For some of us, being social seems like a lot of effort, especially with outside priorities like school, work, sports, or health. As BeWell@Stanford sums it up, “Our culture values hard work, success, and wealth, so it’s no surprise some of us do not set aside enough time for social ties when we think security lies in material things rather than other people.”
It can be hard to avoid our natural instinct to hibernate in our bedrooms or houses away from people for hours on end. It’s not that we’re trying to be antisocial — it just happens. But it’s important to make interpersonal connections, both for your emotional and physical health.
If the promise of an emotional support system — a confidante for your life struggles, mutual appreciation, and trust — isn’t enough of an incentive for you to get out there and make some friends, don’t worry! Science has some purely medical reasons for that very problem.
1. Lower cancer rates and better responses to treatment
WebMD, which, for me at least, is held in high medical esteem beyond even that of my doctor, describes a study that followed 61 women with ovarian cancer. Women with a better support system of friends and acquaintances had lower levels of a cytokine molecule called interleukin-6. Low levels of the protein are associated with better response to chemotherapy and weaker forms of the disease. On the other hand, “Women with weak social support had levels of IL-6 that were 70% higher in general, and two-and-a-half times higher in the area around the tumor.”
2. Reduces susceptibility to disease
One experiment with 276 participants set out to find out if social ties had an effect on a person’s ability to resist the common cold. The result wasn’t surprising: “More diverse social networks were associated with greater resistance to upper respiratory illness.”
3. Improves heart health and lowers blood pressure
A number of studies have shown that heart health is linked to lower levels of stress and anxiety, two factors that can be lessened by the presence of social support. A study from the Swedish Survey of Living Conditions found a link between cardiovascular disease and a lower number of positive relationships. Patients often have better survival rates once diagnosed with a disease, as in the cases of coronary artery disease, hypertension, and diabetes.
4. Lower risk of mental illness and depression
This one seems fairly logical. Although depression and mental illness can affect anyone, no matter their situation in life or social standing, a network of strong connections and relationships offers a support system that a person can fall back on in times of need. Being around people you love increases the release of positive hormones that can relieve stress and reduce feelings of depression. Friends are a source of kindness and self-esteem, and they can offer positivity in difficult periods of life. Situational depression is often exasperated by feelings of disconnectedness and loneliness.
Some of these studies were definitely more obscure and surprising, but some shouldn’t come as much of a shock at all. Too often in our society, we feel that we can get by well enough on our own, without other people in our lives. We’re wrong. Despite anxieties and awkwardness and introversion and anything that might get in the way of forming relationships with others, humans are social creatures and meant to live in community with one another. After all, in the wise and all-too-accurate words of BeWell@Stanford, “I’ve often wondered why we require so many studies to prove that we need each other and that it is important to care for each other. I would simply call it wisdom.”