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The Mind And Body Are Much More

The mind and body are much more interconnected than we tend to realize. How we view those around us, and how we view our own lives have a great impact on our overall well being. Maintaining a positive outlook on life, even when our circumstances are less than ideal, may even help keep us physically healthy or help alleviate both physical and mental ailments such as depression, anxiety and stress. The mind and body are interconnected, and if one of these aspects is off then the other is negatively impacted as well, most notably depicted when one’s poor

level of social connectedness limits the health of both their mind and body. These healthy social connections we make are necessary and can impact both physical and mental health.

The use of social media can be great to keep up with what our friends, family, and acquaintances are up to. Whether we admit it or not though, how we view those around us has a large impact on how we, in turn, view our own lives. Social media is not a realistic representation of peoples lives, as it merely shows off the highlight reel to their highly filtered lives. Most people only post about the best aspects of their lives and even further edit these posts to make their lives appear better than they actually are. This action causes viewers to believe that the posters are living their absolute best lives while they are not. Furthermore, creating unrealistically high expectations on how one should live their life.

Constantly comparing ourselves to these posts negatively impacts our mental health, and eventually our physical health also suffers as a result. People tend to become overly concerned with the amount of “likes” or comments they receive on their photos and posts causing people, teens specifically, “to make choices they would otherwise not make, including altering their appearance, engaging in negative behaviors, and accepting risky social media challenges” (Hurley). Social media, through apps and websites, becomes addicting and users find themselves spending an extensive amount of time scrolling through pointless apps on their phones or other devices. Since people spend more time communicating online than they do in person, many young people struggle with the ability to create the essential social interaction skills necessary for day to day life. These skills are as simple as empathy and compassion.

Lacking social skills causes unnecessary stress about basic social events. For example, finding someone to sit with at lunch can be a stressful task for middle and high school students if they lack basic social skills. This stress continues into adulthood as well with job interviews, for example, which tend to be very stressful for most people and cause a great deal of anxiety. This reveals a low mental health that leads to a decline in emotional health as people tend to go into interviews already believing that they won’t be hired. “Stress around interviews is often influenced by our assumptions or the statements we make to ourselves about the process” thus increasing the level of anxiety one faces (Doyle).

It was found by a research team that using social media was linked to negative overall health. The team discovered that the more time people spent interacting with FaceBook, the worse they felt about their social connections and quality of life. Subsequently, their physical health ended up also being negatively affected through increased sedentary time while interacting with it, leading to heightened weight related ailments (Kross E, Verduyn P, Demiralp E, Park J, Lee DS, Lin N, et al). It is also thought that increased screen time and social media usage could cause people to have less face to face social interactions with their peers (Kross E, Verduyn P, Demiralp E, Park J, Lee DS, Lin N, et al.). In doing this people slowly retract from actual social interactions, depending more and more on social media to fill that void. Social media is not real, but prolonged interactions with social media apps causes users to mentally blur the line between what is real and fake.

This is the same case for those who utilize online dating applications. These experiences can be negative because oftentimes people’s profiles are not entirely accurate, and sometimes the complete profiles are fake, with no basis in reality. Though these applications can be beneficial for individuals who are shy and know what they want in a partner, they actually make it harder to date through the apps, as well as in person. When using many dating applications, the way they are set up is almost like a slot machine, where people experience a rise in dopamine levels when they match with new potential partners. In doing this though, many people experience what has been coined as information overload, or in other words too many options that it becomes overwhelming to them (Tiffany).

With all the negative effects that come from the overuse of social media, we have to wonder if millenials are slowly becoming addicted to social media, and if in doing so their ability to socialize with others is negatively affected, and with it their health on the whole. “Kristin Carothers, a clinical psychologist with the Child Mind Institute in New York City believes that continual virtual interaction through social media causes a lack of emotion, and when dealing with a face to face encounter many users of social media may “miss some social cues”” (Curtin). Aspects of nonverbal communication such as “eye contact, facial expressions and tone in voice” are important social cues that most children continue to learn well into their teenage years from interacting with their peers (Feliciano). We adjust our responses to situations or within conversations based on the cues received through nonverbal communication, yet the constant use of social media makes it harder for kids to learn these social cues and understand them in the context of social situations, causing heightened stress levels (Feliciano).

