By Shelley Galasso Bonanno, M.A. | Photography by Maria Lisa Militello
Developing and maintaining healthy relationships is vital to both our physical health and our emotional well-being. While most of us are aware of the positive physical effects of adequate sleep, a good diet, and tak-ing care of our bodies, as it turns out, strengthening our social relationships may be just as important when it comes to the long-term beneﬁt to our health.
Social connectedness, and the presence or absence of it, affects all age groups. Numerous studies have shown that meaningful social relationships not only give us pleasure, but have an enormous impact on our long-term physical health and well-being. Research reveals that a lack of social ties is associated with depression and later-life cognitive decline, as well as increased mortality. Low social support is linked to a number of other health consequences, including decreased immune function and higher blood pressure. In fact, one study that examined more than 300,000 participants revealed that a lack of social relationships increased the risk for premature death from all causes by 50 percent.
The quality of our personal relationships appears to be just as important. Healthy relationships require time and effort. They thrive on effective communication and are based on honesty, respect and trust. Without question, the mental health of all parties is also an important element of a good relationship. You can’t always control the stressors in your life, but for your relation-ships to be effective, try to keep stress to a minimum. If you expe-rience chronic stress, anxiety or depression, it can be hard to stay connected to others. Seek help from a mental health professional, because not only you, but also your relationships, are likely to suffer.
The health beneﬁts of connecting with others and maintaining positive, healthy connections with others throughout our life span are impressive. Caring involvement with others, that is, being there for others, is essential to healthy relationships. While occasional disagreements are inevitable, in healthy relationships people work on resolving conﬂict by talking about how they feel, addressing their differences and working through conﬂicts, thereby making their relationships stronger and more fulﬁlling.
When you are involved in healthy relationships, you are more likely to feel good about yourself. Connection with other people, or even one, single individual, can lead to a better mood, increased opti-mism, and higher self-esteem. While relationships are not always balanced, you should feel emotionally safe and conﬁdent sharing your inner most thoughts and feelings with the other person. In a healthy relationship, people are empathic, look forward to spending time with one another, and are respectful of one another’s needs.
The link between developing and maintaining healthy relation-ships and our overall physical health is enormous. While all relationships require effort and attention, focusing on developing and nurturing your most important relationships and connecting with those closest to you not only feels good, but increases your chances of living a longer and healthier life.
Shelley Galasso Bonanno, M.A. is a practicing limited licensed psychologist, mediator, and psychodynamic psychotherapist. A lifelong resident of Macomb County, she earned her Master’s Degree from Wayne State University in 1987 with a specialization in Marriage and Family Therapy. You can follow her on Twitter @shelleybonanno.