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  • Writer's pictureStella Sremić

Healthy Relationships = Healthy Individuals

After introducing you to LeafCo’s six domain model of wellness and explaining in more detail specific domains such as physical, emotional and spiritual domain, we continue our wellness story with the social domain.

You were probably, at least once in a lifetime, in the following situation: you are studying, or trying to study, for your exam. You’ve been studying all day and with tired eyes, you notice that you have read the same page over and over again. You need a break but you refuse to go to sleep because you still didn’t go through all the materials. Your friends invite you to go outside with them, but you refuse because you must study.

This story is likely to end up in a couple of negative outcomes. Firstly, the quality of your memory retention will be reduced since you are too tired and clearly need rest. Secondly, even if you have the energy to take your exam, you will be exhausted for the rest of the day, having not slept adequately the night before. And last, but not least, you forgot spending time with your friends, prioritizing work over play.

The latter often tends to be overlooked. Our social needs are referred to as something that we can try to fulfill in our free time, not to make free time for it. But what may come as a surprise is the fact that seeing your friends can and should be as important as doing your other “daily tasks”. The social domain of wellness represents a key part of our overall well-being and is on the same level as all the other domains of wellness.


What is meant by social wellness?

According to Hudson-Vitale and Waltz (2020), the social domain is an important part of a six domain model of wellness which is focused on establishing and nurturing relationships with others. What is interesting about this domain is that it is included in all wellness models, regardless of the number of domains. Common across different theoretical models is the emphasis on the importance of quality interactions, where support and respect is given and received from others. This informs the development of skills such as communication, conflict resolution, and assertiveness. Some theories also include an additional social component that considers one’s connection to their local social context. These researchers place significance on one’s connection to community and the nature around them, on the basis that active promotion of a healthy environment relates to the betterment of the community and improved social cohesion (Roscoe, 2009).


Why should I work on my social wellness?

Since COVID-19, the debate about the advantages and disadvantages of remote working is ubiquitous. Some people will emphasize that they prefer to have the autonomy of organizing their work at home, while others will prefer to work in an environment in which they can be directly supported by their team members. Either way, the biggest problem that remote working evokes is isolation, which tends to be overlooked. Positive human interaction is an indispensable factor in one’s health, well-being and survival with a great number of psychological benefits (Seppala, Rossomand and Doty, 2013). Seeing other people daily, talking to them, having meaningful interactions, discussing work-related challenges and facing them together – those are just some of the few components of our socialization that shouldn’t be ignored. Indeed, the social domain of wellness is connected not only to our mental health and well-being, but also to our physical health.

Healthy social relationships are healing and important for one’s wellness in a way that they can help extend the life of people with serious chronic diseases, facilitate psychological adjustment and even help in recovering from traumatic experiences. Furthermore, there is a connection between social relationships and lower mortality, psychiatric and physical morbidity (Cohen, 2004).

Moreover, people that have poorer quality or few social connections, complain more frequently of social isolation and face challenges in emotional regulation. They often suffer from decreased optimism, anxiety and negative emotionality. In some cases, more serious conditions such as depression and suicidal depression can occur. Also, older people without good social support experienced the same life events way more negatively and stressful than older people with it. Social connections can help with emotional regulation, uphold one’s self-esteem, help fend off antisocial behavior, reduce stress and decrease physiological and neural activation for pain (Seppala et al., 2013).

A lot of research has been conducted on the topic of volunteering and the impacts it may have. Results are consistent and they show that people who volunteer can gain benefits from it. Sociologist dr. Van Willigen (2000) investigated some of the mentioned benefits and the results showed that volunteering had a long-term impact on the well-being of elderly people, the volunteers. They estimated that they were more satisfied with life and perceived their health as much better than the control group – people who weren’t engaging in volunteer work.

In another qualitative study, participants reported that volunteering for them is a source of satisfaction and well-being. Even though volunteering can sometimes come with stress and challenges, the social support of other volunteers acted as a protective factor. They reported about the shared identity they were experiencing among their volunteer colleagues, which brought them feelings of acceptance and belonging (Gray and Stevenson, 2020).


