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Episode 5: The vital importance of social connections – with Prof. Julianne Holt-Lunstad

By October 31, 2021December 11th, 2021No Comments

Episode 5: The vital importance of social connections – with Prof. Julianne Holt-Lunstad

In this episode we learn about a vitally important aspect of our health, but one that doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves. The topic is social connection and I sit down with Professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad who is one of the worlds most renowned experts on the subject. Here she explains how social connection can be defined and measured and what the research says about its impact on our health and wellbeing. We also learn how you can evaluate and reflect on your own level of connection and we go on to discuss different ways to use this knowledge to grow and nurture your own social life.

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Main topic notes

  • How is social connection defined? [02.22]
  • Are we less socially connected? [05.15]
  • The links between social connection, health and mortality [07.28]
  • How different factors contribute to population health [11.15]
  • How social connection still is underappreciated when talking about health [12.30]
  • What is the likely reason behind the effect on health and mortality? [13.19]
  • Do we know if feeling as part of a community has an effect even if we don’t have direct human contact? [15.38]
  • What do we know about the effect of the quality and quantity of our social connections? [18.55]
  • Ambivalent relationships and their effect [22.04]
  • Ambivalent or negative relationships vs social isolation [28.36]
  • Self esteem, personality traits and maintaining ambivalent relationships [29.50]
  • The interpersonal perspective and how to work on relationships [32.40]
  • How to evaluate your own degree of social connection [35.18]
  • How to nurture and grow your social connections [37.42]
  • The exciting future for this field [42.14]

Main article

Holt-Lunstad J. Why Social Relationships Are Important for Physical Health: A Systems Approach to Understanding and Modifying Risk and Protection. Annu Rev Psychol. 2018 Jan 4;69:437-458. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-122216-011902. Epub 2017 Oct 16. PMID: 29035688.

Takeaways

  • Social connections can be described as and divided into three major components: the structure, the function and the quality of the connections
  • A higher level of social connection is associated with health protection. Some of the strongest evidence is for mortality meaning you have a higher overall chance of survival when socially connected. The reason for this effect is believed to come from a heightened stress response when socially disconnected and how this affects our health long term
  • The quality of the relationships are important since mainly negative connections have a detrimental effect on our health. Ambivalent connections are a mix of positive and negative effects simultaneously, and this may possibly be worse for your health than purely negative connections.
  • To evaluate your own connections you can ask yourself a set of questions: what is the size of your network? How often do you interact with others? Do you belong to any social groups? If you encounter a problem do you have someone to turn to for support? How satisfied are you with your relationships? How helpful or upsetting are they to you?  
  • To develop and nurture your social connections you can: reconnect with friends you’ve made in the past but lost contact with, connect more often with existing relations or make new ones. To improve the function or quality of the connections the most important part is to look at your own contribution. There are ways to improve our own listening skills and compassion toward others which will have an effect on our relationships. For negative or ambivalent relationships you might want to try to repair and improve the connection to develop it into a positive one but if this does not work it might be better for your health to focus more on other more positive social connections

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