Four Surprising Benefits of Social Wellness
What does wellness mean to you? We believe wellness encompasses more than eating right and exercising. While these are important parts, if we rush through meals or stress over numbers and benchmarks at the gym, the purpose is defeated. Intertwined are subtle feelings of joy, a patient sustainability, and the support of and for others that paint a more encompassing picture, a state of being well.
As such, we will be doing a series discussing some of these lesser considered components of wellness, starting with social wellness. This is the idea that our social interactions and connections with our friends and family, both in person and online, can contribute to our health. Recent scientific investigations have shown that “social relationships affect a range of health outcomes, including mental health, physical health, health habits, and mortality risk.”  People with healthy relationships and strong social circles:
- Live longer
- Respond better to stress and so have great heart health
- Recover better from illnesses they may already suffer from
- Are less depressed and less likely to develop unhealthy addictions
Let’s look closer at each of these social wellness benefits.
1. Living Longer
Although social wellness is a lesser known aspect of health, its importance is high. A mass of data conducted over almost a decade shows that those with healthy social ties live longer than those with poorer relationships. Specifically, “data across 308,849 individuals, followed for an average of 7.5 years, indicate that individuals with adequate social relationships have a 50% greater likelihood of survival compared to those with poor or insufficient social relationships. The magnitude of this effect is comparable with quitting smoking and it exceeds many well-known risk factors for mortality (e.g., obesity, physical inactivity).”  This means that the risk of dying from a lack of quality social relationships is the same as the risk of dying from smoking. Yikes!
Other studies confirm these findings. “Substantial evidence now indicates that individuals lacking social connections (both objective and subjective social isolation) are at risk for premature mortality.”  Additionally, “Negative health outcomes have been consistently identified for single and divorced persons.”  Most concerning of all is that “less socially integrated people were more likely to commit suicide than the most integrated.”  While the next meal and workout directly determine longevity, the lens of social wellness gives some understanding of people’s motivation, or lack thereof, for eating healthy or taking care of their bodies in the first place “Social support means supports as help, advice that is exchanged through social relationships. Social support has been consid- ered to be a buffer for stress generated in social life Social support means supports as help, advice that is exchanged through social relationships. Social support has been consid- ered to be a buffer for stress generated in social life.
2. Handling Stress
An important part of social wellness is support groups. “Social support means supports as help, advice that is exchanged through social relationships. Social support has been considered to be a buffer for stress generated in social life.”  Social support groups can be made up of family, friends, or even coworkers. What’s amazing here is that it’s the exchange, both the giving and receiving or support, that gives benefits. Another study also “showed giving support was related to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Interestingly, those who reported giving more support also reported getting more support.”  Conversely, “research demonstrating that both social isolation and nonsupportive social interactions can result in lower immune function and higher neuroendocrine and cardiovascular activity.”  In other words, venting is scientifically proven to increase our health. While support groups are ideal for such disclosure, sometimes we may not have access to true confidants, or are just not comfortable telling others about our frustrations. In these cases, journaling can be a great alternative to still benefits.
See our article The Key to Journaling for Health to learn more about the benefits of journaling. .
3. Illness Recovery
The advantages of social support groups go beyond just handling stress. They help mitigate and, in some cases, reverse diseases. For instance, “large social network sizes predicted longevity among those with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)-defining symptoms.”  The power of such groups even can help those with terminal diseases. “The finding of increased survival among parents with more children and a partner supports the importance of social support in mediating survival, similar to findings for persons with other terminal or chronic diseases.”  In all cases, the emotional ties provided by these social groups have been identified as an important aspect in fighting illnesses. “The emotional support provided by primary network members was a critical factor explaining the relationship between indicators of social relationship and mortality.” 
4. Addiction Resistance
Many studies have found that rats held in isolation are more likely to turn to addictive behaviors. One study showed that “rearing rat pups from weaning in isolation, to prevent social contact with conspecifics, produces reproducible, long-term changes including; neophobia, impaired sensorimotor gating, aggression, cognitive rigidity, reduced prefrontal cortical volume and decreased cortical and hippocampal synaptic plasticity.”  These changes strongly resemble the early signs of developing schizophrenia. Additionally, “isolated animals display increases in food, sucrose and drug intake and in drug-induced hyperlocomotion, associated with elevated basal and drug-induced dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens, the major projection target of VTA dopamine neurons.”  Other studies confirm, “isolation rearing produces enduring changes in the sensitivity of dopamine-mediated functions in amygdala-striatal circuitry that may be directly related to the altered reinforcing properties of cocaine and other psychomotor stimulants.”  If socially isolated rats are more likely to become depressed and develop addictive behaviors to drugs, people without strong social support systems are also at risk. And while campaigns like ‘this is your brain on drugs’ can help inform those looking at recreational use of the consequences of their decision but does nothing to address the larger susceptible population of depressed, lonely, and stressed out people. Social wellness and connection, then, is preventative medicine for combating addictive behavior.
The most common way to have social wellness needs met is via face to face and real time interaction with others. So, with these four benefits of social wellness in mind, go out and reconnect with that friend you haven’t spoken to in a long while. Stay in touch with family. Make new friends. Strengthen the bonds you have. Join some social support groups. Be Well.
In our busy lives, though, we may not have the luxury of having time for such interactions. Via social media, however, we can still obtain this vital aspect of wellness.
To find out how, see our article Using Social Media: Is it therapeutic?.
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