on a responsibility and concern for the people they care about where the giver may influence healthy habits by regularly providing a model or shared experience. Even when trying to adopt healthier habits, support received from a social connection supplies encouragement and accountability. 

We Are Wired for Connection

There’s also neurological evidence linked to the need for social connections in our lives. There are three neural networks within the brain that promote social connection where we process pain, pleasure, emotions, behavior, and absorb our beliefs and values. When we learn something new, this part of the brain is triggered to connect these influences to the people we know and how to convey the information to them, helping us retain the information better. 

Additional evidence has been found from the release of oxytocin that occurs through physical connection between two people, such as holding hands or hugging. Oxytocin works in unison with our neurotransmitter responsible for mood regulation which releases serotonin and dopamine to create feelings of pleasure.

Social Isolation & Connection

Today, we’re experiencing first-hand how the absence of social connection can negatively impact our health due to our lives drastically changing from the pandemic outbreak. When most of the world transitioned to virtual classrooms and working from home due to social isolation, our day-to-day interactions with the people that matter the most fell to the wayside. It created distance between long-distance and even local relationships. While social isolation helped alleviate one public health problem, it exacerbated another — the decline of mental health. 

In February of 2021, Harvard conducted a national survey on loneliness to understand how the pandemic has deepened the epidemic of loneliness. The survey found that 36% of all Americans — including 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children—feel “serious loneliness.” Of those who reported serious loneliness, 50% reported that they wished someone would ask them how they’re doing in a genuine way. The negative health effects posed by these results have the potential to cause early mortality, depression, anxiety, heart disease, substance abuse, and domestic abuse. 

Maintaining Good Health with Social Connection

Social connection has many health benefits with studies showing that it reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and lowers risk of heart disease and dementia. However, a strong social support network is required for social connection to occur.

Building Social Support Network 

A strong social support network is built by regularly maintaining the relationships with the people that matter most in your life. It’s both the giving and receiving of support that is built on vulnerability, trust, empathy, and an overall sense of care toward the other person’s well-being. It’s not something that naturally occurs between two people which is different from experiencing a sense of “clicking” with another person or by default of someone being a family member. It takes making an intentional shift in your relationships where there’s a mutual agreement about connecting regularly to share life experiences with each other in an authentic way – more about how you’re doing, not what you’re doing. 

About Fabriq

Build Better Social Habits

Fulfilling relationships are scientifically proven to keep you happy and healthy — boosting your immunity and longevity. When you prioritize the people that matter most, even when life gets full, you naturally show up better for them and yourself.

Science-backed and the first of its kind, Fabriq is designed to improve your social health and make building better social habits easy, so you can focus on what (and who) really matters.

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