People go to great lengths these days to get healthy. Americans spend billions of dollars on the latest workout equipment, health clubs, vitamin supplements and special diets (not to mention all the specialized clothing, shoes, and accessories). Don’t get me wrong; I am 100% in favor of people making the effort to take care of their physical health. No one would argue that we can all benefit from watching what we eat and getting plenty of exercise, but there is another key ingredient to staying healthy that many people overlook. One of the most important components of overall health is connection to people you love.
A well-respected health care expert stated that “Satisfying human relationships can be the most healing ‘medications’ of all. No amount of exercise, meditation, massage, stress reduction or broccoli is an adequate substitute for love and affection for promoting health.”
When a new patient comes to my office it isn’t uncommon for me to discover that they sought counseling because their medical doctor recommended it. This tells me they began their search for health because they didn’t feel well, only to find that there wasn’t a physical cause sufficient to fully explain the way they feel. They use words like “tired”, “blah”, “deflated”, “no energy” and “I don’t care” when describing how they feel. When I work with someone whose energy and interest in things they used to enjoy is low, I often find that they’re not spending much time with people that love and care about them. It sounds so simple, but it’s vitally important: Maintaining a balanced and healthy life requires staying connected to others.
Studies have shown that supportive friends and family have a significant impact on the rate of recovery in hospital patients, and that the mental and physical health of the elderly is greatly influenced by whether they interact socially and spend time with caring people. Simply put, emotional and relational health plays a huge part in physical health.
For some people, relationships are easy and natural. Living close to family, having an extroverted personality, working or going to school with other people all seem to make it happen organically. But quieter personalities, difficulty trusting or isolating circumstances like working alone can make it harder to get close to others. The good news is, you don’t have to have a hundred best friends in order to enjoy the health benefits of close relationships. Even one or two people that you connect with often who are interested in what’s going on in your life, who will encourage you when you’re down and who will care if you’re sick or struggling can make a difference.
The best advice I can give on how to cultivate a relationship in which someone cares about you is to begin by caring about them. Be the person who checks in with them to see how they’re doing, helps if they’re sick and encourages them when they’re having a rough day. Your best relationships will be two-way streets of caring.
If you want to stay physically and emotionally healthy make the effort to exercise, maintain a low level of stress and watch what you eat, but most importantly stay connected to the ones you love!
Live, Work and Relate Well!