On the go? Listen to our blog instead of reading it.
Most people have an intuitive understanding of the importance of being socially connected. Almost everyone has been lonely at some point in their lives, and it doesn’t take much effort to remember how terrible that feels. The study of social connectedness (or, conversely, of loneliness) is often undertaken by psychologists, sociologists, and epidemiologists with many fascinating results beyond the scope of this post. Here I will focus on one simple, but surprising, finding: that individuals who are more socially connected have lower risk for mortality. In a review and meta-analysis of 148 studies that included a measure of social connectedness and mortality rate over the course of the study, Holt-Lunstad, Smith, and Layton (2010) found that individuals who were more socially integrated (i.e., who had more, and a wider variety of, relationships) had lower risk for mortality than those who were less socially integrated. Some of the 148 studies measured social connectedness by simply asking whether or not the person lived with someone else, while others collected more elaborate information on the participant’s relationships and networks. The strongest association between degree of social connection and mortality risk was found by those studies that had more intricate evaluations of social connection, suggesting that it is a multifaceted variable and is not sufficiently captured by an individual’s residential status, but also that lack of social integration is a very real risk factor for mortality and should be considered alongside other known risk factors like obesity and smoking.
The available evidence all points to the idea that we should value and cultivate our social relationships, both close connections and those that are more casual, but this isn’t a shocking revelation. Most people would have endorsed that idea before knowing about the research described above. So why is it is so important to spread awareness about this? Because, for many people, cultivating relationships is much easier said than done. Whether you have social anxiety, don’t understand exactly what you should be in looking for in a relationship, or simply lack the confidence to develop new relationships, there are many things that be done to work on those challenges. A review by Heimberg (2002) suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of talk therapy, can help reduce social anxiety through cognitive restructuring, relaxation training, and social skills training. The connection you develop with your therapist can also help increase your confidence and reshape your expectations, as it should be an edifying and reflective relationship for you. Group therapy can also be enormously beneficial, giving you an opportunity for genuine and real-time feedback on your interaction in a safe environment. The goal of any therapeutic work in this area is to help you develop your social relationships in a way that is comfortable for you and meets your individual needs. The next step is up to you, but hopefully you are now convinced that social connectedness is important, and that there are things you can do to become more socially connected. For more information on this topic please check out the websites listed below, as well as the original sources referenced in this post (which are also listed below).
Brought to you by Just Mind, counselors in Austin who are working to provide their clients with the best care possible.
Heimberg, R. G. (2002). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for social anxiety disorder: Current status and future directions. Biological Psychiatry, 51(1), 101-108. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3223(01)01183-0
Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Layton, J. B. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: A meta-analytic review. PLoS Medicine, 7(7) e1000316. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316