Since kids and teens are spending more and more time attached to social media today with no end to this increase in sight and less time with their peers face to face, depression, caused by this, “is slated to be the leading cause of disability in 2030” (Curtin). I too have seen the effects of social media first hand with my peers and experienced its effects in action in my own life. The most common situation I experience is at social gatherings with friends. You go to hang out with and interact with your peers, only to be completely disconnected from everyone in the group because they are checking instagram or the latest tweets in lieu of talking to the people who are right there in front of them. Even one of my roomates has become self absorbed with social media. Remaining in her room isolated from everyone only to come out and knock on my door when she needs me to like a picture she has just posted because she is nervous she will not reach 200 likes. I find these situations to be extremely frustrating when I want to talk to and connect with my friends, only to realize that they are too absorbed in what’s on instagram than in listening to our conversation which makes me feel isolated as well, even when I’m not the one on social media. Many young people use their phones as a crutch to avoid social situations they are uncomfortable with instead of learning how to deal with them. Knowing the negative effects loneliness and isolation has on people researchers are just now starting to look at people who use social media quite frequently and the negative effects on their mental health.

The social relationships we have can significantly help with depression and anxiety. Individuals with poor social connections and relationships have been found to have higher levels of depression and get sick more often due to decreased immune systems. Adults with coronary disease, for example, that had less social connections were 2.4 times more likely to die from complications or the disease themselves than their more connected peers (Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K.). Part of the influence of having more friends and social connections also has to do with health behaviors, and these behaviors being increased with the support of friends. Actions such as eating healthfully and exercising is correlated to increased social circles, while negative health actions such as smoking, drinking in excess, and unhealthy weight gain are associated with those who are isolated (Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K.). This makes sense, as we are much more likely to keep up healthy habits such as going to the gym regularly if we have a friend or gym buddy to accompany us. In “addition to cognitive behavioral therapy and medication for the treatment of anxiety, there is increasing evidence for the value of exercise for treating both clinical anxiety disorders as well as more general difficulties with anxiety” (Otto). This statement shows the overwhelmingly positive affect exercising with a friend can have in reducing anxiety in people with anxiety related disorders as well as those without any stress or anxiety related ailments, whereas someone may not tackle their health goals as proactively on their own. Individuals in group workout classes also have the opportunity to socialize and get fit, while being surrounded by encouraging and supportive people with similar goals as themselves. These real connections, both friends and acquaintances help expand your social network, keep you healthy and help mitigate stress.

Having friends helps us deal with issues in life, but also helps us interact with the people we meet. From early on in life, our friendships with others help us form our understanding of how to interact and deal with individuals in our surroundings, as well as teach us important social skills in this area. “Early friendships play a vital role because they occur while key developmental changes are taking place. They help teach us some of those important life skills but also shape our life “narrative””(Whitbourne). Everyone we meet has a varied world view from our own, and furthermore, giving and providing support to others in your relationships can actually be more beneficial to your overall health than receiving social support is (Brown, S. L., Nesse, R. M., Vinokur, A. D., & Smith, D. M). When people discuss their hardships with you or a tragedy in their life, you know that they trust you and are looking to you to help them through this difficult time, helping you bond with the friend in need of this social support. Having an “uplifting conversation that introduces hope and joy into the morning may influence physical activity, healthy food selection, or the choice to engage further in proactive social relationships later in the day or week. Open communication with a physician may encourage stronger engagement in answering health questions” (Qualls). When people share something positive that happened in their life with you, it indicates that they wanted you to be part of their success and they know you care about their success, life, and happiness as well, making it a compliment to you.

Think about the last time you left a job, most people when asked say that they don’t miss the work, but rather the people and the friendships made there the most. Or when you finally accomplish a task you have been working on forever, it’s your closest friends that you want to tell right away. These social interactions play such a huge part in our day to day happiness, especially in their absence from our lives. “Family functioning, negative social interactions and relationship quality showed consistent associations with indicators of mental health and wellbeing” indicating that these aspects are all heavily intertwined and connected to overall health (Tough, H., Siegrist, J., & Fekete, C). Not having someone to share your story with-both the good and bad aspects leads to a sense of isolation and loneliness among individuals and potentially depression as well.

