When someone speaks of health, it’s unlikely that social health is considered part of the equation. Traditionally, the term “health” involved only the physical well-being of a person.
In the past decade, health conversations have expanded to include physical and mental health. However, the overall health of any individual encompasses far more than what meets the eye, and the terms physical health and mental health also comprise much more than initially thought.
When it comes to your health, you can do so many things to take care of yourself. Guess what if you’ve felt strange, distant, or lonely? It’s probably because you have not noticed your social health. So, what is social health? Why is it important? How can you improve your social health? Let’s find out.
1. What is Social Health?
Man is a social creature. This is something you must have heard of time and time again. Maybe you’ve even said it when dishing out relationship advice. And it’s true. Human beings are social animals. We thrive on our relationships with others. Whether you are a social butterfly or insist you’re better off alone, we need meaningful connections. Otherwise, what is the point of life at all?
To understand social health, let’s first delve into the basics. The World Health Organisation’s definition of health includes three things –
- Physical health
- Mental health
- Social well-being
i. Physical and Mental Health
Enough material on these topics now exists, but since we’re on the subject, we might give ourselves a brief refresher.
Physical health is an indication of how healthy our body is. If we eat healthy foods, ensure that we’re getting in a good amount of physical activity, drink plenty of water, get regular check-ups, and take our vaccines and medicines on time, our physical health will be in good shape.
Our mental health relates to our thoughts and feelings. Suppose we realize and face our traumas, use healthy coping mechanisms for when we’re feeling down, identify our emotions, and give ourselves the comfort and reassurance we need in certain situations. In that case, we are generally happy, calm, or neutral. We can safely say that we’re mentally healthy.
Physical health also plays a role in our mental health, a known fact. But so does social health. That’s why it’s just as important.
ii. Social Wellness
And now, we’re right back to where we started – what is social health, social well-being, or social wellness? Relax, we’re getting there.
So now we understand that health, in itself, is a complex word. If you want to say you’re healthy, check off more boxes than just “no sickness.” Health is the total of all the important things to keep you alive and breathing and make you a happy, emotionally stable, functioning member of society. It includes physiological, psychological, and biological health, which leads to overall well-being.
1.2 Social Health
In the simplest terms, social health is a measure of the quality of your relationships with others.
Do you have enough healthy relationships in your life? Are you satisfied with your many connections with the people around you? Are your closest relationships meaningful? Do the people you interact with benefit your individual growth?
If your answer is yes, then congratulations! You have good social health! Remember, though, that was the simplest way to define it. It’s far more nuanced when it comes down to practical application. We’ll get to that in a bit, but first, let’s understand social health in more detail.
i. Where Does it All Start?
We all learn to form connections as children. Generally, the first relationships that we create are with our family members. This ability, inculcated in us as babies, dictates how we connect well with others into adulthood. This also forms the basis of our emotional regulation skills.
Schools, colleges, workplaces, neighborhood communities, and religious groups are all places of connection and social networking, and the meaningful relationships we create in these spaces are entirely dependent on us.
Think about your social network. Who do you turn to when life’s challenges hit you hard? Who reminds you about your capabilities and gives you that much-needed self-esteem boost? If you have even one person you can lean on for emotional support when needed, you’re well on your way to being socially healthy!
ii. What Does it Include?
You can only make meaningful relationships with others if you can communicate effectively. That’s why building good communication skills is essential for good social health. This includes the skill of active listening, where you’re listening to understand the other, not just to respond.
The only way to work on building your communication skills is to have a healthy relationship with yourself. You can communicate effectively with others if you have self-confidence.
Your self-esteem and communication skills also play a role in another important aspect of life – social conflict management. Social conflict is inevitable. There will always be differences of opinion. What matters is how you navigate such situations and how it affects you.
Other important qualities you should have include empathy, compassion, healthy coping mechanisms, conflict-resolution abilities, etc. The list is pretty long.
iii. What Does it Not Include?
Social health is different from the social determinants of health. It’s a term for measuring public health used by health experts and policymakers. While social health is a measure of the health of individuals and their relationships with each other, social determinants of health relate more to society as a whole.
2. The Importance of Social Health
Now, it’s time for the next obvious question – why is social health important? Does it play a role in our overall health and well-being? The answer is yes. Research shows that humans need social connections for survival and growth.
Have you ever felt happy, satisfied, and content after spending time with certain people? When people express how happy they are to have you in their lives, do you feel a rush of closeness and importance? Do you have close friendships that make you feel valued and wanted? All of these contribute to your happy hormones.
In other words, our brain requires social connections, and when we get them, it provides us with endorphins, dopamine, serotonin – all that good stuff.
2.1 Poor Social Health
Just as we’re rewarded for good social health, what happens when the social health of an individual is low? What are the effects of a lack of meaningful connections, the absence of a safety network, and low self-esteem?
Exactly the opposite, of course. Poor social health leads to isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. In the most extreme cases, a loss of meaningful connections could even lead to death.
By this time, most of us would have come across that famous quote talking about the number of hugs a person needs – 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 for maintenance, and 12 for growth – and all the dark humor that followed, showing just how few of us hugged each other daily.
3. Calculating our Social Health Score
Dr. Chelsea Shields, a bio-social anthropologist and an expert in human evolution, gave a TEDx talk on social health. In this talk, she explains why social health is so important, gives us a chart to calculate it, and provides three tips for improving it.
