Evaluate your community big picture. Home life, work, church, sports, school, etc. Where do you have safe and secure relationships? Which areas of life do you have the best ones? Where could you be more intentional?
Social health is commonly defined as your ability to form meaningful relationships with other people and interact in healthy, positive ways. The way you connect to the people around you, adapt to different social situations, and experience a sense of belonging all contribute to your social health.
Why It Matters
Social health is important enough that the World Health Organization includes it in their definition of health: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” That’s because having meaningful relationships with other people can reduce stress and provide a sense of security that promotes good emotional health.
Research has shown that social health also impacts your physical health. According to this article, people who have less social involvement are more likely to experience drastic health problems than those who experience more social involvement. The article suggests that “supportive social ties may trigger physiological sequelae (e.g., reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones) that are beneficial to health.” That’s why it’s so important to consider your social health as part of your overall wellbeing!
Researchers are finding that persistent loneliness and social isolation should be given the same attention as chronic illness with respect to mortality. They have discovered that one of the most important predictors of longevity is a feeling of social connectedness. Importantly, this feeling of connectedness can be actual or perceived, highlighting the effect of mindset on overall health. Ultimately, the isolating influence of excessive internet use may do more than distract a person from “real life”—it could potentially rob one of years of life.
As human beings, our most compelling need is for connection. Clinical evidence and research in neuroscience and social science reveals the unambiguous benefits of working in groups and having safe and secure connections with others. Through the research, the clearer picture that emerges is of a species biology driven to work together and share the load leveraging strong relationships for mutual benefit.
“Relationship science.” 7 Decades of research on adult attachment show that, as human beings, not only are we hardwired to be in a group but, more specifically, we also need to have safe and secure connections on a personal or intimate basis.
“The dominant ecology for the human being is other human beings.” Dr. James Coan
Embedded in our genome (and the approximately 20,000 genes it harbors) is a shared hunger to have social connection. Human beings, it turns out, are herd animals, hardwired all the way down to the cellular level to have safe and secure connections with others. These others help ensure our survival by scanning for mutual threats, sharing the workload, and helping to defend against predators.
It is interesting that well a substantially part of literature stresses our differences (personality types, behavioral, decision-making styles, etc.), what turns out to be much more important is what we have in common – the need for safe and secure connections.
Humans…fare poorly both mentally and physically, especially when they perceive they are socially isolated. In other words, it isn’t being ensconced in the crowd that delivers the neural nutriment, it is the felt experience of safe and secure connections that are real and readily available. Social Baseline Theory: the brain not only functions more effectively in a prosocial environment, but it assumes it is in one already. The shorthand version is this: We are hard-wired at birth to have safe and secure connections with others. And it’s been proven that those who socialized in clans, groups, and tribes had significantly higher rates of survival.
Our human nervous systems are wired for connection with one another and when we don’t get connection, especially in a moment of need, the body suffers…physically. We are distressed, we hurt, and, as research supports, some of us die. The science behind adult attachment clearly establishes that without safe and secure relationships, we become “emotionally isolated”. Being disconnected from others takes a toll. Emotional isolation is devastating to the human nervous system.
The percentage of Americans who say they are isolated has doubled since the 1980s from 20 to 40%. Emotional isolation can disrupt sleep patterns, increases stress hormones, and raises the risk of stroke by 32% and heart disease by 29%. A pervasive sense of being alone and isolated with no hope can actually trigger the immune system to stop doing it’s work. It has been labeled a public health hazard and in Psychology Today magazine it is referred to as the “modern plague”.
Social Health as it connects to our Physical Health:
Our health absolutely is influenced by the degree of social connectiveness that we experience. What is our social capital? How do we measure that? Social isolation is indeed very common, especially in urban environments, and is associated with risks for some really bad other issues like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, weight gain, coronary artery disease, to name just a few.
So our health depends on our ability and our efforts to interact with other human beings in the best way that we can. When we become more locked in to the amygdala, we become more isolated and that has health consequences. These days, we’re seeing anger, self-interest, and lack of empathy being played out on a global scale like never before.
This constant fanning of the flames of fear and anger that is part of our world we don’t have to choose to make it part of our world…but we do! Based upon what we see on the evening news or for those who are on the news 24/7 watching their social media, watching their newsfeeds on their computers, this continues to enhance our connection just to this fear area of the brain, the amygdala, and powerfully augments, enhances our sense of being stressed. So our levels of cortisol, the stress hormone cortisol, go up. And that has profound consequences on us. It leads to things like not being able to deal with sugar appropriately, it compromises our immune systems, and enhances inflammation.
Inflammation is the cornerstone of all of our dreaded chronic disease. Inflammation further threatens our connection to the prefrontal cortex, and, ultimately, leads to worse decision making, which means that we’ll not get to bed on time, we’ll not eat the right foods, we’ll not get exercise, get out in nature, do our meditation, and all those things that continue to connect us only to the amygdala, away from the prefrontal cortex. We create a situation where we develop these chronic degenerative conditions. Simply saying that our lifestyle choices affect our immune systems.
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