Social relationships

The people we have around us, like family and friends, have a fundamental part in supporting our ability to relax.

Research from the Harvard Study of Adult Development suggests that people who are more socially connected have reduced stress.

Dr Robert Waldinger an expert in the study, noted that ‘people who are more socially connected to family, friends, and community, are happier, healthier and live longer than people who are less connected.’

In support of this, studies by Blue Zone research on the traits of the longest living people in the world, also confirms that close family connection significantly enhanced people’s health and longevity. For instance, they found that:

  • Having aging parents and grandparents near home also reduced disease and mortality rates of children in the home, and
  • Commitment to a life partner was found to add up to 3 years of life expectancy.

These studies highlight the stark comparison between social connection and loneliness, which is that loneliness reduces the quality of our health. This is further supported by Dr. Waldinger who stated that ‘people who are more isolated than they want to be are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain function declines sooner, and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.’

 Another aspect of the importance of social interaction is the benefits of hugging.

Research that was published in PLoS One indicated that people who were hugged, appeared to have more resilience to conflict than those that weren’t hugged.

Michael Murphy, Ph.D., who was one of the authors of the study, noted that this maybe due to touch having the ability to deactivate the stress response, and help the person feel calm.

He further notes that this may be due to the release of oxytocin, which is a feel – good hormone that reduces stress and makes a person feel relaxed.

It is also found that babies who are held regularly were calmer, slept better and had better development.

It is possible that the release of oxytocin and their sense of feeling safe, minimises the activation of stress, which provides space for strong and healthy development.

If we look back at the benefit of social connections, hugging may be part of the reason why people with strong social connections live longer.

Hugging often occurs between people who know each other well, such as friends and family. Perhaps then this activity is helping people with strong social connections to minimise their stress levels and increase relaxation, which then benefits their overall health and increases their life expectancy.