Relationships Impact Mood
Humans and animals thrive on the relationships they form. From the beginning through to the end of our lives, our friendships, kinships, social interactions, and our sense of community, inform who we are. These factors have a significant impact on our mood, our happiness quotient, and on our mental and physical health. They inform how we show up in the world in terms of our emotional wellbeing, our stress levels, and our confidence levels.
Relationships Can Help Us Live Longer
Face-to-face social networking, and the feeling of belonging that comes from being part of a community of family and friends, are instrumental in helping us to maintain good health. An article in Harvard Health Publishing (2019) confirms this view that a sense of positive wellbeing developed through social connectedness and belonging can help people live longer, happier and healthier lives:
Dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer. (2019)
Health Risk Attached to Being Socially Disconnected
In fact, there is compelling evidence to show that a lack of connectedness and limited social interaction can result in a breakdown in mental and physical health to the point that being disconnected can be comparable to the health risk posed by smoking:
One study, which examined data from more than 309,000 people, found that lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50% — an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.
Bad Relationships Can Indicate Poor Health
Just as this sense of connectedness is vital to prolonging good health and happiness, it is also important for us to recognize that not all of our connections with friends and family are necessarily healthy. In fact, a relationship with a partner, family member or friend that is considered to be unrewarding and difficult can be an indicator or catalyst for poor mental and physical health.
Removing Ourselves From Bad Relationships
In other words, the quality of our relationships counts. In fact, it may be more detrimental to our health to stay connected to someone with whom we have a toxic relationship. We are likely to experience healthier outcomes if we walk away from an unhealthy relationship rather than choosing to stay in it. Making the decision to remove ourselves from a challenging relationship is hard and can take time to do, but if we recognise that it is affecting us adversely, it is often the best course of action. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine conducted extensive research to conclude that ‘… Adverse close relationships may increase the risk of heart disease.’
The Quality of Our Relationships Counts
A scientific study in The Annals of Behavioural Medicine, which also focused on the quality of our relationships rather than simply being connected, indicated that being in a happy relationship results in less stress and depression and better mental and physical health outcomes.
While, in contrast, those who are single and happy are more healthy than those who are in unhappy relationships: ‘… Contrasting those who are unmarried with those in low-quality marriages, we find that single individuals had lower ABP (ambulatory blood pressure)-suggesting that single individuals fare better than their unhappily married counterparts. (2008)
Social Cohesiveness Matters
If your close personal relationships have broken down, then your saving grace might be your local or possibly even your online community, as social
cohesion within one’s community has a significant impact on alleviating depressive symptoms: ‘… greater personal sense of control, higher quality friendships and fewer depressive symptoms are found in neighbourhoods seen to be characterised by higher social cohesion.
Recognise When our Relationships Don’t Serve Us
To conclude, strong relationships and being part of a community are good for our mental and physical health and wellbeing. However, the quality of these relationships is significant. It is simply not enough to be in a relationship and to be part of something. We need to be in control of our relationships and to be able to recognise when they are not working for us. If we are not being nourished by our relationships, we need to draw on our strength to recognise that our unhealthy connections aren’t serving us. As difficult as it might be, removing ourselves from a toxic relationship can help conserve our good health.
Author: Alisa Salamon, Life Coach at InsideOut
Harvard Health Publishing (2019), ‘Strengthen relationships for longer, healthier life’, https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/strengthen-relationships-for-longer-healthier-life.
Robert De Vogli, Tarani Chandola, Michael G. Marmot (2007) JAMA Internal Medicine, ‘Negative Aspects of Close Relationships and Heart Disease’.
J. Holt-Lunstad, W. Birmingham, B.Q. Jones (2008) ‘Is there something unique about marriage? The relative impact of marital status, relationship quality, and network social support on ambulatory blood pressure and mental health’, Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
Mai Stafford, Anne McMunn, and Roberto De Vogli (2011), ‘Neighbourhood social environment and depressive symptoms in mid-life and beyond’, Ageing & Society (Cambridge University Press).