Surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy recently warned that loneliness and a lack of social connections are having negative effects on both the mental and physical health of Americans.
And surprisingly, this seems to be affecting young adults at almost twice the rate of those over age 65.
According to Dr. Vivek’s advisory poor social relationships and living in isolation can increase the risks of early heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, depression and early death while being more socially connected can improve stress response and minimize the negative health effects of stress.
One study found that social isolation can increase inflammation in the body to the same degree as inactivity.
When counseling patients regarding managing weight, I always ask about a person’s support system that includes family members, friends, neighbors and work or school colleagues.
But this can also extend to people they share common goals with in other areas of their lives like their place of worship, volunteer organizations, workout facility, any hobby or class they take, or any social media group they’re involved in.
Higher levels of social connections can influence health-related behaviors in a good way.
1- Social Connections Can Help You Cope Better with Unpleasant Emotions
If you’re prone to emotional eating, you may have developed a pattern of coping with various emotions, such as loneliness, anger, anxiety or sadness by turning to food for comfort.
If food has become your ‘best friend’, spend more time nurturing the positive relationships in your life so you have a healthy alternative to emotional eating.
Emotional eating is a short-term fix that puts a bandage on the emotion you are feeling instead of learning more adaptive coping mechanisms.
Seeking social support is one of the proven ways to help individuals regulate their emotions more healthfully.
2-Connecting Socially while Being Physically Active is a Win-Win for Everyone
Being physically active is an important pillar of good health.
Doing physically active leisure-time activities with another person can be a great way to maintain relationships and health at the same time.
Talking while walking, taking a dance aerobics class or learning a new sport together are different ways to stay connected and active at the same time – all good for both your body and mind.
3-Feeling Stressed? Don’t Go It Alone!
When your stress level is high, you may be inclined to not be social and instead binge watch TV alone but these behaviors just keep your mood and energy level low.
Instead, being able to express yourself, talk it out with your family and friends, and problem-solve together can be both distracting and de-stressing.
Social connections can predict better physical and mental health outcomes and ease stress.
Robert Kushner, MD