The coronavirus has shown us how human contact can spread illness. But psychologists have long known that human connection can prevent illness.

Decades of research have shown that close relationships enhance our immunity to common colds, protect us from developing depression, keep our hearts healthy, and extend our lifespans—not to mention bring us joy, meaning, and purpose.

If physical health is about our bodies, and mental health is about our minds, then social health is about our relationships.

Although these dimensions of health are deeply intertwined, it’s helpful to think of social health separately because of how impactful it is. For instance, researchers have calculated that lacking close relationships raises your risk of dying as much as smoking and more than being obese.

Helena Lopes via Pexels

Friendship and other kinds of connection contribute to our health.Source: Helena Lopes via Pexels
With quarantines and physical distancing isolating us from one another, it’s especially important to be intentional about connection right now. Here’s how to conceptualize, assess, and improve your social health.

Improve

Then, as I recommended in an article for Scientific American, you can take action to improve your social health by broadening or deepening. To broaden, seek out new relationships by joining a hobby club or interest group, volunteering in your community, or attending an event. Until the coronavirus subsides, these can be done online.

To deepen, prioritize quality time with a friend or family member, where you put devices and other distractions away and focus on having a meaningful conversation or engaging in a shared experience. While physically distancing, try this either virtually or with the people you live with.

Just like exercise, sleep, and nutrition, connection is vital for our health. Let’s make sure to prioritize it during and after the pandemic.