Social health refers to how you interact, create, and maintain fulfilling relationships with people. It also includes how flexible and accommodating you are in social situations. While some people may be naturally gifted in this skill, others need practice.
Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Social Health?
Social health pertains to how you communicate and build relationships with others. People with excellent social health tend to feel comfortable in social settings. They enjoy close relationships, and they feel fulfilled by the people in their lives.
Social Health Vs. Extroversion
Extroversion is a personality trait associated with sociability and outgoing behavior.
Extroverts generally feel energized when socializing in larger groups. They also tend to like meeting new people, going to parties, and working in social atmospheres.
That said, extroverts may not inherently have optimal social health. Even if they enjoy the company of others, they can certainly struggle with important skills like empathy, intimacy, attunement, patience, and compassion- all of which impact their relationships.
Social Health Vs. Popularity
It may seem like popular people inherently have high levels of social health. In some cases, this is true, but it isn’t guaranteed.
People can become popular for many reasons (social status, high skill level, fame, societal or local respect). However, that doesn’t mean they automatically interact or connect with people appropriately.
And even if they’re surrounded by others, they also may not find their relationships entirely fulfilling. In fact, many popular people report feeling very lonely.
What Are the Key Factors of Social Health?
Social health is a broad term that encompasses numerous interpersonal factors. If you’re not sure if you’re socially healthy, ask yourself this: Who do I know that always feels good to talk to? What about them makes them so infectious? Chances are, they meet some or all of the following criteria.
How well do you adjust when plans change? If someone behaves unpredictably, how do you typically react?
Socially healthy people may value routine, but they understand the importance of flexibility and spontaneity. They can easily adjust their expectations to support or validate others. At the same time, they also know when it’s important to exclusively focus on their needs.
Do you speak what’s on your mind clearly and respectfully? Do you set boundaries to protect your integrity and well-being?
Assertiveness refers to articulating your needs appropriately to others. Socially healthy people avoid unhealthy communication patterns (passive-aggression, aggression, or stonewalling) when talking to others. Instead, they share their feelings and thoughts openly.
Start Your Mental Health Education.
Get instant access to free videos, and be the first to know about live classes and events.
In social situations, how comfortable do you feel truly being yourself? Do you try to be who you think others want you to be and do you act differently in front of different people?
Authenticity is one of the main cornerstones of social health. Socially healthy people feel comfortable in their own skin. In addition, they usually don’t mind disagreeing with others or going against the status quo.
When someone argues with you, how do you respond? If you feel like someone doesn’t like you, what feelings come up for you?
Socially healthy people tend to respect others inherently- even if they disagree with their viewpoints or clash with their personalities. Likewise, they also know they can’t please everyone. With that, they usually don’t try to change people’s minds.
Strong Support System
How connected do you feel to your loved ones? Do you feel safe going to your friends and family for support or validation?
Socially healthy people value their loved ones. They know that they need to rely on others for safety, and they don’t feel ashamed asking for help. Instead, they embrace a mutual take-and-give, and they’re eager to provide support to others.
Ability to Make New Relationships
When you start a new job or go to a party, how confident do you feel that you can connect with other people? Even if you have close support, are you open-minded to making new friends?
Socially healthy people embrace the continuous possibility of connection. They recognize that people fulfill different needs at different times, and they stay curious about how meeting others can cultivate even more interpersonal satisfaction.
Why Is Social Health Important?
We are social creatures- we rely on others for resources, connection, and support. The quality of our social relationships plays a direct role in our overall life satisfaction. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of nearly 150 studies concluded that loneliness might increase the risk of death more than diet, obesity, and alcoholism. Indeed, it may be just as dangerous as chronic smoking.
Healthy relationships can help you feel more supported and connected. This, in turn, can reduce the overall stress you feel. Knowing that people care about you- even when life is hard- provides a natural mental health boost.
Sense of Purpose
Connectivity can promote a greater sense of purpose. Relationships offer immense fulfillment, especially if you feel like your daily routine has become a monotonous grind. Socially healthy people will often rank their relationships as their top priority in life.
Better Physical Health
People with strong social connections live longer and enjoy life more than their lonelier counterparts. Researchers conceptualize that healthy relationships also promote healthier habits while mitigating harmful ones.
Greater Work Satisfaction
Many workplace stressors result from relational issues. Because socially healthy people tend to be assertive, adaptive, and agreeable, they may benefit from more promotions and a better reputation. These effects can lead to higher levels of workplace satisfaction and success.
How Can You Improve Your Social Health?
Whether you feel lonely, awkward, or generally disconnected from others, you can take steps to improve your social health. Here are some tips to consider.
Identify Your Specific Weaknesses
It’s too vague to have the goal of just getting “socially healthier.” Instead, you need to define what specifically feels important to you.
