Social wellness checklist for your healthiest self
People are social creatures by nature. From the time we’re born and all throughout our lives, our relationships help us learn to navigate the world around us. We learn how to interact with others, express ourselves and build community. These connections are fundamental to our growth and development as children, but they remain essential to our overall health and well-being throughout adulthood.
“Social connectedness impacts every part of our lives – how we think, how we feel emotionally and physically, and the choices that we make. When we have stable support systems and feel like we truly belong, we tend to live longer, happier and healthier lives,” says Tracy Clay, Nurse Practitioner at Aspirus Woodruff Clinic – Maple Street.
Social connection can help prevent and improve serious illness and outcomes such as heart disease, stroke, dementia, depression and anxiety. On the other hand, social disconnection puts us at a higher risk for developing these conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with stronger social bonds have a 50 percent increased likelihood of survival than those socially lacking.
Creating and improving social connections can take time. There are no official guidelines or a one-size-fits-all strategy, but these tips from the CDC and National Institutes of Health (NIH) can help:
- Invest time in nurturing your relationships. Make time regularly to visit with those you cherish and be intentional about catching up on each other’s lives.
- Look for ways to get involved with others. Be open to trying something new or seek out spaces where people are sharing in an activity that you already enjoy.
“Join a local community group, take a class, join a gym or volunteer. Putting ourselves out there can be scary, but regular social exchanges can help us build the meaningful relationships we’re looking for,” says Clay.
- Get active together. Being active with others in your community can have a positive effect on your health habits and create opportunities to connect. You can help your community create ways to encourage more physical activity.
- Find ways to be responsive, supportive and grateful to others. Send a card, offer to help a friend move or surprise a loved one with a coffee or sweet treat. Remind those you care about that you’re thinking of them. Lend a helping hand when you are able.
- Bond with your kids. Parents have an important job. Raising kids is both rewarding and challenging. Being sensitive, responsive, consistent and available to your kids can help you build positive, healthy relationships with them. The strong emotional bonds that result help children learn how to manage their own feelings and behaviors and develop self-confidence. Children with strong connections to their caregivers are more likely to be able to cope with life’s challenges.
- Reduce practices that lead to feelings of disconnection from others, such as excessive social media use.
“Technology can trick us into thinking we’re more connected, when it’s actually contributing to increased levels of disconnection, social isolation and feelings of loneliness.” Clay advises putting down the phone for a while and making plans to connect with loved ones face to face, when possible.
- Talk with a health care provider about concerns like stress, loneliness and social isolation.
Clay says, “major stresses and life changes such as a new diagnosis, loss of a loved one, moving to a new city, divorce or retirement can lead to feelings of loneliness and disconnection. Let your doctor know about what you’re experiencing so they can understand the best way to help you.”
July is Social Wellness Month, a time to take stock of the quantity and quality of relationships and social interactions in our lives, while finding ways to improve our social connectedness.