Friendships and relationships are more than just niceties. As humans, we’re all social creatures and NEED social connections. Researchers have discovered that the quality of our friendships impact our immune system, our longevity and our disease risks, to say nothing of our happiness and joy. And while our current global environment demands some levels of social distancing, so-called “immunity friendships” are still important. Here’s what you need to know, and how to stay connected in a socially isolated world.
The Benefits of Social Connections
Hanging out with friends, grabbing a coffee with a coworker, or sharing a meal with neighbors isn’t just about socializing, niceties, or being a good member of the community. These immunity friendships and relationships, explain psychologists and experts, are key to our overall wellness:
- You’ll live longer. A published review of nearly 150 different studies found that people with strong social connections had a 50% increase in their chances of surviving and overcoming various health risks they may encounter.
- You’ll boost your mental health. For example, when you feel connected and close to others, psychologists report that you’ll experience lower rates of depression and anxiety, higher self-esteem, and improved psychological health.
- You’ll strengthen your immunity. Healthy relationships and friendships support your overall wellness, including how your immune system responds to disease. “One intriguing line of research has found signs of reduced immunity in couples during especially hostile marital spats,” notes Harvard Medical School.
Some people are at a higher risk of loneliness and social isolation. This includes seniors, and those of us currently living in various levels of social lockdown due to the current global covid-19 pandemic.
But even if you struggle with making connections with others, you don’t have to feel isolated and miss out on the beautiful health benefits of social connections.
Here’s how to foster stronger friendships and a sense of community, even if you can’t leave your house!
How to Build Social Connections (Even When Living in Quarantine)
1. Go face-to-face with friends, digitally
From cheering over drinks on a Zoom happy hour, to watching a movie separately while being “together” on Skype, find ways to share your usual friendship activities virtually.
Using video conferencing apps, FaceTime on iPhones, or Internet call services like Skype lets you get creative and stay engaged with:
- Virtual happy hours
- Virtual book clubs
- Virtual hangouts
- Virtual celebrations of milestones, such as a birthday or a graduation
- Virtual dinners together
- And more!
The possibilities are virtually (pun intended) endless!
2. Reconnect with your community
Feeling like you’re a part of a bigger community does wonders for your social connection, immunity and wellness.
Use television and radio to stay up-to-date with what’s going on locally as well as nationally.
Many towns, cities and communities are also experimenting with tools and apps like NextDoor and private Facebook groups to reach out to neighbors, share uplifting community stories, and share resources as everyone navigates a nation under lockdown.
It’s a great way to get to know your neighbors better, and engage in conversation with other locals, all from the comfort of your home.
3. Talk to a professional
The negative side effects of social isolation on our immune systems, physical wellness and mental health can be serious. If you need to talk to someone, feel lonely or want to reach out for support, dial the Mental Health Services Administration’s free hotline at 1-800-985-5990.
4. Spread kindness
When we do good and be kind, our brains release feel-good hormones that help us feel happier and more grounded. The next time you’re on social media, find ways to spread kindness by commenting something nice on a friend’s recent social media post, or messaging a family member who you haven’t talked to in a while.
Everyone needs a little extra kindness during these unusual times we’re living in, and you can be the kindness and connection that you seek for yourself.
5. Workout with a friend
Staying physically active boosts morale and strengthens your immune system.
Tag in a friend for accountability.
The social element makes the experience more fun, and knowing you have a workout partner keeps you on track towards your fitness goals.
You could do yoga together on webcam, or “race” each other by doing a jog or a walk at the same time for a set distance and using a fitness tracker or GPS app on your phone to measure pace and speed.
6. Write a letter
Physically sending letters is a dying art, but this contemplative, slower method of communication gives you time to really contemplate your blessings, and what you treasure in your friendships and relationships.
Send a letter of gratitude to people you miss. It’s a gift to yourself, and a delight for them when they get a handwritten letter or card in the mail.