When evaluating your social health, where do you feel you fall short? What improvements do you believe would make the greatest impact on your overall well-being?
As you reflect on these weaknesses, consider your current willingness to work on them. Ask yourself to rate your motivation on a scale from 1-10. If your number feels too low, reflect on what you can do to raise it.
Challenge Your Automatic Assumptions
Nobody cares about what I have to say!
I’m awkward and weird.
They’re only talking to me to be nice.
What do each of these beliefs have in common? They represent cognitive distortions, which refer to chronically negative thinking patterns.
Many people live their lives consumed by their own cognitive distortions. They see the world in black-or-white, personalize how others treat them, assume full responsibility when things go wrong, and believe they are doomed to bad situations.
But these thoughts can be challenged, and doing so can make you feel significantly better about yourself. The next time you feel yourself spiraling into negativity, stop and ask yourself:
- What would I tell a loved one if they were going through this?
- What is another way to look at this situation right now?
- How is this thought harming me?
- On a scale from 0-100, how likely is this thought true?
Strengthen Your Empathy
Empathy is the glue of social connectivity. When listening to others talk, try your best to put yourself in their shoes and imagine how they must feel in a given situation.
If you don’t understand something, ask clarifying questions. Instead of jumping to conclusions, aim to be validating and supportive. Even if you don’t relate to having a particular struggle, you can show up for others by avoiding judgment and exuding warmth.
If empathy still feels difficult, challenge yourself to be more intentional with actively listening to others. Active listening refers to being present and fully engaged when someone else talks. When you practice this skill, you give someone your undivided attention, making it easier to tap into empathy for their situation.
Consider Your Body Language
So much of social connection comes down to the nonverbal part of communication. It’s often not about what you say. Rather, it’s about how you say it.
Practice holding good eye contact with people when they talk. Aim to hold your gaze for a few seconds at a time. If looking into the eye directly makes you feel especially uncomfortable, look just between their eyebrows.
Aim to maintain an open, relaxed posture. Smile when it feels natural and appropriate. Try to be mindful of crossing your arms or turning your body away from the other person- these subtle gestures signify being guarded.
Finally, try to convince yourself that you’re already having a relaxed and enjoyable conversation. Acting “as if” can help you ease up accordingly. It can also help you feel more confident as you navigate social settings.
Prioritize Living an Interesting Life
Socially healthy people tend to value embracing passion and novel experiences. That’s often what makes them so enticing to talk to- they lead unique lives!
You don’t need to scale mountains or backpack around a foreign country to make yourself interesting. But you should, however, think about what makes you feel passionate and excited.
Engaging in meaningful hobbies can boost your emotional well-being and self-esteem. You then naturally have richer experiences to draw upon during your daily discussions. Finally, you increase your chances of surrounding yourself with like-minded people.
With that in mind, don’t do things just for the sake of doing them. You should have a vested interest in how you spend your free time. If you don’t feel excited about what you’re doing, you won’t stick with it!
Compliment Others Generously
Socially healthy people are attractive because they make other people feel good. Think about it- everyone wants to feel desired or special. Therefore, we feel drawn to people who acknowledge our worth.
Genuine compliments can have a profound effect on others. A few kind words can transform someone’s day. And if you’ve ever received a great compliment, you know just how long it can stay with you!
Authenticity, of course, is key. Aim to be honest and specific without overdoing it. For example, instead of saying, You’re such a good friend, try saying, I really appreciate you texting me to see how I was doing today. You are so kind and considerate. I am truly grateful for our friendship.
Practice Your Social Skills Often
Improving your social health often comes down to exposing yourself to many social situations time and time again. With that in mind, you need opportunities to practice.
Don’t overlook the small moments. Ask your barista how their day is going. Compliment a neighbor on their garden. Check in with your coworker to see how their presentation went.
As you get more comfortable with the smaller skills, you should increase the magnitude of your goals. For example, you might challenge yourself to attend a party and talk to two strangers. Or, you may commit to asking your boss for a raise.
Get Professional Support
Depression, social anxiety, or a history of trauma can all impact social health. These issues may interfere with forming healthy relationships. Likewise, they can prevent you from taking the social risks necessary to improve your self-esteem.
Individual therapy can help strengthen your social health. It’s important to find a provider who specializes in social skills. Your therapist may integrate various interventions like mindfulness, assertiveness training, exposure techniques, and self-esteem exercises.
Social health is an integral part of your emotional well-being. Socially healthy people tend to be happier and healthier. They also generally live longer.
No matter your circumstances, remember that you can continue to grow in this area. Prioritize your loved ones and continue making a conscious effort to cultivate new relationships.
If you continue facing loneliness, isolation, or poor social skills, reach out for support. You can overcome your difficulties, and it’s important to seek help if you’re struggling.