Humans are social animals who need contact with other humans. Much of our development and happiness depends on interactions with other people. Your brain needs it. It’s how it learns what it means to be human. In fact, the strongest predictor of a species’ brain size is the size of its social group. You have that big brain in your head in order to socialize. Strong social connections and meaningful friendships can significantly enhance mental health and overall well-being.

However, getting enough social interaction on a daily basis can be challenging. In the past twenty years, social connectedness has steadily declined as evolving technology and housing trends contribute to people being lonely and isolated. More Americans than ever are living alone than in previous generations. Then, a global epidemic comes along and requires even further social isolation. While texting and social media make it easier to connect on a superficial level, they have also made it easier to avoid much needed face-to-face contact and making real connections.

Being Isolated Stresses Your Brain

Your brain’s top concern is always your survival, and it knows there’s safety in numbers. That’s why your brain likes to be part of a group and experiences stress when it’s not. Whether it’s fish, antelope, or humans, animals that find themselves on the periphery of their social groups are the ones most at risk from predators. Being in that situation, which your brain views as constant danger, causes the brain to stay in self-preservation mode — always on alert.

Your brain interprets social threats just like other threats. Every unreturned phone call or unanswered text becomes a reason for your brain to sound the alarm. In fact, the pain of social rejection, exclusion, or loss, activates the same areas as physical pain in your brain.

Feeling isolated can put your brain in a state of low-grade chronic stress with physical and mental consequences. People, especially youth, who feel ostracized and not part of a social group, are at a higher risk for mental health issues, like anxiety or depression. And then anxiety and depression breed ostracism that contributes to them. It’s a vicious cycle.

Socializing Helps Your Health in Substantial Ways

It’s proven that prolonged social isolation, even in healthy, well-functioning individuals, can eventually result in psychological and physical disintegration, and even premature death. A landmark study from the 1980s found that lack of social connection has a bigger impact on health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. Human interaction is so important that some experts are calling loneliness a disease. People without strong quality social relationships are at a higher risk for:

  • Depression and anxiety;
  • Elevated levels of stress and inflammation, which can adversely affect coronary arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system;
  • A wide range of diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer;
  • Cognitive and functional decline, including dementia;
  • Decreased resistance to infection;
  • Delayed recovery from injury, surgery, illness, etc.;
  • Premature death (50% increased risk)

It’s Good for Your Physical Health

Having social interactions can help your body reduce stress and improve cardiovascular health. Studies even link a stronger immune system and reduced rates of disease and living longer to social interaction and relationships. Social isolation has also been connected to inflammation, heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Other research found that having more friends increases the likelihood that a person maintains healthy lifestyle habits and lowers the frequency of unhealthy habits. Social connection can even improve sleep, well-being, and quality of life.

friends, socializing, social interaction, mental health

It’s Good for Your Mental Health

Socializing with friends and family can help decrease stress, anxiety, and depression and reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Having a support system and feeling connected can improve your self-worth and help you feel connected. Studies show that people who have close friendships during their teenage years have a lower rate of depression and anxiety later in life.

You can experience a lot of the same mental health benefits just by participating in group activities, like team sports, exercise or cooking classes, gaming groups, or book or chess clubs. While online and phone communications do provide some mental benefits, you ideally want to connect in-person too. However, you don’t even have to actually interact with others to benefit, just being in the same physical space, like at a concert, with people can increase your happy neurochemicals.

It Keeps Your Brain Young and Mentally Healthy

People who are socially isolated and not mentally stimulated tend to have lower cognitive ability in old age. Social interaction can improve memory functions, which helps recall and provides some protection from neurodegenerative diseases. The benefits of friends increase with age. Even pets have some similar beneficial brain effects.

Your brain needs social interaction. During the COVID-19 pandemic we all saw firsthand just how important human interaction is. Social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment for centuries. An extreme example of social deprivation would be infants who lack human contact fail to thrive and even die.

Social Interaction is Mind Medicine

According to Medical News Today:

“….direct person-to-person contact triggers parts of our nervous system that releases a ‘cocktail’ of neurotransmitters tasked with regulating our response to stress and anxiety.”

These findings corroborate the observations of a study that concluded romantic partners could help each other relieve physical pain just through interaction and touch. Additionally, if you or someone you know is living with cancer and is going through treatment, positive social interactions can impact their outcome. The research saw that when people feel loved and valued, they’re more likely to respond well to a difficult experience, such as chemotherapy.

Let Us Be a Part of Your Social Network

While social interactions won’t help all your health issues, they can be one part of a physically and mentally healthy lifestyle. At Grey Matters neurofeedback brain training studio, we are passionate about providing information and services that help people live their best lives, including optimizing their brain’s health and function. We would welcome the opportunity to assist you and be a part of your supportive network.

Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback therapy where you learn to control your brain activity and guide it toward more optimal functioning, which can relieve problematic symptoms or behaviors you are experiencing. Regular visits to our studio can be a part of your positive social interactions, and we will train your brain to be healthier.

A better brain means a better you and life.

Give us a call at (317) 215-7208 or send us a message today to find out how we can help you.