Most of us understand the importance of caring for our bodies by eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep. But when was the last time you evaluated your social wellness?
If you aren’t familiar with the term, social wellness describes the emotional support we give and receive from the people around us. Since July is Social Wellness Month, here are some resources to help you identify and boost your relationship metrics.
What, exactly, is social wellness?
The quality of your relationships with your partner, children, friends, family and coworkers impact every aspect of your life, from your happiness to your health. In fact, your social wellness can even impact your physical health as well as your financial well-being, according to a Gallup poll published in 2015.
“Any time more than one person comes together, they create a culture,” says Whitney Cupp Lee, a spiritual life coach who teaches her clients to notice their bodily responses in stressful situations. “That culture will imprint on you and shape you. If that culture is out of alignment with your authentic self, you’ll likely spend a lot of time in conflict with the mask you’re wearing.”
Social wellness can also extend beyond people you personally know. Volunteering or donating to charity, for example, is another way to increase your social wellness, because you are positively contributing to the community around you. Meeting new people is another great way to boost your social wellness by increasing your support network.
How to boost your social wellness
Progress always begins by identifying areas for improvement. Here are several aspects of social wellness to keep in mind in your pursuit of progress:
Connect with others
Of course, your social relationships cannot develop if you aren’t connected to other people. But while this point may seem painfully obvious, the solution is not necessarily that simple.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, getting back in the world — even in virtual settings such as online groups — can be uncomfortable and induce anxiety. Many of us put our socializing skills on hold during long periods of quarantine, and making new friends can be a daunting experience.
But researchers have found that people experience the greatest amount of joy in group settings. We are five times more likely to laugh with someone else than we are to laugh on our own.
One easy way to get around the discomfort of meeting new strangers is by bringing along a buddy. If you’re attending a networking event for your industry, you can ask a colleague to join you. Chances are, your coworker may be feeling similarly awkward, and will appreciate your invitation.
Of course, you may want to establish some simple rules with each other before the event to make sure that both of you mingle with new people, instead of standing together the entire time.
Say goodbye to unhealthy relationships (even if they’re fun)
The quality of your relationships can have a major impact on your happiness. “Social pain is real pain,” scientist Matthew Lieberman observed in his 2013 book, “Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect.” Our bodies cannot differentiate between emotional conflict and true threats to our physical well-being. As a result, people who cause you stress can actually decrease your physical health.
Toxic relationships aren’t just insults and put-downs, although those are some of the hallmark behaviors from people who are bad for your emotional health. Unhealthy connections can also form around people who pressure you to drink beyond your comfort level, for example, or who influence you to overspend your budget on a regular basis, leaving you strapped for cash with poor credit. And that debt doesn’t go away after you break up — its lasting impact can make it hard to pay for things you really need or qualify for a loan.
Or someone may simply be unable or unwilling to support you in the ways you need, such as showing up for you during hard times or saying encouraging words when you are feeling down.
“Pay attention when your mind says yes, but your body is screaming no,” Cupp Lee advises. “The body does not lie. It is up to you to walk away from people and situations that feel bad in your body.”
You may be worried that dropping an unhealthy connection will negatively impact your social wellness. But the opposite is actually true: Ending those relationships frees you from the constant pressure to conform to their expectations, which in turn boosts your social wellness.
Spend time around people you respect and admire
Now that you’ve purged your life of people who negatively impact your well-being, it’s time to fill that space with others who can help you become the best version of yourself.
“The people you surround yourself with can impact your energy and the way you show up in the world,” Cupp Lee says. “Healthy relationships are key to wellness — and perhaps the most important relationship you have is with yourself.”
Mentors can be invaluable throughout your life journey, because they have walked before you and can share pitfalls or lessons you may be able to avoid. Whether you’re looking for guidance in your career or personal life, there are many exemplary people out there who are eager and ready to support you. In most cases, all you have to do is ask.
You, in turn, may also be a great potential mentor for someone else. Chances are, someone looks up to you and hopes to stand where you are today. So when exploring your options for expanding your social network, don’t forget to keep an eye out for people you can support.
Invest in your family
The word “family” can be used to describe anyone you can unconditionally rely upon, and who look to you for the same support. You’re investing in your social wellness every time you interact with the people you trust most, whether you’re spending time reading to your young children, meeting up with a friend for drinks or participating in a flag football game.
Physical interaction is a particularly effective booster for social wellness. There are many documented benefits from physical touch with loved ones, such as cuddles and hugs or even a gentle pat on the arm. And getting active with a partner, such as taking a walk around a lake, includes several healthy actions at once: You’re getting quality time together, enjoying fresh air in nature and you’re exercising.
Now that you know what social wellness is, you may feel intimidated or discouraged if your social health leaves something to be desired. But don’t lose heart: As with any other healthy habit, small steps are key to long-term success. Set a small goal this week to reach out to an old friend you haven’t spoken with in some time, just to see how they are doing. Or bring cookies to a neighbor’s doorstep and say hello.
With time and practice, you’ll find yourself thriving in your social connections and living a more meaningful, enjoyable life.