Since the beginning of human evolution, we've been inherently social creatures. As far back as we can track, people have been travelling, hunting and living in social groups and relying on a sense of community to survive and thrive. Being social is quite literally in our DNA, so it's no wonder that when we're isolated or disconnected from our circle of close friends and family in 2020, we still feel the negative effects.
We've all had that moment when we planned to meet up with a friend over coffee, and when the time comes, all we want to do is stay home in your pyjamas and watch Netflix. However, there are a few really good reasons why making time for friends and family is important for your mental and physical health, and pushing through that 'can't be bothered' feeling is worth it.
1. We all need social support in times of need
Having a strong network of people is so important when we're going through tough times and need to lean on others. This type of support looks different in each unique situation, whether it's family dropping dinners to you when you're feeling ill, or spending the evening talking with close friends about emotional problems happening in your life, it's absolutely key that as humans we have people that we can lean on.
When we're feeling stressed and lonely, sometimes our innate reaction is to shy away from interaction and isolate ourselves, when in fact leaning into those connections we've formed with family and friends is just the cure we need.
If you've ever heard of the expression, 'a problem shared is a problem halved', you'll be interested to know that this is actually proven to be true! Studies show that during stressful times, simply being around a best friend decreases your levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Of course, friendships are a two-way street and need to be nurtured over time, so make sure you're putting in the effort to keep up your relationships not only in times of need, but in general.
2. Social connections encourage healthy behaviours
Typically when we talk about the way friendships impact our behaviours, it's in the context of a friend being a 'bad influence'. However, the majority of the time our chosen social circles keep us in check and encourage behaviours that are really healthy for us, and keep us accountable for the decisions we make.
Take for example, giving up a habit that's negative for our physical health; smoking. According to the WA Department of health, smokers have a much better chance of staying a non-smoker if they get support while quitting. It makes sense too, considering that our social circles are around us all the time and can hold us accountable, but most importantly, can offer support and show they care while you're experiencing the difficulties of the change in habit.
Similarly, healthy habits can be easier to form when we have a friend by our side to do it with us, such as going for a run or to the gym. A recent study published in the Journal of Social Sciences found that participants gravitate towards the exercise behaviours of those around, while another study found that 95 percent of those who started a weight-loss program with friends completed the program, compared to a 76 percent completion rate for those who tackled the program alone.
We're social creatures, and we need each other to get things done, overcome challenges and form new and healthy habits. It's just easier with a friend!
3. Our connections act as a 'social cure' for anxiety and depression
Our connections with others serve as both a key indicator or symptom of anxiety and depression, but also act as a really positive factor that can help us to feel 'normal' and happier when we're experiencing mental health issues. Essentially, there's a really strong connection drawn between mental health and our social lives.
For example, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) specifies that a key symptom of depression is withdrawal from social situations, as well as a lack of interest or engagement in important social roles such as work or close relationships (APA, 2013). When we're feeling down, we tend to withdraw from our social circles and feel extremely isolated.
Interestingly, fighting off those feelings of isolation and the urge to stay at home rather than connect with our friends is absolutely key in maintaining good mental health and recovering from anxiety and depression. Good friendships have a myriad of benefits, such as increased feelings of belonging, purpose, increased levels of happiness, reduced levels of stress, improved self-worth and confidence. In addition to this, Finally, in a longitudinal study, one study found that older adults who made new social connections (by joining new groups) over 2 years were more likely to recover from depression (if initially depressed), and were less likely to develop depression (if initially not depressed).
We understand that keeping up these connections and conquering feelings of loneliness can be a really big challenge to undertake and feel the benefits of, so we'd recommend checking out this amazing NZ resource; Loneliness NZ.
4. Friends impact our physical health and can help us to live longer
By the account of many individual studies, having strong social connections is actually directly correlated with improved physical health and living longer.
The immediate physical payout of strong connections can range from lowered blood pressure, strengthened immune systems (yup! research shows that genes impacted by social connection also code for immune function and inflammation) and even faster recovery from disease. The reasons for these valuable physical benefits include extended support from friends and family who help us through times in need, to the simple release of mood improving endorphins when we're with our friends.
These benefits also seem to lead to longevity. As explained by Dr. Robert Waldinger, a Harvard psychiatrist, "Good, close relationships appear to buffer us from the problems of getting old." In short? People who are more socially connected tend to live longer, happier and healthy lives than those who are less well connected. But it's not all about quantity - it's about nurturing those relationships that truly make you happy and add value to your life.
Our social life is directly tied to our health and happiness
Evidently, our social lives and our physical and mental health are directly connected to one another. If something is off in our social circle and we're feeling lonely, we start to see the impacts on our physical and mental health. Similarly, if we put effort into nurturing relationships we start to see the physical and mental health benefits of our hard work, to the extent of living a longer life. Pretty amazing, right?
A healthy life starts with a healthy home
At Rug Doctor, we're a big advocate of a 'healthy home, healthy mind' lifestyle. We know how much clutter can make people feel on edge and how habitual cleaning can be a really satisfying way to improve your mental health. Plus, it might a tidy home might encourage you to invite a few friends over and nurture that social circle!
If you'd like to give it a try, grab out personalised cleaning guide below. It'll include all the helpful tips and trick you need, tailored to your home, habits and problem areas.