The New Year is a wonderful time to reflect and improve upon the quality of your social circle and current relationships. Studies have shown that social connections and a diverse social network can lead to better health. In an analysis published in PloS Medicine, researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that the mortality difference between people with strong social connections and people with poor social connections was similar to that observed between smokers and nonsmokers. That means that poor social connections has "an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and [is] greater than obesity and physical inactivity. (Strengthen relationships for longer, and healthier life).” Another study conducted by Sheldon Cohen at Carnegie Mellon University found that when exposed to the common cold virus, participants with more social connections and a diverse social network were less likely to develop a cold than more socially isolated participants (The Case of the Common Cold).
It’s incredibly important to develop and keep strong relationships. In today’s high stress, make-every-second-count environment, oursocial and intimate relationships tend to not receive the attention they deserve. From this lack of attention, these relationships may even lose their strength, becoming acquaintances, or even strangers. Small adjustments in how you handle your current relationships can make a world of difference in their quality and longevity, and may even improve your health.
Strengthening your current relationships
- Refocus your attention on the most important people in your life. Ultimately, quality is more important than quantity.
- Attempt to be more positive and avoid criticizing. Even when you may feel hurt, overlooked or disregarded by the people in your relationships, understand that usually these people may not realize when they hurt your feelings. Try and resolve any issues as they arise, instead of expecting others to just know how you feel and harboring resentment.
- Use social media to strengthen your relationships. Instead of just browsing through your news feed where you may miss something, check directly on your friends’ pages, see what they have been up to, and make a meaningful comment on their page.
- Use more personalized modes of communication. Stop using texting as your main mode of communication. If you don’t expect to talk to your friends on the phone at least once a month, you need to call more.
- Start sending a select group of friends a monthly email that updates them on your life. An email list is a great way to stay up to date with close friends that may have become distant or have different schedules.
- Put your phone away when you are spending time with others. Give the important people in your life the attention they deserve.
- Be accountable for your promises. Make a list, with deadlines, of what you promise you are going to do for the people in your relationships, and keep people updated on your status.
- Take the time to regularly attend your friends’ social events, no matter how swamped, tired, or cold it is outside; this really shows that you care.
- Organize a social activity. Relationships require effort from both people. Take the time to plan an event, a family-style meal, beer tasting, bowling, skiing, etc., in a location that is convenient for conversation.
Most important, strong social connections and a diverse social network are not just for decreasing your mortality risk, or even preventing the common cold, they are for enjoying life. Make the New Year’s resolution to improve your life by nurturing your important relationships.
Benjamin Ritter, MBA, MPH, is a freelance writer and a private relationship-and-social-dynamics coach in the areas of public health, fitness, and social dynamics, a writer and editor for Ask Men.com, and the interpersonal relationships columnist for examiner.com. His passion lies in guiding and providing tools to men for overall self-improvement. His debut men's self-help guide, The Essentials, is now available on Amazon.com (The Essentials by Benjamin Ritter).
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