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We all want to stay as safe as possible during the COVID pandemic. We have become well versed in the details of social distancing and hand hygiene, but the pandemic threatens our health in another way that may not be top of mind but should be.

It is well known that the pandemic has negatively impacted our social connection, but what is less well known is that social connection is one of the most powerful predictors of your health.

Several recent studies have shown that being socially connected (which is defined as a sense of belonging or feeling close to others) may be as important as smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure in determining your health.

Recognizing the power of social connection in health is particularly relevant today because of the pandemic, but also because loneliness was on the rise before COVID-19.  Pre-pandemic, those who described themselves as lonely doubled since 1980, with about 25% of people not having a single person to confide in. Those numbers are likely worse today.

One apparent solution – social media – may be part of the problem. Time spent on social media such as Facebook has been associated with increased feelings of loneliness, depression, envy, and social isolation.

It has never been more important to focus on your social connections. Being socially connected is vital for your health, your quality of life, and has also been shown to be an effective stress reliever.  

If you think you could use some more social connection in your life, here are five tips that can improve your health, your happiness, your stress level, and likely lower your risk from COVID-19.

5 Tips for More Social Connection

  • Make it a priority.

For many of us, making and keeping social connections is not at the top of our priority list.  It should be.  Rather than feeling guilty about spending quality time with friends and family, see it as an essential investment in your health.  Scheduling social connection (while practicing social distancing) should be as high on your list as exercise and sleep.

  • Get out of your comfort zone.

How many times have you not reached out or made the introduction because you were afraid of being rejected?  Most of us have done that, and, likely, the other person is feeling the same.  Get out of your comfort zone and take the step needed to start the connection.

  • Give.

Volunteering is a proven way to decrease depression and increase happiness and social connection.  The positive feeling from helping others is well-known, but there is the added benefit of potentially connecting with others who share your values and interests. And if you’re nervous about approaching someone new, think about a way you can bring value to them first.

  • Take care of yourself.

When you feel your best, you will have a more positive effect on others.  Eating well, staying active, and sleeping makes us all more attractive to others.

  • Minimize social media.

Research shows a correlation between time spent on social media and anxiety and depression.  How do you feel after spending time on social media?  If the answer is not good, put together a plan to minimize your social media time or give it up altogether. 

If you are looking for an opportunity to make the world a better place, increase the happiness of yourself and others, improve your health, lower your stress levels, and reduce your risk during the pandemic, social connection may be your answer.

Lead the best life,Todd Hurst, MD, FACC, FASE

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