Have you ever had an interaction with someone that just completely made your day? Maybe a colleague brought you your favourite coffee or a loved one reached out to say how much they appreciate you … It’s remarkable how much simple interactions like these can have such a meaningful impact on how we feel and carry on for the rest of our day.
Our social relationships can affect us in so many ways… Sometimes this can be for the worst (like when those relationships influence us to engage in unhealthy behaviours), but mostly for the better (like when they make us feel cared for and appreciated). Though most of us know our social ties can have an impact on our psychological well-being and health, it’s also important to understand how these relationships influence our health.
Among the many theories suggested by researchers, there are two that have gained the most traction in explaining how social relationships influence our health:
Social support involves resources provided by those in one’s social network that are meant to help in coping with stress (for example: offering helpful advice and new perspectives, as well as providing hope and a listening ear). This positively affects our health by reducing the impact of stressful experiences. In the face of a difficult situation, the social support we receive can help change our interpretation of it and promote more effective coping strategies.
The people we spend our time with can have quite an influence on our behaviour, even in the subtlest ways. If those you live with tend to be physically active and eat healthy, this is likely to motivate you to engage in similar health-promoting behaviours. Having this kind of social influence for better self-care and healthy behaviour, in turn, has a positive effect on both your physical health and mental health.
Social integration (which includes actively engaging in your relationships and feeling a sense of belonging within them) improves our health simply by making us feel great! Being and feeling integrated in a social network has a direct effect on our mood and mental state, leaving us with a sense of purpose and belonging, as well as helping us recognize our self-worth. The positive mental states that we get from social integration can even have a positive effect on the hormones that respond to stress.
The dark side of our relationships…
Although our relationships are mostly beneficial for our physical health and mental wellbeing, they can sometimes have harmful effects… Negative interactions can impact our health by providing a source of psychological stress. This kind of stress can then lead to coping behaviours that are detrimental to our health such as smoking, drinking, or drug use. But even on its own, experiencing prolonged states of psychological stress is known to increase risk for disease.
So… What can we do to improve our social relationships? Take a look at our toolkit below!