By Jennifer Picone, Manager-Corporate Wellness, Independent Health

Diet, exercise and sleep are three pillars of a healthy life. But did you know that connecting with others on a physical and emotional level is also important when it comes to our overall health and well-being?

Human connection is the sense of closeness and belongingness a person can experience when having supportive relationships with those around them. Having a strong support system helps people overcome challenges more easily and maintain a state of mental well-being. Human connection also reduces certain health risks, boosts the immune system, and improves physical well-being and longevity.

Unfortunately, in today’s digital world, it can be very difficult to create and maintain meaningful connections. As a result, more people are feeling lonely than ever before. Loneliness does not necessarily mean being alone. Instead, it’s a state of mind. You can be in a crowded room and still not feel connected. Ultimately, a lack of human connection and social interaction can be just as harmful to your health as smoking, obesity or high blood pressure.

Simply put: We need human connection to survive and thrive. We are inherently social creatures. Feeling accepted and as if we belong gives us purpose and meaning. Among the things you can do to become more connected include:

  • Join a new club or try out a group activity
  • Reach out to an old friend you’ve lost touch with
  • Volunteer for a cause you care about
  • Introduce yourself to your neighbors
  • Ask someone for help when you need it

Not only is it vital to create social connections, but we must develop them, too. This means you may need to take a step out of our comfort zone and truly engage. Here are some ways to cultivate your connections and relationships:

  • Be your authentic self. Know that you are amazing just the way you are, and people will appreciate you being you.
  • Smile and open up to others. This takes a little bit of time and trust, but it will be worth it.
  • Don’t hide in your phone. Schedule face-to-face meetings and listen intentionally. By simply putting your phone away, you are showing respect to the person or people you are with.
  • Try to always demonstrate gratitude, empathy, compassion, and forgiveness.

Remember, not everyone has to connect socially in the same way. If you’re more introverted, hanging out with a group of people may not be your thing. Try to find a way to connect that fits you and your unique lifestyle. The benefits can have a lasting impact on the way you feel both physically and mentally.