Six tips to build social connections and boost your well-being

April 16, 2021

​Our personal relationships affect both our mental and physical health, making it important to build and maintain social connections.

Did you know that social connections — the relationships you have with the people around you — not only help to make life more enjoyable but also are essential for health and wholeness? In fact, studies have shown that our personal relationships can affect both our mental and physical health, so making and maintaining social connections should be as much a part of your daily routine as exercising and eating right.

Why social connections are so important

As social beings, humans crave a sense of belonging and closeness. If we neglect this need to connect, we put our health at risk. Here are three reasons positive social connections are crucial for well-being:

  • Health benefits: Research has shown those who engage with and participate in activities with others have stronger immune systems, improved memory and cognitive skills, increased motivation for self-care, and lower levels of stress hormones.
  • Emotional benefits: Friendships and social connections provide emotional support to help you face life's challenges and hardships. People who make you feel cared for, loved, and valued can be buffers against stress.
  • Resilience: The support you get from others can add to feelings of meaning and purpose in your life. This in turn can add to your resilience – the ability to bounce back after stressful situations. Your resilience is strengthened when you give as well as receive support.

Building your social connections

The need for social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis put a pause on normal social activities, like getting together with friends, attending a ball game, or having family picnics. Even as restrictions are lifted, many people are continuing to limit their in-person interactions. Despite the challenges, there are many ways to connect with others both in-person and virtually. Here are some ideas:

  1. Volunteer. Choose a cause that's important to you and get involved. You're sure to connect with others who share similar interests and values.
  2. Take a class. A local college or community education course puts you in contact with others who share similar hobbies or pursuits. Consider adult education classes.
  3. Use video chat applications. Consider scheduling regular dates and times with family and friends for video calls. Hold a game night with friends using FaceTime, Skype, Houseparty, or Google Hangouts.
  4. Join a neighborhood Facebook group. Find out if your neighborhood has a Facebook group; if they do, request to join and see what fun activities they do. Or start a group if your neighborhood doesn't already have one.
  5. Nurture your relationships. Giving support is just as important as getting it. Answering phone calls, returning emails, and reciprocating invitations let people know you care. Be a good listener. Ask others about their families and what's important to them, instead of focusing on your interests and talking about yourself.
  6. Don't overdo it. Be careful not to overwhelm friends, family, or colleagues with calls, texts, and emails. And while sharing is important, be cautious about divulging personal or sensitive information, especially with new or casual acquaintances and on social networking sites.

How your benefits can help

The Employee Assistance Plan (EAP), administered by Cigna, offers additional resources and tips for building and nurturing relationships. Eligible employees*, their family members, and anyone who lives with them can access articles, videos, and other tools by logging on to the Cigna website (one-time registration is required) and clicking the Work/Life Resources link on the EAP coverage page, or by calling the EAP at 866-640-2772.

And, if you're struggling with feelings of loneliness or isolation and don't know who to turn to, you can live chat or talk to an EAP advocate 24/7. If additional support is needed, the EAP provides unlimited phone consultations (20-30 minutes) with a licensed clinician and up to six private counseling sessions (in-person or virtual) with a dedicated counselor in Cigna's EAP network, all at no cost to you.

Employees and spouses with medical coverage* through the Board of Pensions can also participate in Call to Health challenges to help build resilience and connect with others. Current challenges include Resiliency: Stress – The Mind Body Connection; Share a Time You Showed Resilience; and Read about Biblical Resilience, to name a few.

*The EAP and Call to Health are not available to members enrolled in Triple-S, GeoBlue, or the Medicare Supplement Plan.

Sources: Cigna Behavioral Health, uchealth.com