A lack of social connections can directly lead to all kinds of physical ailments such as increased levels of stress, weakened immune system, and decreased cardiovascular function to name a few. “A recent Harvard study concluded that having solid friendships in our life even helps promote brain health” as well just as proper diet and exercise do (Why Friendship is Important). Individuals who are lonely also tend to drink more alcohol, exercise less, get less quality sleep, and get tired more easily than their counterparts. “Social relationships have as much impact on physical health as blood pressure, smoking, physical activity, and obesity”, which has a very significant influence on your overall health (Qualls). Social relationships allow you to share your achievements and give you someone to talk to when times are tough and life is bringing you down.

Intimate relationships, and long term bonds of relationships and marriage naturally have a significant role in overall health and happiness. “Marriage and intimate partnerships generally offer protective functions to health. Marital partners can offer the widest range of support functions because of the high rate of integration in each others’ lives, including companionship, emotional support, and instrumental assistance” (Qualls). These relationships provide support to each of the partners which in turn helps them “recover quickly from ailments as they have their partners by their side to take care of them, comfort them, give them medicines, consult the doctor and do whatever is required” (Positive And Negative Effects Of Marriage On Health).

Similarly, having mutual friends as a couple, such as other couples you and your spouse spend time with can be beneficial to your relationship and health as well. Though “you can benefit both from maintaining your separate friendships… sharing with the couples who are experiencing transitions such as becoming parents, raising teenagers, and helping older family members” can help make your relationship stronger (Whitbourne). In this regard, the friends you share as a couple will be going through these same life events, such as raising kids, making them more able to lend support to each other than friends in other areas of life.

Being married is generally great for your health, but “research has shown that people in unhappy marriages are at a higher risk for heart disease, depression, and high blood pressure. Couples in unhappy marriages also do not heal as well after an injury or illness” (How Does An Unhappy Marriage Affect You?). Remaining in relationships or marriages that are no longer functional may leave long term negative effects on both parties involved. These effects can wreak havoc on our mental, emotional, and physical health, according to certified couples therapist Carrie Cole. Dysfunctional marriages not only add excess anxiety and unhappiness to the lives of both partners but a marriage where one person may feel “trapped or is being belittled can cause depression” leading to even more unhappiness (Innes). Constantly feeling like you have to censor everything you do and say to prevent arguments with your spouse, or out of fear of upsetting them furthers this state of anxiety. “A Michigan State University study shows there is a 34% increase in the rate of heart problems for those involved in toxic relationships” (Innes). Along with this, studies have shown that couples “who live in constant conflict are more likely to die 11 years sooner than those who experience less conflict” making it much better for your health to leave these toxic relationships (Hutkin).

Though having an abundance of positive social relationships throughout all areas of life is extremely important, these positive effects on your health are only present if these relationships are healthy, mutually beneficial and emotionally supportive ones. Individuals that are always down and have a negative outlook on life, especially when things are going well, causes us excess stress, making that relationship taxing, and emotionally draining. “There is a dark side to friendship. The people who know you the best are also the ones who have the most power to betray you, should the relationship sour” (Whitbourne). Individuals who are good friends most likely know a lot about you, your insecurities, secrets etc. and unfortunately with this knowledge they also have the power to hurt you if you ever decide it is best to part ways with them.

Individuals that make all your interactions about them also take away from the social interaction as a whole. In this case, you are not partaking in the interaction, so it’s not a mutually beneficial one since you’re just listening to them. Friends, but especially friends like this, can create more stress in your life by potentially taking away from your goals or other relationships and obligations you may have. This is why you have to be able to walk away from the friends “who disappoint, betray, or stress you and you’ll be more likely to get the full friendfluence effect” (Whitbourne).

The impact of these negative relationships can be detrimental, and is even equated to having the same negative effects on health as taking up smoking and being sedentary for overwhelming long periods of time. Experiencing chronic stress like this, especially for both women and individuals who are older, can lead to increased levels of stress related heart disease, lack of sleep, weight gain and raised blood sugar due to the imbalance of hormones in your body (How Does An Unhappy Marriage Affect You?). In terms of treatments for these situations, whether it is negative friends or toxic marital relationships, the most important thing is to step away from or effectively exit that relationship. Severing ties with your toxic friends or filing for divorce are the biggest factors in reversing the negative health effects caused by these relationships. Finding support in good friends, people with whom you trust and can discuss your anxieties freely, or through support groups is also key in remedying the negative health effects. Lastly, finding hobbies that increase your mental, and with it, physical wellbeing are key to living a healthy, happy life.

