Around Valentine’s Day, everyone has relationships on the mind. And though the emphasis is often on romantic relationships, it is a good time to think about all the friends and loved ones in your life who offer you support, make you feel good, and inspire love in your heart. If Valentine’s Day tends to make you feel bitter and isolated, it may be a time to reassess your social relationships and take steps to improve this part of your life that can have such a profound impact on your health.
Social relationships are important, and research has indicated that both the quantity and quality of these relationships have strong effects on mental and physical health. Without many social ties, it is easy to become lonely and isolated, feeling betrayed or disappointed by people who used to be in your life. Of course, it’s not enough just to have a lot of casual friends and acquaintances. The relationships that will matter most are strong friendships, romantic relationships, and family relationships where you have a network of support and positivity, which you, in turn, reflect back to your loved ones. Here’s a look at what harboring these types of relationships does for your health:
Your Mental Health
It’s not difficult to see how strong social relationships can have a positive impact on mental health. Think about how happy you feel after having lunch with a friend or seeing your partner after a long day at work. Through positive, strong relationships, we find others to listen and lend emotional support, to laugh with, and to enjoy life with. This is likely a reason why those without as many social relationships tend to have higher rates of depression and social anxiety than those with more personal connections. However, social relationships can also bring intensely negative effects into your life—marriage is often cited as a significant stressor in peoples lives, for example. This shows the importance of not just having relationships but maintaining them and nurturing them—and recognizing when certain relationships are no longer worth maintaining.
Your Heart Health
Studies have shown that continuously married couples tend to have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who have experienced a marital loss. This indicates a strong need for emotional support throughout adulthood, which helps to mitigate stress and reduce the negative physiological effects of that stress—including those that can contribute to heart disease.
Relationships also tend to influence healthcare access. Simply having someone to accompany you to doctor’s appointments (or even just remind you to make those appointments) or offer a helping hand when you’re sick can make a huge difference in your life.
Social activity can motivate you to be more active and mindful of your physical health. Relationships tend to improve your sense of self-worth, so you may eat healthier, exercise more, and take more steps in self-care if you harbor more social relationships. It can also simply be energizing to see a friend, spouse, or loved one. This is especially true for older adults, who may see more limited social interactions later in life.
Your endocrine system has a strong influence on how you feel because different hormones produce different physical and mental responses in the body. Not surprisingly, social relationships can trigger different hormonal responses. In childhood, friendships and healthy family interactions help to shape normal emotional development. In adulthood, these relationships tend to counteract stress and promote more feelings of happiness. These effects are strongest in face-to-face interactions. Physically being with another person will trigger a much more widespread response than simply talking on the phone or interacting on social media, so it’s worth the time to be there physically in your relationships when you can.
Along with strong social support, your health can benefit from consistent medical support as well. When you need a quick visit to the doctor or mental support from a licensed behavioral specialist, MeMD is always there for you, just a click away.