What Kind Of Social Interaction Is Best For Your Health?
Now, more than ever, people are experiencing the link between social interaction and well-being. While phone calls, group video chats, and even video dates seemed to increase during quarantine, feelings of isolation and loneliness have, too.
With advanced technology and social media, it can be easy to make convenient connections online, but is face-to-face socialization more beneficial for overall health? Here's what psychiatrists and psychologists have to say.
How does social connection affect health?
"Loneliness and isolation can worsen physical pain, depression, and immunity," says Nina Vasan, M.D., MBA, psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer of Real. "It increases the risk of diseases like infections, heart disease, high blood pressure, and dementia."
Social connection, on the other hand, has been linked to longevity. For instance, when studying the Blue Zones—the five regions of the world where people live the longest—researcher Dan Buettner found tight-knit, uplifting friendships to be a major factor in health and longevity.
"Having social connections is linked to better physical and mental health as well as longevity," Vasan says. "On the flip side, when people are isolated, their need for belonging is not met, and this has negative consequences for health."
Social connection decreases feelings of loneliness, which can lead to depression, sleep problems, and alcohol abuse.
"When we are in a positive connection with others, a neurochemical called oxytocin is active in the body—reducing stress and increasing feelings of empathy, love, and connection," psychologist Gail Parker, Ph.D., C-IAYT, tells mbg.
Best types of interactions for different personality types.
While everyone has different interests, psychologist Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, recommends these general social interactions for different personality types.
Each one is relevant for all times, but for now, it's important to keep current health and safety guidelines in mind by wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Even seeing people nearby and talking from a distance can help satisfy cravings for stimulating social interaction.
- At home: One-on-one or small-group gathering with close friends. Sitting around and talking, playing card games, or engaging in a mutually loved activity, like gardening.
- Outside of the home: Meet one or two friends over coffee and a pastry at an outdoor café or go for a walk or hike.
- Quality "me-time": Visit parks or cafés alone, but be open to chatting with a like-minded stranger. This could be as simple as asking the barista what to order or asking a stranger for a book recommendation.
- At home: Hang out with a larger group of friends over a meal or at a party, and consider being the host. (Note: You can also do this virtually over video chat until it's safe to host an indoor party!)
- Outside of the home: Visit a highly stimulating place or event such as a farmers market, populated park, or restaurant. (Again, while adhering to health and safety guidelines.)
- At home: To fulfill your need for connection, call a friend or family member and have a deep, meaningful conversation.
- Outside of the home: To fulfill your need for stimulation, go for a walk or visit an outdoor café where you'll be surrounded by other people. If you don't want to get outside, organize a group Zoom meeting with friends.
What type of social connection is better for overall health?
According to Vasan, in-person social connections are ideal since they engage all of the body's five senses. If possible, she recommends safely meeting up with friends outdoors and with a mask.
That said, video chat, phone calls, and letters are still beneficial tools for social connection and mental health. Anyone with a greater risk of illness from COVID-19, who is living with someone who's vulnerable, or who is not yet comfortable with social-distance meetups, should consider these alternatives.
"While vicarious or indirect experiences of social contact are not the same as direct experiences," Parker says, "they can and do have an impact on our moods."
Parker also recommends using this time to find pleasure in your own company. Loneliness is not meant to be endured as a state of being, she says, but periods of aloneness can be used for reflection and rejuvenation.