Social distancing was never intended to be social isolation, but many of us have struggled to maintain relationships in today’s world. Human beings are built to be social, and science has shown that building strong, meaningful relationships can get us through tough times, provide physical and mental advantages, and make us happier. Perhaps a silver lining of the pandemic is a newfound appreciation for social connections with friends, colleagues, and community.
What the Research Tells Us
A significant body of evidence correlates strong social relationships with longevity and considers the lack of social interactions or social isolation a risk factor for premature mortality. Older adults who reported experiencing social isolation had a 50% increased risk of developing dementia, 29% for coronary heart disease, and 32% for stroke. Building relationships and interacting with others are associated with positive feelings. And those benefits are enhanced when the people you’re connecting with are happy and you find the interaction fulfilling.
How to Practice
Take time to reconnect and refocus on your relationships individually and in your family and community. Even at a distance, social or otherwise, these strategies will help you stay connected to long-time friends or foster new relationships, near or far.
Near: Join a recreational league or plan a game night with friends.
Far: Plan a virtual game night, using a video chat to interact face to face.
Start a conversation
Near or far: Call or text a friend. Make the conversation count by asking meaningful questions like, “How is your mental health today?” or “What was the best part about your day?” When you think of someone, call or text them in that moment to check in. It could turn their day around.
Plan an activity
What do you have in common with the person you want to build or sustain a relationship with? For example, do you both enjoy baseball, hiking, or reading?
Near: Plan an outing that aligns with your interests like watching a baseball game, checking out a metro park, or visiting the library together. Take a class together to learn something new or mark off a bucket list item.
Far: Plan to watch the same game on TV or take a hike at the same time, and call or text to share the experience in real time.
Join a social network
Near: Try joining a volunteer organization or community group.
Far: Online groups can connect you with others who share similar passions and interests.
Near: Plan a trip to visit a friend, invite them to visit you, or meet at a destination in the middle.
Near or far: Plan a virtual vacation. Many cities now have virtual tours of popular sights so you can visit your dream destination without even leaving home.