How can I work on my social wellness?

Everyone needs different levels and forms of social interaction, at different times, to feel socially energized. Sometimes a one-to-one, intimate conversation with a trusted individual is what we need. Other times we may need a large, group event to release stress or tension. Overall, when this domain is low, we may feel an absence of meaningful relationships with others, a lack of belonging and community, challenges communicating effectively with others and struggle adapting to new social situations.

Regardless of what your needs are, here are some tips if you are feeling low on the social domain of wellness:

Practice active listening! Oftentimes, we may be more focused on what we want to say, than listening to the person who we are conversing with. When speaking with somebody, take a moment to ask yourself: At this moment, how attentive am I being? Active listening is a skill that allows us to understand the story better, but also ensures other people feel “heard”. When someone addresses you, use small gestures like nodding your head or saying “mhm” to encourage them to continue their story. Use rephrasing and summarizing – in that way the person can notice that you are really listening to them, but also it helps you to keep track of the most important parts of the story. Try reflecting – when somebody is telling you about their experience you can say something like: “I’m sorry to hear that, to me it sounds like that made you very sad”, or “That seems like a very important thing, you sound very excited!”. This may help clarify how exactly the other person is feeling about their experience and, once again, it really shows that you are invested in their dialogue. Active listening is a really important skill that can significantly improve your relationships with other people.

Find a common-interest group! Interest groups not only improve your social domain of your wellness, but can also build physical, spiritual, cognitive, emotional and professional wellness. It all depends on which type of common-interest group you choose. You can try groups for hiking, reading clubs, cooking sessions, going to the gym and enrolling in some group training. There are countless possibilities, but the important part is to find a group of people to share the experience with. Social media and platforms like Facebook, Telegram or Meetup.com offer the possibility of joining groups and events, all over the world. These groups have been found to support non-locals, meet new people and make some new friendships. Allow yourself to explore and even if you find out that some particular activity is not quite right for you, at least you have met some new people!

Volunteer! This one builds on the previous tip, but is more focused on the other part of the social domain which is giving back to the community. You can check the official sites of the volunteer centers in your city/country and identify a project which aligns to your interests, passions or vocation. You will be able to choose whether this is a one time, short-term or long-term commitment, for a couple of times per week or a couple of times per month. There are also various categories offered such as volunteering with kids, adolescents, the elderly, and animals. This way you can always meet new people, learn something new, but also help your community in a way that can be rewarding and meaningful.

Set boundaries! Having clear and consistent boundaries is crucial not only regarding the social domain, but for all other domains as well. While we’re interacting with other people whether they are our family members, our friends, colleagues, our boss, client or an unknown person we met on the street it is important to set healthy boundaries. Communication is key to letting others know what is and what is not acceptable. Be clear about your needs and expectations, while also being willing to listen to others’ needs and expectations. Healthy boundaries promote positive relationships while protecting your energetic resources. We have to keep in mind that we don’t have to cross those boundaries for anyone and in any situation.



If you would like to join our meetup check out LeafCo meetups at https://www.meetup.com/pro/digital-nomads-in-porto/



References

Cohen, S. (2004). Social relationships and health. American psychologist, 59(8), 676.

Gray, D., and Stevenson, C. (2020). How can ‘we’help? Exploring the role of shared social identity in the experiences and benefits of volunteering. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 30(4), 341-353.

Hudson-Vitale, C. and Waltz, R. M. (2020). Caring for our colleagues: Wellness and support strategies for remote library teams. College & Research Libraries News, 81(10), 494.

Roscoe, L. J. (2009). Wellness: A review of theory and measurement for counselors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 87(2), 216-226.

Seppala, E., Rossomando, T., & Doty, J. R. (2013). Social connection and compassion: Important predictors of health and well-being. Social Research: An International Quarterly, 80(2), 411-430.

Van Willigen, M. (2000). Differential benefits of volunteering across the life course. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 55(5), S308-S318.

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