- - Friday, February 16, 2018

February spotlights important reminders for your heart health – and along with the importance of a good diet, quality sleep, routine exercise, your relationships and social connections are just as equally vital to you. Healthy relationship connections bring special rewards to you mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

And it is the quality of genuine relationships that are important throughout your life; while the depth of your social network may vary with importance from adolescence to middle age into your golden years. What matters is what those ties mean in your life. As experts ask, “Do they provide support or strain?” That is what tends to matter for your health.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know About: Your Relationships

Social Relationships: Social relationships—both quantity and quality—affect mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk. The National Institutes of Health underscores that studies show social relationships have short- and long-term effects on health, for better and for worse, and that these effects emerge in childhood and cascade throughout life, fostering cumulative advantages or disadvantages in health.

Defined as the way two or more people are connected, social scientists define distinct features of social connections offered by relationships as:
• Social integration refers to informal social relationships (spouse, playmates, friends, neighbors, acquaintances), as well as formal social relationships (i.e. volunteer, social organizations, community and religious affiliations).
• Social isolation is a state of complete or near-complete absence of social relationships. It differs from loneliness, which reflects a temporary lack of contact with others.
• Quality of relationships includes positive aspects of relationships, such as emotional support provided by significant others, as well as strained aspects of relationships, such as conflict and stress.
• Social networks are reference to the web of social relationships surrounding an individual, in particular, structural features, such as the type and strength of each social relationship

Biologically Hard-Wired to Connect: Men, women and children, all have the need for a deep sense of love, connection and belonging. In fact, these needs are as fundamental as your need for air, food and water. You are biologically, cognitively, physically and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, to connect, to belong and to be respected. You do not always recognize these needs, and you may not see them influencing those around you, but they are still there nonetheless.

This is all a part of why you care how others treat you and why you spend time thinking about past and future relationships.

Qualities of a Good, Healthy Relationship: Building and maintaining healthy, quality relationships is key. I am a fan of Dr. Henry Cloud on the subject of connection and healthy relationships. He aptly communicates:
“What makes a good choice in a relationship? In a word—character. The quality of someone’s makeup determines whether or not they’ll be good in a relationship. At times, we can be attracted to someone’s outsides: their looks, their status, their intelligence, or achievements. But, we experience their insides: their character. The character makeup of a person determines what they’ll be like in a relationship. If they do not have the ability to do certain things that require good character, then they won’t be able to be good in relationships.”

There are various connections within your relationship spectrum—a love partner, dear friend, or adult family member And, experts highlight that engaging in these qualities are needed for authentic, bond-building emotional connection:
• Listens to, understands, empathizes with your feelings and vulnerabilities
• Shares on an emotional level
• Is honest, respectful, trustworthy, with an ability to genuinely connect in communications
• Enjoys time spent together (Do you walk away and feel connected or like you have been alone?)
• Makes you feel secure, comfortable, and supported. Has a sincere interest in one another’s well-being and lives. (Do you have a high level of assurance that your bond with them will be protected?)
• Ability to supportively handle imperfections and resolve conflict in a healthy manner. A good relationship does not mean it is blissful one-hundred percent of the time.
• Demonstrates respect and genuine care for the relationship and too, the individuals within the relationship

Another important dynamic is to respect each other’s personal boundaries. Dr. Cloud wisely explains, “A boundary is a property line that defines where you end, and someone else begins. Good relationships have a high degree of respect for each person respecting the other’s ‘person.’ One way you can tell someone respects your boundaries, is whether you feel free to be in control of your own person, or whether you feel invaded, or controlled, by the other person. A healthy person will respect your wishes to be in control of yourself and what you want to do, or not do.”

Vital Health Benefits of Good Relationship:
• Longer, Higher Quality of Life: Studies show that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems and healthier habits and live longer. These studies consistently show that individuals with the lowest level of involvement in social relationships are more likely to die younger than those with greater relationship involvements. As well, compelling evidence links a low quantity or quality of relationships and social ties with a host of health conditions, including development and progression of cardiovascular disease, recurrent myocardial infarction, atherosclerosis, autonomic dysregulation, high blood pressure, cancer and delayed cancer recovery, and slower wound healing.

Boosts Immune System: Positive emotions (like joy, happiness, care, love and optimism from valued relationships) help to strengthen your immune response. Scientists have discovered that when people are socially isolated or feel lonely, production of their stress hormone, norepinephrine, increases. This results in ramping up the production of inflammatory processes while immune functions that fight off foreign invaders are shut down. This predisposes individuals to contagious illnesses from bacteria, viruses, and parasites. And, conversely, studies report that having social connections boost immune function and inflammation, helping us recover from disease faster.

Helps Manage Stress and Anxiety: Close relationships can keep stress from getting under our skin. When experiencing a life challenge, you may feel like withdrawing – but this is just the time to connect to your good friends and dear family. Along with quality relationship connections having a calming effect on your body and mind, they can help you release tension and buffer a stressful situation. As well, they may provide you with access to timely information or advice. This emotional support helps to fend off feelings of loneliness, conflict and isolation as well as bolster your load-bearing resources to face life challenges and reduce stress. And studies have shown that your healthy relationships are linked to a decreased production of the stress hormone cortisol.

Influences Healthy Behaviors: Relationships can have a strong influence on your behaviors, including decisions impacting your health and well-being. And it works both ways, these relationships generally instill a sense of responsibility, care and concern to influencing others to engage in behaviors that protect health. Testimonies echo every day from influences of family and friends impacting their friends and family to stop smoking, texting while driving, eating healthier, becoming more active, getting quality sleep – it’s powerful!!

Healthier Mindset Overall: Positive relationships make life enjoyable and adds meaning as well as inspiration. Along with building inner support, these relationships help to shift focus to outside of yourself. As well, they help to support your hopes and dreams – through your unique gifts and abilities — and compassion. You feel understood, which helps you to make sense of your inner world. With this, comes a sense of safety of sharing without fearing rejection – which in turn creates trust that encourages one another. This helps to satisfy that “hard-wired” connection for intimacy, closeness, and a sense of security that has a far-reaching impact.

Decreases Dementia: Research shows that having a rich social network may provide a protective effect against developing dementia. It is widely agreed that social interaction is stimulating and that your brain is like a muscle, when you use it, it becomes stronger, and vice versa—disuse can increase the risk for deterioration.

Even those who have mild cognitive impairment—a condition where thinking and memory skills are somewhat diminished, but day-to-day functioning remains fairly intact—have a decreased risk of progression to dementia when they actively participate in social activities.

Improves Heart Health: Being socially connected has been linked to a decreased risk of heart disease as well as death from a heart problem. This likely stems from the fact that healthy social interactions and relationships are associated with decreased stress and an increased likelihood of engaging in healthier behaviors.

People generally understand that good, quality relationships are essential to happiness – but it is equally important to know just how vital your relationships are to your overall health and well-being.

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