The Impact Of Relationships And Social Support On Physical And Mental Health

The collective human experience over the passage of time has faced disasters such as acts of nature, pestilence, famine, wars and economic crisis. With every existential threat, mankind has been resilient and rebuilt lives. We can attribute this to our natural survival trait as humans and beyond this our need to not only survive but to thrive.

The devastating human experience of this century is the Covid-19 Pandemic. Many lessons have been learnt from the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. The difference though is that with modern living we are more exposed because of the ease with which we travel and frequently cross borders. We have become a global village where an epidemic in one country can quickly spread to the rest of the world.

Let us explore the pivotal importance of relationships and social support as individual and collective attributes for overcoming difficult situations.

Humans are Social Beings by Nature
From the earliest historical accounts of humans, and long before modern civilization, we have been social creatures. We live in family units and these family units make up what we call a community. We not only live in communities but we form communities for work, play and diverse social activities.

We naturally gravitate to others with similar interests and goals. This social group experience gives us stamina, motivation and endurance. To be affirmed by a circle of support gives us happiness and fulfilment.

Collectively, the social support helps us to face the unexpected difficult times and situation. Any decree or edit which threaten social support risk creating mental and emotional distress in any social group.

Types of Relationships
Each individual develops a network of different types of relationships over a lifetime. The common thread in all relationships is the need for nurture, effort and reciprocity. The analogy between a healthy relationship and a garden is a practical one. Gardens need to be attended to, watered, fertilized and periodically have the weeds removed. The well kept garden thrives and the beauty gives joy to the admirers.

Five Basic Relationships:

  • Family
  • Friendship
  • Romantic
  • Professional
  • Self

Optimal Health Revisited
For so long our focus has been on physical health as if it was the most important determinant of health. The World Health Organization has a broader definition of health which is more holistic i.e. “health is not only the absence of disease but a total state of wellbeing”.

Practitioners of naturopathic, complementary and alternative medicine CAM understand only too well the importance of caring for the whole person. Many of these non-conventional healthcare providers take into consideration health as a state of wellbeing in mind, body and soul.

Restoring optimal health requires an assessment of not only the physical parameter of health (weight, BMI, BP, heart health, flexibility, healthy joints etc.) but also the mental and other indicators of wellbeing.

The determinants of optimal health include the following pillars of health:

  1. Spiritual maturity
  2. Mental wellbeing
  3. Physical wellbeing
  4. Social awareness and connections
  5. Financial security
  6. Healthy relationships
  7. Attainment of vocational goals

There is interplay between each pillar of health and a delicate balance which when shifted can make us physically and /or emotionally unwell.

Relationships impact Health Physical and Mental Health
The supportive pillar of Healthy Relationships is probably the most important for our happiness.

Developing, nurturing and maintaining healthy relationships require a Life Skill that can be learnt. It is never too late to learn and apply these skills as the benefits that are accrued will contribute to a happier more fulfilling life. Relationships require an investment of time and energy along with skills to make the experience positive and supportive.

Recommendations to build strong Healthy Relationships

  1. Learn how to recognize early and respond to changes in your relationships.
  2. Know the signs of toxic, destructive relationships and take actions to lessen the exposure or remove yourself from that environment.
  3. The art of communication and mindful listening are invaluable skills to master.
  4. Continuously work on ways to strengthen relationships and where appropriate express and demonstrate love. Stronger bonds of love make relationships more resilient in challenging times.
  5. Get the help you need to repair and heal fractured relationships.

Social Support and Inclusion Positively Affect our Health
An individual who has social skills and awareness communicates well, interacts comfortably with others and demonstrates good interpersonal relations.

A socially aware and connected individual has effective interpersonal skills and conducts him or herself appropriately in any given situation. The ability to be gracious, remain calm, and assume the leadership when the situation dictates this are the hallmark of an individual with highly developed social skills.

Tips to remain Socially Engaged & Connected

  1. Keep a handy list of all the social agencies which provide assistance to the community.
  2. Volunteer for non-government organizations already offering care and support for the homeless or community members who have fallen on have times.
  3. Reach out to a family member, friend or neighbour who is struggling to keep it together.
  4. Cheer on and encourage the first responders in your area.

Collectively, we can bounce back from disasters and challenges when as a country there is social support to guarantee food, shelter, safety and access to healthcare. Governments must have the necessary safety nets to protect us all mentally and physically.

On a more personal note, the quality of our relationships at all levels (with our children, family, and peers) determines how successful and resilient we are today and in the future.

If you have recognized that your relationship with yourself has weaknesses, then consider getting the help you need to remedy this. Professionals are trained to coach you to rebuild self-appreciation, self-trust and self-confidence.

This is a great place to start when repairing other types of relationships. This is so as the relationship with yourself when fully restore, will determine the quality of relationships with family, peers and colleagues.

Great relationships do make us happier and optimally healthy.

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