The golden years that are often associated with relaxation and enjoyment can often be some of the loneliest for seniors. No longer working full time at their career, and with their children now grown adults, they need to create a new sense of purpose to prevent their health from declining. Many elderly adults do not like to admit they are lonely or reach out to others due to the stigma attached. In many cases the elderly are isolated, they are physically unable to go out, their children have moved away, their friends are ill or have passed away. “According to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, both social isolation and loneliness are associated with a higher risk of mortality in adults age 52 and older” (Stevenson). Staying connected to people as we get older is critical to one’s well being. Without meaningful social interaction in their life the elderly can become depressed. They might sleep for longer stretches in the day, spend less time on their appearance or become more forgetful. It is the connections with friends and family that gives meaning to their lives and when this piece is missing it becomes harder for them to get through the day (Pozniak).

I know through personal experience with my own grandmother how important these social connections are. After my grandfather died, my grandmothers sisters and her best friend for over 70 years, my family noticed a change in my grandmother. Even though we visited her on a regular basis and went out to eat, on day trips and spent holidays with her, something was missing, that connection to her past. It was obvious she missed not having my grandfather there with her every day to have her morning cup of coffee and discuss what she just read in the newspaper or to go on a walk in the neighborhood in the evening. In fact, my grandmother cutback going on walks and exercising shortly after my grandfather’s death. After a bad fall she felt it was safer not go on walks at all because a fall could be more detrimental to her health then the benefits of walking.

Over time we began to see the toll of not exercising and taking care of her body was having on her. My grandmother was so out of breath just walking from the car to her doctor’s appointment we had to get a wheelchair to assist her. My grandmother was always focused on keeping her mind healthy doing word puzzles, constantly reading and eating food good for the brain because alzheimer’s runs in our family, she underestimated the importance of exercise and taking care of her body. My grandmother died of heart failure, a condition that does not run in her family. Had my grandfather been alive they would have continued their daily walk, she would have had someone to share her day with.

My grandfather gave my grandmother a reason to wake up in the morning and after his death it was evident that she was having a difficult time caring on with her life “Dr. John Cacioppo, a neuroscientist and psychologist at the University of Chicago, has studied isolation” for about 30 years (Stevenson). He found that loneliness is linked to poor cognitive performance and quicker cognitive decline. There is a great deal of research that shows that being connected and involved with people is valuable to the mental and physical health of the elderly. Just having someone to check in and make sure they are eating right, taking their medicine and getting exercise is important. When the elderly do not have social support on a regular basis they are more apt to have a poor diet, lack physical activity and be more forgetful (Stevenson). This behavior can lead to weight gain, heart disease and dementia.

The people you allow in your life can greatly affect your overall health both mentally and physically. It is key to surround yourself with supportive, caring people. If you find yourself in a toxic relationship it is important to either seek therapy to improve the relationship or to end it. “The Center for Disease Control released a new report showing that suicide rates in the U.S. are increasing at an alarming rate. Between 1999 and 2016 rates went up by more than 30 percent in half the states. The age group between 55 and 64 years old has the third highest rate of suicide, with 18.71 deaths for every 100,000 Americans. Experts are struggling with why the numbers have risen so dramatically but have linked isolation and relationship problems as probable causes” (Westfall 49). It is clear that if we want a health mind -body connection we need to have healthy relationships that makes us feel good about ourselves and happy. It is essential not to underestimate the importance of positive human interaction.

If you don’t take care of your mind and body simultaneously through positive social connections, it is impossible to ever achieve good overall health. Mental stress, causes many physical ailments as well as prevents current ones from getting any better, just as being physically hurt or unhealthy negatively affects your mental state. Your mind can let you know if you are getting sick, if you get stressed your body feels it, so your mind can make your body sick if its not well. These two aspects clearly directly affect the other, and so only by focusing on both aspects to health and wellbeing through these interactions can someone be fully healthy.

Freelance Writer

I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.