When we think about health, what comes to mind? Eating vegetables, exercise, meditation, sleep. But research from a Harvard University study running for nearly 80 years makes an argument for the importance of relationships. Their words are that loneliness kills. This doesn't mean that taking care of your body is not important. Avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol, physical activity, stress management and maintaining a healthy weight are all indicators for health. But having healthy relationships is in the same category. We schedule our yoga sessions and trips to the gym. We go to farmers markets and cook healthy whole foods. How often do we think about and intentionally work to improve our relationships? The study found that those who maintained healthy relationships were happier and lived longer.
It’s easy to get caught up in the motions of every day and despite being around people still, be isolated. When we are with family and friends, are we truly present or distractedly checking our phones? Do we invite meaningful conversation with our partner and close friends? Sometimes it feels that our most intimate conversations happen at the start of a relationship and then tapers off to a kind of maintenance level. Family, friends, community all build strong social support and leave you with people you can really count on. This will directly impact happiness and satisfaction throughout life.
Maybe your relationships are more complicated and you need outside help? Repairing these or letting go may be the answer. Don’t let unresolved issues get swept under the rug and fester for years. Seek out counselling, therapy or talk to a trusted person. It can be scary to tackle relationship problems head-on, so find support. And on the other hand what if one day we realize that by taking the focus of relationships we just don’t have any people? It can be hard as an adult to make friends. After being stuck in an anti-social rut for a long time, look into things like meetup.com, volunteering, a course. Ask your existing people or person if they can set you up with a friend. If you are invited to something, actually consider attending. You never know where that one unicorn of a friend may be lurking. On a side note, meeting people at bars or nightclubs may not be the most productive option. It’s loud and people are a few drinks deep, which may seem like a positive - hello Dutch courage. But the chances of you meeting someone who you genuinely have something in common with are slim.
Let’s put relationships in the self-care basket, like drinking a green juice, taking a bath or doing a yoga class. When we are with the people we love, really be there. Focus on quality. Put the phone away. Invite a conversation by being vulnerable and sharing something going on in your life, good or bad with someone you care about. Send an email or call a friend you haven't seen in awhile, and take it beyond “hi, how are you”. And a special reminder for introvert me, you have to sometimes leave the house to actually interact with humans!