Humans are social animals, and according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, love and belonging are necessary for human survival and fulfillment. It’s therefore important to build and maintain meaningful relationships with friends, family, and colleagues. Continue reading to learn the importance of human interaction, social relationships, and feeling connected. (1)
What does connecting with others mean?
Connecting with others is often referred to as social support or belonging. Examples of connecting with others include:
- Creating and maintaining relationships
- Feeling accepted by others
- Having emotional and physical support in times of need
- Relating to others (6)
Benefits of connecting with others
Biologically, human beings are wired to connect with others, and having genuine connections with others greatly impacts our health—so much so that social connections can impact blood sugar control, decrease mortality, decrease depressive symptoms, improve cancer survival, decrease symptoms of PTSD, and improve overall mental and physical well-being. (7)
Research has shown that those who feel that they have a strong sense of connection to others are happier than those who do not. Additionally, individuals with strong relationships are less likely to experience feelings of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and loneliness. (8)
Furthermore, research continues to suggest that not having enough human connection is associated with current depression and increases the risk of developing depression. A study found that the number of social groups an individual belongs to can predict the level of depression they experience. Specifically, the fewer social groups a person belongs to, the higher the level or risk of depression. According to the authors of the study, this means that being a member of social groups may reduce current depression and also protect against developing the condition. (3)
Did you know? The benefits of social group memberships are stronger among individuals experiencing depression than among those who are not. (3)
The number of and quality of social relationships an individual has is also associated with both length of life and the development of chronic conditions. For example, many research studies have shown that having strong social connections, such as a spouse, encourages the adoption and maintenance of health-promoting behaviors. (4)(11)(12)(13)
A meta-analysis (a statistical analysis of multiple research studies) found that inadequate social connection can influence mortality to the same extent as smoking and consuming alcohol, and influences mortality more than other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity. Furthermore, the study also found that loneliness affects the risk of developing chronic conditions to the same extent as smoking or alcoholism. (5)
Additionally, peer support can impact both self-management of chronic conditions and health outcomes. A study that examined a diabetes peer-to-peer self-management program found that those part of the group did better at managing their diabetes and also had improved outcomes, such as improved health and quality of life, lower A1C (a measure of blood sugar levels), lower blood pressure, and reduced levels of anxiety, depression, and pain. (10)
How to connect with others
Here are some simple ways you can connect with others:
- Ask your practitioner if they provide group medical visits.
- Eat your lunch in a communal space.
- Introduce yourself to your neighbors.
- Join a support group.
- Sign up for a group class or activity.
- Smile at and start conversations with others.
- Set up a virtual call if you cannot see your loved ones in person.
- Take the time to listen to others with empathy and compassion.
- Work from the office if you have the opportunity to do so. (9)
The bottom line
Social connection is a biological human need. For this reason, having strong relationships can positively affect both physical and mental health. Benefits that have been associated with an increased level of social connection include improvements in blood sugar control, longevity, cancer survival, and overall mental and physical well-being.
- Benson, S. G., & Dundis, S. P. (2003). Understanding and motivating health care employees: integrating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, training and technology. Journal of Nursing Management, 11(5), 315–320.
- BERKMAN, L. F., & SYME, S. L. (1979). SOCIAL NETWORKS, HOST RESISTANCE, AND MORTALITY: A NINE-YEAR FOLLOW-UP STUDY OF ALAMEDA COUNTY RESIDENTS. American Journal of Epidemiology, 109(2), 186–204.
- Cruwys, T., Dingle, G. A., Haslam, C., Haslam, S. A., Jetten, J., & Morton, T. A. (2013). Social group memberships protect against future depression, alleviate depression symptoms and prevent depression relapse. Social Science & Medicine, 98, 179–186.
- Ellison, C. G., & Levin, J. S. (1998). The Religion-Health Connection: Evidence, Theory, and Future Directions. Health Education & Behavior, 25(6), 700–720.
- Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., & Layton, J. B. (2010). Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Medicine, 7(7), e1000316.
- Klussman, K., Nichols, A. L., Langer, J., & Curtin, N. (2020). Connection and disconnection as predictors of mental health and wellbeing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 10(2), 89–100.
- Martino, J., Pegg, J., & Frates, E. P. (2015, October 7). The Connection Prescription: Using the Power of Social Interactions and the Deep Desire for Connectedness to Empower Health and Wellness. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 11(6), 466–475. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827615608788
- Moeller, R. W., Seehuus, M., & Peisch, V. (2020). Emotional Intelligence, Belongingness, and Mental Health in College Students. Frontiers in Psychology, 11.
- Scottatmachine, S. (2021, December 17). The importance of human connection. CMHA National. Retrieved August 3, 2022, from https://cmha.ca/the-importance-of-human-connection/#_ftn1
- Turner, R. M., Ma, Q., Lorig, K., Greenberg, J., & DeVries, A. R. (2018). Evaluation of a Diabetes Self-Management Program: Claims Analysis on Comorbid Illnesses, Health Care Utilization, and Cost. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 20(6), e207.
- Umberson, D., Crosnoe, R., & Reczek, C. (2010). Social Relationships and Health Behavior Across the Life Course. Annual Review of Sociology, 36(1), 139–157.
- Umberson, D., & Karas Montez, J. (2010). Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51(1_suppl), S54–S66.
- Waite LJ. Does marriage matter? Demography. 1995 Nov;32(4):483-507. PMID: 8925942.