Stay Mentally Healthy with Strong Social Connections

The importance of strong social connections cannot be overstated.

Western society encourages people to be independent, autonomous and self-sufficient. Recent research in neuroscience has been telling us that this is actually nearly impossible without the safety of secure and close emotional connections with others. We are much more connected than we believe we need to be.

John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist ahead of his time and originator of attachment theory, stated that we are born with this need to have safe connections and take this need with us “from the cradle to the grave.” Only recently in the field of psychology has it been more accepted that not only children need such a safe connection, but adults do as well in order to be healthy, happy and successful in their lives.

The Dangers of Loneliness

One major deterrent to mental and physical health is loneliness. John Cacciopo and William Patrick’s groundbreaking 2008 book on Loneliness discusses some of the latest research about this condition. The feeling of loneliness, for example, predicts as much of a health risk and early death as obviously unhealthy behaviors such as smoking.  To be sentenced to isolation is the worst punishment one can undergo in prison. We are social animals, wired to connect, and when these connections are threatened or unavailable, our nervous system goes haywire and all kinds of negative reactions follow.

Romantic relationships

Sue Johnson, the creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy  and author of one of the best books for couples out there, discusses how we are living in smaller and smaller social units as time goes on. While our ancestors may have had the physical and emotional support of an entire village, many of us today can rely on one person, that is, if we are lucky, namely our romantic partner.

 Our romantic relationships, therefore, bear the weight that an entire village once held. It is no wonder why divorce rates tend to be so high.

We need to take extra care of our romantic relationships, especially since there is so much weight on them. Happy relationships have been shown to correlate with all kinds of health benefits, which include improved mental health, better cardiac health, and increased immunity.

 Strong relationships have been shown to even change the way our brains respond to pain and fear.

What to do if you’re lonely and have no romantic relationship?

Get out there. Meet people. Everyone is dating online these days, go check out some of the sites, even if you don’t want to. 

Putting yourself out there can be scary. You may have some social anxiety. But you’d be surprised how many other people are out there struggling with your same issues. If it feels impossible, but you still want to meet people, try talking to a therapistTalking to a therapist does not mean you are crazy, as some people fear, and can actually help a great deal. Speaking with a professional is just a stepping stone to get you out there into the real world to meet people and establish solid relationships.

How to have authentic relationships

Once you get out there and meet people, then there’s that whole task of having genuine, authentic relationships, the kind you want. The best answer that I can give here is to just be honest.  By that I mean, be honest with yourself first. Be present with yourself, your needs, and when you feel safe with certain people, don’t be afraid to let them see you. We all have vulnerabilities, which make us human.

 The safer people feel with each other, the more vulnerable they can be with each other, and the stronger their connections.

Check out this video on authentic relationships to hear more.

Social connections are more important than most of us realize. To be your best and most healthy, nurture your current relationships and don’t be afraid to cultivate new ones.

Continue Reading