The benefits of having healthy social connections are linked to better mental health, lower rates of anxiety and depression, higher self-esteem, greater empathy, and more trusting and cooperative relationships with others.
As humans, we are social beings that depend on each other to survive throughout our entire lives. Balancing work, family, friends, and many other obligations can feel daunting at times. By building healthy, supportive relationships we can increase our mental health, handle stress more effectively, recover from setbacks faster, improve our sleep, and heal quicker physically.
“Anxiety and depression symptoms are often caused by a lack of boundaries and poor interpersonal relationship skills,” says Consuelo Mockerman, Clinician at Diversus Health. “Therefore, it is of utmost importance to develop skills that will help us to have a voice in our relationships (family, colleagues, friendships, etc.) that promote interdependency; being able to meet and voice our own needs appropriately.”
Relationships play a significant role in our mental health journey. Research studies suggest that people with strong, supportive relationships tend to live longer, healthier lives, have lower blood pressure, are less likely to experience a relapse in depression, and have less anxiety. Relationships extend beyond romantic partnerships to include family, friends, colleagues, group affiliations, mutual friends, shared hobby enthusiasts, social media acquaintances, online gaming community members, and more.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, a relationship is “the way in which two or more people are connected, or the state of being connected.” A major driving force behind our desire to seek out connections involves our need to belong. Research demonstrates that married couples and individuals who live together have the most powerful health benefits. Being a part of positive relationships can increase happiness and life satisfaction, improve psychological well-being, and reduce risk of suicide or death.
Building healthy relationships can increase our mental health and well-being by providing a source of companionship, intimacy, and social support, as well as improve our self-esteem, exercise habits, and diet. Healthy social relationships foster mental health in many ways, including:
- Providing people with purpose and meaning
- Encouraging positive behaviors and healthy habits (establishing a healthy work-life balance, making regular doctor appointments, etc.)
- Communicating effectively to both listen and empathize with each other, and help relieve stress and process emotions
- Engaging in activities with friends to increase energy and release tension
Unhealthy relationships can quickly become stressors and triggers for mental health issues. Pursue relationships with individuals who encourage healthy habits and provide positive emotional support. Consider reaching out to an old friend you have lost contact with, make regular plans with family members, attend family or school reunions, join a social organization that reflects your interests or values, or volunteer with a non-profit organization you support. You may find meaningful relationships and emotional support from close work colleagues, clergy members, neighbors, and others within the community.
Healthy Relationship Traits
It is important to recognize the positive effect our relationships have on our mental health and be aware of what creates and takes away from a supportive relationship. Below is a list of positive behaviors that can be found in healthy relationships:
- Trust and respect are mutual
- The relationship is valued, protected, and made a priority
- Each person listens to what the other has to say
- Individuals are responsible for their own needs and the needs of the relationship
- Communication is open and each person feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings
- Healthy boundaries are established for the relationship
- Arguments and disagreements do not lead to threats or violence
- Physical, verbal, and emotional abuse is nonexistent
How to Maintain Healthy Relationships
The quality of our relationships is important for maintaining our mental health and happiness. We’ve put together a list of tips for improving relationship quality and how to maintain healthy relationships:
1. Give It Time
Set aside time for family, friends, and significant others. Recognize that building a healthy relationship takes time. Be patient with the process and you will go far.
2. Be Present
Disconnect from work and social media to devote your attention to the relationship you are trying to build.
3. Listen Actively
Actively listen to what others are saying and be attentive to their needs. Avoid passing judgement and ask direct questions to gain clarity when you do not fully understand.
4. Feel Heard
Reciprocate healthy communication standards by sharing your feelings, being honest, and welcoming support from others.
5. Be Aware of Unhealthy Relationships
Harmful relationships involve physical, verbal, or emotional abuse and can leave you unhappy or at risk for health-damaging behaviors. Be aware of unhealthy relationships and address problems by establishing healthy boundaries for what you will and will not tolerate. If issues cannot be resolved, it may be best to walk away.
Avoid Negative Relationships
Being in a relationship does not automatically produce health benefits. The quality of our relationships has a powerful influence on our mental health. Negative relationships can often create toxic situations which involve conflict and stress. Stress is a significant factor when it comes to our physical and mental well-being. Not only does stress trigger responses in our nervous system, but it influences our ability to cope with negative life events. Negative relationships often result in sleep loss and an increase in health-damaging behaviors, such as smoking or abusing alcohol. It is important to maintain positive, healthy relationships while avoiding negative relationships in our lives.
Seek Help from a Professional
Many individuals benefit from regular treatment with a professional mental health provider. A mental health professional can help to foster mental wellness and address your mental health concerns. Seek help from a professional at Diversus Health to build resilience, minimize mental health issues and symptoms, and improve your quality of life. Learn how to build healthy, sustainable relationships and develop beneficial boundaries and self-care tactics that can increase your mental health today.
*If you or someone you love find it challenging to build healthy relationships, contact us at Diversus Health to request an appointment with one of our mental health providers. If you need immediate assistance, call our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255.