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| By Wellvyl Media Editorial

A few days ago, I was sitting at a seafood restaurant in a beach town in Turkey, waiting for our dinner to be served. Around me, there were three tables with diners of varying ages -- late teens the to early eighties, and the one thing they all had in common was the mobile phones in their hands that they used to take photos, check their Instagram accounts, or text someone not present at their own tables.


While our connection with those not immediately near us is easier and faster than perhaps ever before, it’s also hard to deny a retrograde in our connections with those directly around us. While it’s undeniably easier and more convenient to check in with a friend or family member over text or congratulate a milestone in the life of a loved one via Facebook, the benefits of face-to-face human interaction are undeniable and have been proven correct through a plethora of scientific studies over the last few decades.

The physiological benefits of having strong social ties are evident; people who chronically lack such ties are more likely to experience high levels of stress and inflammation. These, in turn, are linked to heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, among other maladies and organ dysfunctions. In a study of 7000 men and women in Alameda County, CA started in 1965, Lisa F. Berkman and S. Leonard Syme found that people who were disconnected from others were approximately three times more likely to die during the duration of the nine-year study than those with strong social ties. Perhaps what is more remarkable is that this difference in survival held true regardless of participants’ age, sex, health practices or physical health at the time of the study. In fact, people with strong social ties and unhealthy lifestyles lived longer than those with weak social ties and healthier habits.

In addition to these physical threats, however, the lack of a strong and reliable social support system carries significant psychological risks. Emma Seppala of the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and the author of the book The Happiness Track wrote that people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Other studies have shown that such individuals also have higher self-esteem, are more cooperative, trusting, and have greater empathy for others. This, in turn, paves the path for others to be more open, available, and trust with them, which creates a positive feedback loop of emotional (not to mention physical) well-being.


There are multiple explanations as to why the science behind human interaction and social ties works. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that caring behaviors during social interactions trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones. That is why, perhaps, we reach for the phone to call a sibling after a stressful meeting at work or make dinner plans with friends after a long and trying week. According to a publication by Sheldon Cohen in 2004, social support enhances mental health by reducing the impact of stress and by fostering a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Additionally, it improves what John Mirowsky and Catherine Ross, in their 2003 study, refer to as “personal control,” which concerns individuals’ beliefs that they control their life outcomes through their own actions. Ultimately, high personal control promotes healthy habits that lead to healthier bodies and healthier bodies.


Since these positive effects affect both the giver, as well as the receiver in any given relationship, caring involvement with others may be one of the easiest health strategies to access. So the next time before you close yourself off in a room with Netflix, maybe call a friend to join you instead. Who knows, maybe they need someone to watch Queer Eye with as well.