Social wellness is the third pillar of holistic health, in other words being aware of the interdependence we have with others and nurturing ourselves, others and our relationships. In today’s digital world people are becoming more isolated, so it is important we actively nurture our social wellness.
What Is Social Wellness?
From the moment we are born our relationships with others, good or bad, help us stumble our way through life.
But social wellness is not just about cultivating and caring about our personal social connections, which includes friends, family and relationships, it’s also about caring for the wider community and the environment.
Social wellness involves;
- Positive interactions with others in every aspect of your life
- Developing close friendships and intimacy
- Openly communicating your feelings, needs, thoughts and desires to those you trust
- Actively listening and practicing empathy to those around you
- Caring for others
Why Is Social Wellness Important?
The positive effects of developing and maintaining healthy relationships is endless and some see it as a life-giving connection.
Former Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy stated: “We cannot under-estimate the power that we have as individuals to provide the support people need. Social support can provide that transition from a place of pain to a place of possibility.”
Positive social habits help you build support systems that can enhance your quality of life and provide a buffer when life proves tricky, and ultimately give you a broader focus and a more positive self-image.
People who are socially well, that is, have healthy relationships and a strong support system, enjoy huge health benefits, generally live long and respond better to stress.
By being able to respond better to stressful situations improves your metabolism, immune system and heart health.
Of course, the biggest benefit of having good social wellness is the presence of a strong support network who you can turn to when you are in need or have a crisis. Your network will generally be family members or close friends, who will be there, hopefully, to offer you assistance, perspective and insight into your current crisis.
Support can come in three forms:
- Emotional – where you feel cared for
- Instrumental – where you support network do things for you, e.g., cooking a meal, picking you up from where you are stranded, etc.
- Informational – providing the sound voice of reason when your judgment may be clouded
But what do you do when you don’t have a support network? What strategies can you implement to develop a wider and stronger network and improve your social wellness?
Below are three approaches you can take.
Strategies To Help Improve Your Social Wellness
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them”, so says Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
Well, I’m not talking about greatness, but just as some have great physical health, others are blessed with big families and many friends.
Those of us who are not so fortunate in the number of friends and family department shouldn’t worry though. Social wellness is more than just how many people you have to buy Christmas presents for, it’s about developing skills that will help you relate to others in a healthy and meaningful way.
As children we learn the necessary social skills needed to make and build friendships, but we can learn ways to improve our approach to relationships at any age.
Reach out and make connections
Real, live, physical social connections and interactions have powerful effects on our health and wellbeing.
Offering the hand of friendship is a great first step in improving your social wellness, but how do you go about expanding your social network?
Probably the best place to start is with you and your interests and find local groups to join. For example, you love singing, why not try and find a local choir or singing group and meet other people who love to sing?
Volunteering is another great way to meet others, whether it’s the school parents’ association or a local charity.
Or, you could take an evening class and learn something new as well as meeting new and interesting people.
The list of possibilities is endless, it just takes a little imagination and a whole lot of courage. After all, everyone is nervous about going somewhere new at first.
But what about the connections you already have?
No one is perfect and we all lead busy lives these days, so is it any wonder that with the challenges of everyday life some friendships fade.
Rekindling old friendships with people who are positive, respectful and supportive is a great way to strengthen your support system. Why not try reaching out to someone today?
And yes, technology is a great way to keep in touch with those far away, but sometimes it creates a barrier with those closer to home. Ensure you make time, every day, to talk face-to-face with friends, family or colleagues which helps creates a stronger bond.
Building healthy relationships
Strong, healthy relationships are the second, essential part of social wellness.
Once you’ve made connections, you need to work on nurturing those relationships, especially when it comes to those close you, to build trust and compassion which will, in turn, help you feel safe and satisfied.
Building relationships takes time and effort on both sides and they should always be mutually beneficial.
In any relationship you need to establish boundaries and communicating those boundaries, based on your needs, preferences and values, to those around you.
By knowing who you are, what you want, where you want to go and where your boundaries lie helps you develop in positive, healthy relationships with people who can relate to you and, at the same time, help you grow.
However, some relationships can be downright exhausting!
If you’re finding a relationship increases your stress levels or drains you of energy, it’s definitely not a healthy relationship. Examples of unhealthy relationships range from abusive partners and overbearing relatives through to insincere friends and work colleagues.
Choose your relationships wisely
Your interactions with others, especially your support network, should be comforting and not a cause for apprehension or anxiety.
No one wants, or deserves to be constantly judged, criticised or blamed as this starts the never-ending cycle of self-criticism and self-loathing which in turn can contribute to depression, anxiety and inhibits social interactions.
However, at one time or another we will all encounter an unhealthy relationship (or two, or three …) which will cause an emotional strain on you and affect your ability to function socially.
If you find yourself in that place where you are having to defend everything you do, constantly provide support yet never get any support back or constantly criticised and belittled, you must, and have to give yourself permission to jump ship, cut the cord and end the relationship – be it friends, family or partner.
It’ll be tough, make no mistake about that. But the peace of mind and the feeling of a great weight lifted from you will be worth it. Not to mention the impact it will have on your social wellness.
At the end of the day, even though you may have walked away from an unhealthy relationship, you have to acknowledge your part in it, to enable you to heal, grow and move on.
Communication is key
Being able to communicate effectively is the third key component when it comes to improving your social wellness.
The best way to communicate with anyone is by talking to them. Text messages and emails can easily be misinterpreted, whereas a conversation, even on the telephone, can be understood clearly.
It’s also best to begin to experiment using ‘I’ statements, such as ‘I need to talk to you’ as opposed to ‘you’ statements, such as ‘you never help’, which can be construed as accusatory and inflammatory.
When it comes to communication, respect and kindness are always key. And, if you are drawn into a disagreement, or argument with anyone, either in person on online, always bear that in mind.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and it doesn’t make them wrong or stupid if they don’t agree with your opinion.
And just like when it comes to criticising, the best way to argue is in a positive and constructive manner.
After all, as the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi said: “Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”
Talking of flowers, improving social wellness is rather like nurturing a garden. It takes time, effort, care and energy and needs constant tending.
By taking care to protect the garden from bad weather and weeds, ensuring the soil is good and the seeds are fed and watered regularly, both garden and relationships will flourish.
Have you weeded out energy-draining people (social vampires) from your life?
Do you feel better for it?
Or maybe you have some advice for anyone who wants to expand their social networks.
Either way, drop me a comment below.
I’d love to hear from you