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Relationships are one of the most important aspects of our lives, yet we can often forget just how crucial our connections with other people are for our physical and mental health and wellbeing. People who are more socially connected to family, friends, or their community are happier, physically healthier and live longer, with fewer mental health problems than people who are less well connected.
Living in conflict or within a toxic relationship is more damaging than being alone. As a society and as individuals, we must urgently prioritise investing in building and maintaining good relationships and tackling the barriers to forming them. Failing to do so is equivalent to turning a blind eye to the impact of smoking and obesity on our health and wellbeing. Relationships include the intimate relationships we have with our respective partners, those we form with our parents, siblings and grandparents, and those we form socially with our friends, work colleagues, teachers, healthcare professionals and community.
Extensive evidence shows that having good-quality relationships can help us to live longer and happier lives with fewer mental health problems. Having close, positive relationships can give us a purpose and sense of belonging. Loneliness and isolation remain the key predictors for poor psychological and physical health. Having a lack of good relationships and long-term feelings of loneliness have been shown by a range of studies to be associated with higher rates of mortality, poor physical health outcomes and lower life satisfaction.
It is the quality of our relationships that matters. In seeking to combat loneliness and isolation we need to be aware that poor-quality relationships can be toxic and worse for our mental health than being alone. Research shows that people in unhappy or negative relationships have ificantly worse outcomes than those who are isolated or have no relationships. While This has been reflected in the changing nature of our society. How we interact and form relationships has changed considerably over the past decade. The evolving family structure, development and reliance on online technologies, longer working hours, and changes in how we define community mean that who we connect with and how we connect may never be the same again.
Recognising the importance of good relationships and defining new ways of developing and maintaining strong social connections are integral to our wellbeing as a nation. InHarvard University began following participants as part of the longest-running study on human development in history. The study was developed to determine what makes us happy. The study explored every part of who we are, from physical and psychological traits to social life and IQ, to learn how we can flourish.
During childhood and adolescence, we learn how to engage with others from our parents, families and guardians. We mimic the behaviour and emotions of those around us, and this early socialisation shapes how we understand and model relationship-forming behaviour throughout life. The attachment that has with its parent or guardian is a central predictor for mental health and wellbeing, as well as relationship satisfaction, during adulthood.
Changes in family structure, and increased levels of relationship and family breakdown, can act to interrupt the forming of positive bonds and have been found to impact negatively on academic attainment, as well as future attitudes to relationships. While families, parents and caregivers are central to our wellbeing, during adolescence, friends and peers become more ificant as young people become more independent and start to build their own social networks. Schools and the teacher-student relationship, and positive support from organisations such as youth clubs, can act as a buffer and help protect young people during this difficult time.
Higher rates of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety have been associated with loneliness, isolation and social rejection during adolescence. Adulthood can be a time of stability and brings the joys of discovering new relationships, including building a family. However, it is also a time when key risks for loneliness and isolation can ificantly impact on us, including relationship breakdowns and divorce, poor work-life balance, children leaving the family home, retirement, and bereavement.
As a result, the relationships we maintain throughout our adult lives are more important to our mental health than we sometimes realise. Those in a stable relationship have been found to be happier, healthier and more satisfied with life. Longer working hours, money problems and less time to spend with family have been reported as some of the most important stress factors for relationships during this time of life. The recession has had a ificant impact on people, increasing stress and putting relationships under strain. Friendships have been found to decline with age and many adults wish they could spend more time with friends.
Being in a stable relationship is linked to both physical and mental health benefits, including lower morbidity and mortality 5. However, while being in a relationship can have positive benefits for health, it is important to recognise that unhappy relationships are more destructive than being single.
Research has found that poor-quality or unhappy relationships have a higher negative influence on physical and mental health than not being in a relationship. Evidence suggests that men and women treat friendships differently, with women being more likely to have broader, more intimate relationships than men.
As a result, men are less likely to discuss personal matters with their friends than women, so may be less socially and emotionally supported during times of stress and crisis 7,8. Many people continue to have an active role within society well into their later years, with retirement and changing care responsibilities providing more time and opportunity to take on new hobbies and interests.
While this is true for many people in later life, loneliness and isolation has been found to be a ificant issue for older people aged over An increasing of older people living in the UK report feeling isolated and lonely within their everyday lives. This is particularly relevant for those living with long-term conditions that can make it difficult to leave the house. During this time of life, we can often forget the importance of intimate relationships and friendships, and the changing role from being a parent to being a carer or grandparent.
These bring about ificant changes that impact on and alter our relationships. Having few close relationships has been linked to higher rates of depression and stress in older adults. Being part of a community helps us feel connected, supported and gives us a sense of belonging. Involvement in local activities, such as volunteering or playing sports as part of a team, has been shown to improve mental Any genuine guys 18 21 who have nice bodies want to play and wellbeing.
