So far in this series, we’ve explored ways to improve mental health that are focused inward—your sleep and physical activity, your nutrition, and your mindfulness and stress management. But the last mental health factor concerns your interactions with the world around you. Social connectedness can boost happiness and decrease feelings of loneliness, ultimately improving your mental health and overall quality of life. Thus, feeling connected is just as important as all the other components.
The effects of loneliness
Quite often, we think loneliness means “being alone”. But it’s possible to surround yourself with people and still feel lonely. “Loneliness is defined as a feeling of…lacking social connectedness,” said Douglas Nemecek, M.D., a chief medical officer at Cigna, in a recent interview with CBS News. When we feel lonely, it means we don’t have enough meaningful relationships to meet our personal needs, and those needs are highly personal and could mean 1 close friend or 20 loose connections.
Loneliness can lead to serious health consequences. Research studies indicate the following physical effects:
But through meaningful, deep connections, we can stop these physical effects while also boosting mental health. We can feel connected to society, which helps us view life through a positive lens and feel happier. We can also live life at a higher level, making it easier to discover our purpose and meaning. “Social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional, and physical well-being,” said Dr. Emma Seppala, in an interview with The New York Times. These outward connections can positively impact every area of our lives.
Ways to improve social connectedness
To reduce your feelings of loneliness, it’s important to identify the relationships you currently have and assess whether they are meeting your emotional needs. We typically need three distinct types of connections to feel fulfilled:
Meaningful, deep connections play a tremendous role in our well-being. Without them, we put our mental and physical health at risk. Take the time to cultivate each type of connection to reaffirm your purpose and increase your sense of belonging.