If I were teaching a class and asked students to list several factors that lead to being both healthy and happy in life, I’d likely get responses such as exercise, eat right, get enough sleep, stay away from drugs, drink enough water, and never stop learning.
And, of course, all of those answers would be correct.
But one—even, perhaps, the most important one—would be missing: be social!
Healthy social interaction with friends on a regular basis is nearly as important to your well-being as the air you breathe.
Isolation, on the other hand, can be just as damaging to your health as social interaction is beneficial. One study found that social isolation diminishes sleep quality, increases inflammation in the body, leads to obesity, and increases mortality rates. In fact, the mortality risk of social isolation is nearly equal to that of smoking!
A fascinating longitudinal study from the Sociology Department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, looked at the effects of both isolation and social interaction on four measurable areas: the C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), blood pressure, waist circumference, and body mass index.
Their findings? People who experience a higher degree of social interaction with other people have a dramatically lower risk of detrimental changes in all four areas!
On the flip side, lack of social connections was associated with a significantly increased risk for inflammation, obesity, and high blood pressure. Researchers even found that social isolation carries with it a higher risk of developing high blood pressure than does being a diabetic.
The study’s co-author, Yang Claire Yang, emphasized: “Our analysis makes it clear that doctors, clinicians, and other health workers should redouble their efforts to help the public understand how important strong social bonds are throughout the course of all of our lives.”
For most of us, however, social interaction isn’t always easy, and it often carries a perceived risk. We worry that others might not like us, that we might not fit in with a group, that we may never find “our people” (the ones who really get us and are always there for us), or that a painful past will prevent us from making real connections.
According to science, some of the risks of being hurt aren’t imaginary, either. One study found that being rejected or ostracized by others can cause physical pain.
The risks, however, are worth it! And each of us has the potential to develop the emotional and social skills needed to build and maintain healthy relationships with others. You can find a whole section on building happy relationships in my book Essentially Happy.
Here is a summary of its suggestions for strengthening the relationships you already have and creating new relationships in the future:
• Don’t neglect the relationship you have with yourself! Get to know your inner voice and train it to love and appreciate you!
• Learn all you can about your emotions—both what they are and how to manage them, so you can increase your emotional IQ. There are many reasons for this, but I like what author and psychologist Daniel Goleman says best: “In navigating our lives, it is our fears and envies, our rages and depressions, our worries and anxieties that steer us day to day.
Even the most academically brilliant among us are vulnerable to being undone by unruly emotions. The price we pay for emotional illiteracy is in failed marriages and troubled families, in stunted social and work lives, in deteriorating physical health and mental anguish.” Don’t neglect those emotions!
• Practice having empathy for others by visualizing yourself in their situation.
• Make it a goal—meaning, write it down—to be more social, to try harder in certain relationships, or to simply call and talk to someone on a regular basis. Journaling can be an important aspect of this, as well.
When you write down a goal, write down your feelings about a specific relationship as well. Return often to what you’ve written—and write more—to help you gain perspective about the relationship.
• Keep track of your thoughts and beliefs (about yourself and about life) and repattern them if necessary.
• Identify the role your family’s pattern of beliefs has had on your own life, and change that pattern if needed.
• Fight perfectionistic tendencies.
• Step outside your comfort zone.
Essential Oil Tips
Emotions are, perhaps, the biggest factor in whether or not a relationship works and is healthy. Dealing with your emotions is a lifelong practice that takes daily work. Fortunately, there are specific essential oils that can help you overcome negative emotions you might deal with.
For anxiety, try diffusing any of the following: eucalyptus, frankincense, lavender, tangerine, vetiver, or wild orange. A practice of mediation combined with aroma therapy using one of the oils listed above can be particularly helpful in managing anxiety.
For depression, start helping yourself by taking small steps, one at a time. A great place to start is to add 15 minutes of stretching to your daily routine. While you stretch, diffuse one of the following: bergamot, frankincense, grapefruit, lime, Melissa, rosemary, or wild orange.
For feelings of loneliness, apply wintergreen to the inside of your wrists and breathe in deeply.
For restlessness, try blending equal parts cedarwood, lavender, and Roman chamomile in a glass roller bottle and applying to the bottoms of your feet before bedtime.
For times when you feel trapped, try diffusing cypress and then repeating this affirmation: “I am determined to succeed. I am unstoppable. I write my own life story.”
For feelings of worthlessness, try meditating for 10 minutes every morning. Diffuse grapefruit while you meditate, and then follow up with this affirmation: “I can do great things today! I am of infinite worth. God loves me.”
For anger, fear, or hate, rub a few drops helichrysum over your liver several times a day.
PS. To check out more tips from my book Essentially Happy, click below!