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Social Health

Last Updated: December 11, 2023

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Discover how social health supports your well-being, and explore effective strategies to enhance and cultivate your social skills.

Social Health Explained

People often associate health with physical symptoms, medicine, and visits to the doctor. However, health comprises many dimensions that may not be visible but are crucial to an individual's well-being, and one of these dimensions is social health. 

Social health refers to an individual's connections, relationships, and the people surrounding them. Meaningful relationships and people can distract individuals, alter their perspectives, or make them feel happier. 

If individuals are feeling low, they may require social support or connection, which can affect their health. Humans need connections and positive relationships that benefit their physical and mental health.

Defining Social Health

  • In child development: social health refers to their ability to form secure relationships with others, foster trust and feel comfortable learning and exploring, which is connected to their emotional regulation skills
  • In adults: social health includes the social support networks and structures that individuals have around them, including family, friends, co-workers, and romantic partners. It encompasses two aspects:
    • The first one is the ability to build healthy relationships with others and how well individuals adapt to social situations. 
    • The second aspect is the quality of the relationships, including the duration and the ability to connect with others meaningfully. 

Importance of Social Health

Cultivating social skills and nurturing satisfying relationships are as crucial to one's overall health as other lifestyle factors such as healthy foods and physical activity.

Social health is important because research has shown a link between health outcomes and social relationships. 

For instance, lacking social connections can lead to chronic stress and loneliness, putting individuals at risk of anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, and other mental health disorders.

Poor social health can negatively affect an individual's mental and physical health. 

For example, relationship stress can contribute to poor health, psychological distress, and physiological arousal (increased blood pressure and heart rate) that can worsen health through cumulative effects on physiological systems.

Having robust support systems and maintaining relationships indicate good social wellness and health, resulting in improved heart and mental health, reduced stress, and a longer lifespan.

Understanding Social Health

Individuals can improve their social health over time, and it does not depend on family status, nor is it limited to marriage or family members. Understanding social health comes with knowing what it is versus what it is not:

  • It does not require changing an individual's personality or forcing themselves to socialize with others.
  • It is about learning to communicate effectively and meaningfully, build quality relationships, and use social support to overcome life's challenges.

Social Determinants of Health

Social health differs from social determinants of health. For instance, maintaining good social health does not require a family or marriage to be healthy. 

Social determinants of health (SDOH) focus on systemic factors influencing an individual's health or well-being. These factors include:

  • Race
  • Education
  • Socioeconomic Status
  • Community
  • Availability of resources

SDOH can greatly impact an individual's opportunities to connect and develop healthy habits, emphasizing the importance of addressing health disparities in communities. 

Public health officials and policy experts study social determinants of health to make decisions about a population's health, but individuals may need help to change their SDOH.

In contrast, social health focuses on healthy relationships that individuals can work on by connecting with others and improving social skills. 

Signs of Social Health

Individuals may already follow the steps to maintain social health without realizing it. 

Signs of good social health include having a strong social support network, setting social boundaries, balancing alone and social time, being authentic to one's personality, participating in the community, and treating others with respect.

Strong Relationships

During difficult times, individuals need someone to lean on and talk to. Research shows those with close friends or healthy relationships that they can rely on and trust without any obligations or expectations of repayment are more likely to have good social health. Strong social connections are also important for maintaining good social health.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

Socially healthy individuals are not aggressive but understand how to effectively communicate their needs and set healthy boundaries without experiencing negative emotions such as guilt, shame, resentment, or fear.

Balancing Alone and Social Time

Finding a balance between alone time and socializing is essential for individuals. The amount of alone time needed varies depending on whether an individual is an introvert or an extrovert.

However, maintaining healthy relationships and balancing alone time with socializing indicates good social health.

Maintaining One’s Personality

Healthy connections can make individuals feel comfortable with their personalities, as they feel valued, appreciated, and like they belong. Individuals who are satisfied with their characters are less likely to fear social exclusion. 

Although friendships and relationships may push individuals out of their comfort zone, they should not feel ashamed of failure and should work to boost their self-confidence.

Participating in the Community

Socially healthy individuals can balance the pressures of life with the need for leisure time. They prioritize social interaction and activities, such as volunteering in the community, participating in neighborhood events, and playing community sports.

Treating Others with Respect

Individuals who show respect towards others indicate that they are content with their social needs and do not feel threatened or the need to put others down to boost their self-esteem.

How to Improve Social Health

Improving social health can positively impact mental, emotional, and physical health, and many strategies can help enhance social connections and relationships.

Some practical techniques include:  

Taking Gradual Steps

It's important to take gradual steps and engage in meaningful conversations with others when improving social health. This can involve asking thoughtful questions about their plans, hobbies, or favorite things while looking for shared interests. 

While small talk can help practice socializing and making new friends, it's also important to go beyond surface-level conversations to have more meaningful interactions that can improve overall social health.

In addition, several educational opportunities exist to increase awareness about social health and its importance. Attending conferences, such as the Canadian Human Connection Conference, can help understand the importance of social health. 

Communication Skills

Developing effective communication skills is essential for building meaningful connections and socializing. This includes practicing active listening, maintaining eye contact, and paying attention to body language cues to improve overall communication and enhance social health.

Self-Care and Gratitude

Individuals must prioritize self-care by maintaining healthy eating habits, engaging in regular physical activity, getting adequate sleep, eating healthy food, and avoiding unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

Practicing mindfulness techniques such as meditation can help individuals connect with their inner selves and improve their mental health before building connections with others.

Another important aspect of social health is practicing gratitude and showing appreciation for loved ones through meaningful gestures such as sending messages, writing notes, or giving thoughtful cards. Making others feel valued can enhance social connections and overall well-being.

Takeaway

An individual's overall health comprises physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being, and poor social health can negatively impact physical and emotional health

Achieving good social health is critical for an individual's physical and mental well-being, and healthy choices can help individuals attain ideal social health. 

Practicing self-care, finding balance, and cultivating a calm life are crucial to enhancing social wellness and forming rewarding interpersonal relationships.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does social health affect physical health?

Social health can have a significant impact on physical health. Isolation and a lack of social support have been linked to a higher risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. 

Conversely, good social health, such as strong support systems and positive social relationships, has been associated with better physical health outcomes and a lower risk of developing chronic diseases.

How does social health affect mental health?

Social health can significantly impact mental health. Poor social health, such as social isolation or lack of social support, has been linked to an increased risk of developing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. 

On the other hand, having positive social relationships and a strong support system can contribute to better mental health outcomes. It may even help prevent the onset of mental health problems.

How Does Social Media Impact Social Health?

Social media can impact social health both positively and negatively. 

Pros

  • Connection: on the positive side, social media can provide a platform for individuals to connect and form relationships with others who share similar interests and experiences. 
  • Communication: it can also facilitate communication with friends and family who are far away, making it easier to stay in touch. 

Cons

  • Isolation can lead to social isolation and loneliness if individuals spend excessive time on social media rather than engaging in face-to-face interactions. 
  • Comparisons: social media can also contribute to negative body image, low self-esteem, and anxiety due to the constant comparison with others' highlight reels. 

Ultimately, it is essential to use social media mindfully and balance its use with other forms of social interaction to promote overall social health.

References

Canadian Human Connection Conference

Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy - PMC

Social Wellness Toolkit | National Institutes of Health (NIH) 

What Is Social Health? | Psychology Today 

What is Social Health? Definitions, Examples and Tips on Improving Your Social Wellness

Disclaimer

The contents of this article are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making any health-related changes or if you have any questions or concerns about your health. Anahana is not liable for any errors, omissions, or consequences that may occur from using the information provided.

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