Have you ever had a long day at work and called your mom or partner or a friend on the way home and by the time you reach the house, you feel so much better? Well, it turns out there’s some science behind that phenomenon – and it could actually help you live a healthy life. 

It’s called social connectedness – those calls, grabbing coffee, all those times you’re interacting with someone you have a relationship with. The Center for Disease Control defines it as the degree to which people have a desired number, quality and diversity of relationships that create a sense of belonging or a feeling of being cared for, valued and supported. 

The org also reports that social connectedness can lead to a longer life, health benefits and improved well-being. Another study found that poor or insufficient social connection is associated with increased risk of disease, including a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.

“Take smiling. When you’re around people smiling and you smile, it can make you feel more positive,” says Alex Strauss, MD, a child adolescent psychiatrist at Centra. “Handshakes, hugs and other touches can create physiological benefits.”

But in a post-pandemic world, after years of being told to stay away from each other, practicing those social connections can be difficult, no matter how good they make us feel. “We’re all so busy running around and trying to take care of so many things,” Dr. Strauss says. “If you’re a parent, you have to take care of your kids. If you’re working from home, you’re not around people in the office. You lose that ability to interact with other people.” 

Loneliness has become much more prevalent these days, says Dr. Strauss. So much so that the U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, MD, launched a national college campus tour this fall called the We Were Made to Connect tour, which challenged students to complete 5 actions of connection each day for 5 days. 

“This is just as important as anything you may learn in the classroom or any skill you may gain online,” he said during the tour’s visit to Drexel University. “This is a core part of the foundation of being.”

But when you’re feeling lonely, it’s not always easy to go searching for those connections. Dr. Strauss has a small first step to help you leave that loneliness behind. It’s called social inventory. 

“Start with a partner or a sibling, then you work your way through family relations, then through friends, then through relationships,” he says. “For some people, that list is very large and they feel connected, for others that list can be small. Then think about, who could I connect with, who could I call, who could I go get a coffee with.” 

“Oftentimes, people are very happy to have people reach out and reconnect with them.” 

December 2023
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