These three tips are:
3.1 Emotional Support Human
Each of us needs a minimum of one emotional support human. This is the person you go to when your world feels like it’s falling apart. Ideally, having an entire supportive network of people you can rely on would be best, but one such person is the bare minimum.
3.2 Set Healthy Boundaries
You may not always have the luxury of deciding who to interact with, but you can control the extent of your relationships with others. You can decide how much power you will give others over your emotions. Determine who depletes your social battery, refills it, and decides how important it is in your life.
3.3 Surround Yourself with the Right People for You
It’s well-known that your company plays a huge role in your personality. Like-minded people tend to stick together. Decide if the people around you have values and aspirations that will help, not hinder, you.
4. Current Situation
When the first humans came into existence, society was very much in survival mode. Evolution has brought us a long way since then, but there are some disadvantages in this new world. One of the major ones is – community. Humans lived in communities and large families that were greatly interdependent for a long time. The fast-paced world has given us our individuality, but sometimes, it comes at the cost of our sense of community and belonging. We still gravitate toward others, but it’s harder for many.
The pandemic and social distancing have led to different consequences for social health. Besides, humanity just went through a pandemic, which turned the world scary. For a long time, the future was uncertain.
For some families, the lockdowns led to an increase in the connection among family members. The reprieve from the hustle and bustle of their work, colleges, and schools led them to spend more time with each other at home and unwind.
For other families, who were holding on to their bonds only because they did not have to face each other for long periods every day, the sudden, everyday distractions were gone, and they were forced to confront their conflicts and dysfunction as a family unit. In several alarming reports, domestic abuse rates increased as people were forced to stay home with their abusers for long periods.
Individuals who lived alone suddenly realized their lack of companionship and experienced chronic loneliness for the first time. The global nature of the pandemic resulted in an overall increase in the development and recognition of mental health issues.
5. Signs of Good Social Health
Earlier, we’d said that having even one meaningful relationship is a sign of good social health, but we all know by now that it’s not that simple, right? There are other signs of good social health, and it’s not necessary, or possible, to always follow all of these practices. It’s enough to do them frequently and consistently in your life.
5.1 A Good Relationship with Yourself
While we have been focusing on the idea that social health is about your relationships with others, you must also have a good relationship with yourself to make that work. You cannot rely solely on others to make you feel good about yourself. It would be best if you were comfortable spending time and making decisions. There should be a balance between social and personal time. Being alone can be good for you, but loneliness is not.
5.2 The Ability to Be Yourself
This is an extension of the previous point. Only if you have a good relationship with yourself will you have the self-confidence to be yourself in any interaction with others. This means you stay true to your values and moral compass and don’t have to change core aspects of who you are to fit in.
5.3 The Ability to Adapt to Social Situations
This means the ability to understand a situation and behave accordingly. This does not mean changing who you are but changing your approach based on the situation. It involves understanding and empathizing with the people involved. It means knowing how to behave in social settings and following societal etiquette. This also involves the ability to manage situations of social conflict in a way that de-escalates or solves the issue.
5.4 Forming Healthy Relationships and a Strong Social Network
Building healthy and rewarding interpersonal relationships is essential to your social health. It would be best to have strong relationships that involve open and honest communication, the capacity to rely on each other, the safety of showing your true self to one another and understanding each other’s strengths and limits.
5.5 The Ability to Stand Up for Yourself
Again, it would be best if you were confident to understand and ask for what is good for you and what you want or need. You should be able to do this assertively and politely, not rudely or aggressively. You can only do this when you feel respected and comfortable with the people around you. This also means that you should be able to set healthy boundaries with the people around you, and you know that they will not resent or dislike you for doing so. You shouldn’t always feel the need to please people, and you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable saying “no.”
5.6 Respect For Others
If you need to disrespect others to boost your ego, that is a sign of poor social health. You should automatically be respectful of others, even if you don’t necessarily understand or even like them.
6. How to Improve Your Social Health
Here’s some good news for you – no matter how bad you think your social health is, there are many ways to improve it, and it’s not that hard.
Since we know how important our relationship with ourselves is, we must practice self-care to improve that relationship. Why is it that we’re so much harsher on ourselves than we are on our loved ones? We need to learn to love ourselves first. Check-in with your emotions and determine how you react to your emotions. Then, you can find healthy ways to help yourself.
6.2 Nurture Existing Relationships
Figure out what connections with people spark joy in you. Make sure to reach out and be there to support those people. Show gratitude and appreciation to them for being in your life. It’s okay if you aren’t interested in constantly talking to them, but keep communication open with them and show interest in what they like. Keeping friends can sometimes be more important than making friends. It’s important to be able to have fun.
6.3 Work on Your Communication Skills
You don’t have to set the bar too high. Start small and take baby steps. Initiate conversations with people. Practice makes perfect, after all. You don’t have to dive right into deep and meaningful conversations. It’s enough to attempt to develop an interest in another person’s likes and dislikes. Also, ensure that you’re not just talking but also listening.
6.4 Form New Relationships
Making new friends can seem daunting, but start with figuring out your shared interests and go from there. Join a community group, a gym, or a club. It’s the best place to meet like-minded people and different types of people. Most importantly, focus on quality and not quantity in your relationships.