However, communities are changing from the traditional neighbourhoods where everyone knows each other. Many of us use social media or online networking sites, often as a way of feeling connected to our friends and to increase feelings of belonging. Despite the increased use of online communication, almost half of internet users in the UK reported that the internet had not increased their contact with friends or family who had moved away While online communities can help us connect, they can also be damaging and blur the line of who our friends really are.
They can expose people to unhealthy communication, including trolling. It is important that, as a society, we evolve to become skilled in developing and sustaining healthy online relationships. The importance of community appears to be declining in modern society, with only Moving means having to adapt to a new physical and social environment. Studies suggest that one of the biggest challenges facing individuals when they move is building relationships and connecting with others. While online and mobile technologies can provide a means of connecting and can increase our sense of belonging — therefore having a positive impact on our relationships — research suggests that this cannot replace our offline relationships.
It is the neurochemical response that occurs during face-to-face interactions that contributes to wellbeing. While our relationships impact on our mental health, it is important to remember that our mental health can impact on how we connect with others and how we develop relationships. Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety can influence whether someone feels able to interact and connect to others. This means that developing relationships and socialising in traditional ways can be challenging for some people. It is important to recognise the challenges that someone with a mental health problem can encounter in navigating social settings or relationships.
Most people with mental health problems recover and go on to live full lives, but this can take time and the right kind of support. The relationships we form as children and young people are predictors of our future mental health and wellbeing.
They remain important throughout our life. In terms of physical health, the quality of our relationships is as critical as not smoking and is more important than eating well or exercising.
For our mental health, having few close relationships has been linked to higher rates of depression and stress. However, as we get older, relationships often get forgotten as life gets busier with work and commitments. We need a sea change in thinking. Instinctively, we recognise that relationships are important. However, for many of us, our approach to building and maintaining relationships is passive — it is something we do subconsciously and without deliberate effort. We often overlook that it requires an investment of time to maintain good relationships.
In parallel, when it comes to keeping physically well, we recognise that exercise and eating well require commitment and dedication — until good habits become second nature. We need to adopt a similar approach to building and maintaining good relationships. The Mental Health Foundation believes we urgently need a greater focus on the quality of our relationships. We need to understand just how fundamental relationships are to our health and wellbeing.
We cannot flourish as individuals and communities without them. In fact, they are as vital as better-established lifestyle factors, such as eating well, exercising more and stopping smoking. We are lobbying national governments, public bodies and employers to promote good relationships and to tackle the barriers to forming them, including mounting pressures on work-life balance and the impact of bullying and unhealthy relationships. But we have a challenge for the public too. We are asking everyone to go the extra mile in prioritising their relationships.
We are calling on people to make a relationships resolution : to assess how much time we actively commit to building and maintaining good relationships, and to ask whether we can invest more in being present with and listening to friends, family and colleagues. Make your relationship resolution today and reap the benefits for your health and wellbeing. Home Publications Relationships in the 21st century: the forgotten foundation of mental health and wellbeing Relationships in the 21st century: the forgotten foundation of mental health and wellbeing Download for free Related content Relationships.
Adults Adulthood can be a time of stability and brings the joys of discovering new relationships, including building a family. Later life Many people continue to have an active role within society well into their later years, with retirement and changing care responsibilities providing more time and opportunity to take on new hobbies and interests. Investing in relationships - time for us all to commit to going the extra mile The relationships we form as children and young people are predictors of our future mental health and wellbeing.
Five things you can do Give time: put more time aside to connect with friends and family. Be present: it can be tempting to check your phone, Facebook messages or even work s when with family and friends. Try to be present in the moment and be there for your loved ones, and switch out of work mode whenever possible.
Listen: actively listen to what others are saying in a non-judgemental way and concentrate on their needs in that moment. Be listened to: share how you are feeling, honestly, and allow yourself to be listened to and supported. Recognise unhealthy relationships: being around positive people can make us happier; however, our wellbeing can be negatively affected by harmful relationships, leaving us unhappy. Recognising this can help us move forward and find solutions to issues. References Holt-Lunstad, J. Available at: www. Vaillant, G. Triumphs of Experience.
The men of the Harvard Grant study. Belknap Press: World.
Ditch the Label The Annual Bullying Survey Holt-Lunstad, J. Is there Something Unique about Marriage? Annals of Behavioural Medicine, 35 Robles, T. Marital quality and health: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 1 Wright, P. Canary Eds. Sex differences and similarities in communication 2 nd ed. Mahwah: Lawrence Erbaum Associations Inc. Rose, A.
D A review of sex differences in peer relationship processes: Potential trade-offs for the emotional and behavioral development of girls and boys.Any genuine guys 18 21 who have nice bodies want to play
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