How To Stay Connected Even At A Distance
Social connections save lives. Research has consistently shown that having social ties is crucial to our long-term mental wellness.1 But the importance of social interaction goes beyond just making us smile. The benefits of social interaction can be just as powerful for our physical health as a good night’s sleep, a healthy diet, and even not smoking.2 Relationship quality can affect your mood, your stress levels, and even your immune, heart, and gut health.2, 3 After the last year, however, many of us are painfully aware of the effects of social isolation on mental wellness too.
So if the benefits of social interaction are so crucial to our long-term health, how do we make sure our bodies are getting the support they need? Here are a few research-backed ways to support the body when our favorite means of staying in touch are just out of reach.
Get creative with your communication methods4
Texting and video chatting are great ways to remain in touch with the people you care about. While they don’t offer the physical contact we may seek, just feeling like we have that support and connection can go a long way. Video games or mobile games can be another incredible way to stay in touch, make some new memories, and possibly even make new friends. There are also virtual board game sites where you can play thousands of board games online for free with your friends and family.
Find your way to unwind4
What soothes you? Is it perfecting your favorite banana bread recipe? Or finally sorting through that closet? Whatever it is, relaxing activities can help relieve the stress that comes with social isolation. Even something as simple as light stretches throughout the day can help.
Here are a few ideas for how to unwind:
- Listening to music
- Reading (books, graphic novels, even comics)
Get into the routine of having a routine4
Following a daily routine can also help a lot. Even if it’s something as simple as making your bed in the morning, having a daily routine can provide purpose and direction. Think about the things you already do throughout the day, and which times you find yourself gravitating toward doing them. You probably have a few routines already, and just plugging them into a more consistent schedule can help provide structure to an otherwise unstructured day.
Know your “doomscroll” limits4
Staying informed can help you feel more connected to the world. Knowledge is power as they say, but as many of us already know—all that time online has its downsides too. Find the balance that works for you and know your limits. Maybe add a daily non-doomscroll moment to your routine, so you have a set idea of when you need to stop reading the news and move onto your adult coloring book instead.
Maintain a good work balance
For many of us, work may be the main time we really see and interact with other people. Which can make it tempting to stay connected for longer hours than usual. But the data shows that people who report working “just the right amount” are the least likely to be lonely.5 Find what that balance is for you, and protect it. If your coworkers are your main source of social interaction, try making a “no-work talk” rule when you see each other next. If you find yourself buried in work just to pass the time, set some limits for yourself. Make sure work fits into your routine and not the other way around.
Take time off from toxic relationships
In a time when social interactions are hard to come by, it’s tempting to hold onto the few connections we do have—even if we know they aren’t good for us. While relationships are vital to our health and wellbeing, toxic relationships can have the opposite effect.1
It’s not easy transitioning out of toxic relationships, and if you live with that person it can be even more difficult. But if you find some of your relationships are causing more harm than help, it may help to spend less time with that person, or emotionally distance yourself in some way. Find a relaxing activity to help you wind down and tend to some much-needed self-care too.
Maintain healthy habits4
Maintaining a healthy diet, exercise, getting enough sleep. These are all important habits to have whether or not you’re able to interact with other humans regularly. They can not only help you manage the downtime in between seeing your loved ones, but they’re all help your mental wellness. Even something as simple as exercise can affect the loneliness you feel.5
BEST VITAMINS FOR MENTAL WELLNESS
Speaking of healthy eating, there are a few key nutrients to make sure you’re getting into that diet, that are also essential for a healthy brain and mental wellness functions:
Omega 3 fatty acids are vital for the structure of brain cells and the maintenance of normal brain function. DHA comprises 40% of the fat in our brain and EPA helps brain processes that support a healthy mood.6, 7
B vitamins are key nutrients in brain health. Vitamin B6 supports the production of neurotransmitters that are important to a healthy mood.8 Folate and vitamin B12 help produce S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), a component in the brain that helps supports mood health.8, 9
Magnesium is required for normal brain and nervous system function and is the fundamental mineral needed for muscle relaxation.8
Ashwagandha is a traditional herb and while not a vitamin that can support mental wellness, it is traditionally used to help reduce stress. And we can all agree less stress is a good thing.
WHY IS SOCIAL INTERACTION IMPORTANT?
We’re probably all too aware of the benefits of social interaction at this point. Research backs up that staying socially connected helps relieve harmful stress levels, which has a positive ripple effect throughout our entire body. Lower stress levels help support your immune system, gut health, and cardiovascular system.2 Not only that but simply the act of caring for other people seems to release stress-reducing hormones.2
FIND YOUR WAY TO THRIVE
Yes, the benefits of social interaction are real. But if you can’t get the social time you need, there are a few ways to help manage that isolation downtime.
Seek out new ways of hanging out digitally, and get creative with your communication outlets. Or find relaxing activities, set a routine, and try to limit your doomscrolling. Strike the work balance that works for you, and give yourself space from relationships that might be bringing you down. Keep up those healthy diet and lifestyle habits, even if your social life is thriving. And make sure you getting enough key mood, and brain health support nutrients such as omega-3s, B vitamins, and magnesium in your diet.
Craving social connection is perfectly normal and healthy. So find your way to stay connected, stay grounded, and stay in touch both with yourself and with others.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or a recommendation for any specific product. Consult your health care provider for more information.
- Umberson, D and Montex, JK. Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy. J Health Soc Behav. 2010; 51(Suppl): S54–S66. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/
- Harvard Medical School. “The health benefits of strong relationships.” 2019. Harvard Health Publishing. Accessed on: August 2, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/the-health-benefits-of-strong-relationships
- Weir, K. Life-saving relationships. Monitor on Psychology. 2018; 49(3). https://www.apa.org/monitor/2018/03/life-saving-relationships
- Tulane University. “Understanding the Effects of Social Isolation on Mental Health.” 2020. School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Accessed on: August 2, 2021. https://publichealth.tulane.edu/blog/effects-of-social-isolation-on-mental-health/
- “New Cigna Study Reveals Loneliness at Epidemic Levels in America.” 2018. Cigna Newsroom, News Releases. Accessed on: August 2, 2021. https://www.cigna.com/about-us/newsroom/news-and-views/press-releases/2018/new-cigna-study-reveals-loneliness-at-epidemic-levels-in-america
- Bradbury J. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): an ancient nutrient for the modern human brain. Nutrients. 2011; 3(5): 529-554.
- Firth, J et al. The efficacy and safety of nutrient supplements in the treatment of mental disorders: a meta-review of meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials. World Psychiatry. 2019; 18(3): 245–372. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31496103
- Oregon State University. “Cognitive Function In Depth.” 2011. Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Center. Accessed on: August 2, 2021. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/cognitive-function#vitamin-B6-deficiency
- Bottiglieri T. Folate, vitamin B₁₂, and S-adenosylmethionine. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2013; 36(1): 1-13.