15 ways to improve your social health

Do you ever wonder why you feel like something’s “missing” in the picture of your overall health? You might be exercising and eating right. You may have close friends and loved ones who support you when you are going through a difficult time. You could be doing all the “right” things that you know will help keep you physically and mentally healthy.

So why don’t you feel 100% fulfilled?

Most likely, the missing piece of the puzzle relates to your adult social well-being. This is because nurturing human connections is as important as eating well and making time for regular self-care. Researchers agree that adult social well-being has far-reaching impacts on different aspects of our lives, even though it’s only one piece of our overall health.

In this article, we will explore 15 ways to improve our social well-being. Up first, we should begin by understanding the five biggest factors that impact our social health.

What are five factors affecting social health?

The broad definition of social health is the way in which people create and maintain healthy, positive relationships with each other. Feeling emotionally supported in our daily lives helps improve our social well-being. And when our social well-being improves, the results extend to very specific benefits for our overall health. For example, our immune system becomes stronger, we are less stressed and we are more likely to live longer. On the other hand, Health Insurance Fund researchers have linked poor social health to negative physical conditions. These include high blood pressure, heart failure, inflammation and depression. According to Psychology Today, research also shows that loneliness, which is a key indicator of poor social health, is even more deadly than obesity.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services groups the social determinants of heath into five main categories. They are:

  • Economic stability
  • Education
  • Access to health care
  • Community crime rates
  • Social services support.

The condition of these five factors deeply influences our overall social health. For example, people who live in neighborhoods with high crime rates are less likely to get involved in their communities. This limits their ability to build meaningful connections with others.

Conversely, people with higher levels of education tend to be healthier and live longer than others. Those who have access to various social services are more likely to feel hopeful and supported where they live, work and worship. In these ways, the five factors affecting social health are deeply interconnected. Each plays a vital role in our social well-being and quality-of-life outcomes.

How do you promote social wellness?

Many different personal and societal elements will determine the degree of our social well-being. Consider practicing these five types of social health to help you be more mindful about the behavior of yourself and others. Below is a list of five components of social health and how you can use them to improve your own social well-being. 

Kindness. There’s truth to the golden rule, “Treat people how you want to be treated.” When we make a point to project kindness in our everyday lives, we begin to see the good in people and spread positivity. It’s hard not to feel good when someone is kind to you. Being kind to others makes us feel better physically and emotionally, too.

Communication. According to the National Institutes of Health, improving communication skills is the single best way to improve social health. Effective communication helps resolve conflicts, avoid misunderstandings and develop positive relationships. Being an active listener is crucial for effective communication because it helps us understand another person’s point of view and respond with empathy. A few ways to practice active listening include:

  • Removing distractions. Find a place where the two of you can talk without interruption. Decide on a topic. A suggested topic is "What do you want the most out of life?"
  • Giving undivided attention. Agree to make eye contact and give your full attention.
  • Choosing who speaks first. Decide who is the speaker and who is the active listener and agree on a five-minute time limit for each.
  • Paraphrasing what you hear. The listener will practice active listening through paraphrasing like, "If I understand you correctly, you...," "What I hear you saying is..." and "It sounds like..."
  • Clarifying what you hear. The listener will ask questions to clarify what the speaker is saying, "When you say (blank), do you mean (blank)?"
  • Engaging with curiosity. Be curious about the speaker's thought process by cueing with, "Tell me more."
  • Reflecting the speaker's feelings. The listener will practice empathy and reflect feelings, as in "it sounds like you're excited about (blank)."
  • Leaving out your opinions. The listener will avoid interjecting any opinions, judgments or advice.

Meaningful relationships. Finding high-quality relationships will improve our social well-being. Friends or relatives who leave us drained or feeling down can harm our overall health. According to the National Institutes of Health, we can build positive, lasting relationships by sharing our feelings honestly. We can also ask for what we need and have respectful disagreements when they arise. Likewise, we can avoid negative relationships by refusing to be around those who are negative!

Appropriate relationships. Meaningful relationships almost always include appropriate relationships. However, they also can be quite different. For example, you likely have deeper, more personal relationships with your spouse, siblings or very close friends. But you likely have many other relationships that are on a different level. These can include relationships with coworkers, neighbors or “friends” on social media. It’s important to manage these relationships carefully to make sure they stay appropriate. Sometimes, they can become toxic and harm your social well-being, even if it’s not your fault. Here are some tips on how to build healthy relationships:

  • Recognize how people influence you. Do you find yourself changing your behavior or beliefs in order to be accepted by a particular individual or group? Is that behavior helping or harming your overall social health? If it isn’t positively contributing to your social well-being, it is not an appropriate relationship. Know when to move on.
  • Lean on compromises. Coming to agreements that work for everyone will help keep stress at bay. Just because we have disagreements with someone does not mean our relationship with them is inappropriate. It simply means we should practice clear communication skills to work through them in a way that is healthy for both parties.
  • Expect others to treat you with respect and honesty. This may seem obvious, but when we approach relationships with the expectation that they will be respectful and honest, we are setting parameters for positive behavior. That makes it much easier to identify the relationships that are best for our social health.

Set personal boundaries. We can avoid negative relationships by setting boundaries around what we will and won’t do. People who cast blame, judgement or personal attacks have no place in the journey to improve our adult social well-being. Protect yourself from potentially abusive relationships by setting boundaries for yourself and keeping them! Remember, it’s always OK to say no — especially when it comes to nurturing the quality of your overall social health.

How do you improve social health?

As we’ve already seen, making human connections is imperative for good social health. However, it takes time and effort to improve your social well-being. Building and maintaining positive, meaningful relationships is an ongoing, intentional investment. We must be mindful of our social wellness every day.

Here are 10 tips to stay socially healthy that you can put into action right away.

  1. Continue to work on your communication skills. Small steps go a long way when it comes to honing this lifelong skill. You’ll see good results like becoming a better leader or a more patient spouse or parent. Your behavior will also affect how others interact with you. Be a pillar of positive communication and watch your social health meter go up for the better!
  2. Connect with good people. When we build strong support systems with a loyal group of friends and loved ones, we are much better positioned to ask for help when we need it. These are the relationships that will carry us through hard times and help us come out stronger and healthier.
  3. Check in on those people. Just as you will lean on your network of good people, make sure to be there for them as well. Often, the people we’re closest to are dealing with personal issues that make them sad or stressed out, and we may not even know it. Stay in touch with those who form your circle of meaningful relationships. Your kindness and empathy may be what they need to feel better about themselves and their world.
  4. Learn something new. Keeping our minds sharp enriches personal growth and reduces stress. Consider engaging in hobbies that offer a chance to meet people with shared interests. For example, you can build social connections by joining a recreational sports team. You can also sign up for a cooking class or tackle a DIY project that requires some creative research. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you feel happy about it.
  5. Cultivate relationships (old and new). In addition to connecting with good people, we should remember to maintain the relationships that are most important to us. Make a point to regularly invest time and energy into these connections. Send a random “thinking of you” message, make plans to meet for coffee or go for a walk with someone you care about. Even giving the simplest attention to people on a regular basis will improve your social health while bringing value to theirs, too.
  6. Know how to cope. When life becomes stressful (and it always does), be prepared to fall back on your social health toolbox. Practice good communication skills. Resolve disagreements in a healthy and respectful manner. Focus on the positive relationships that you’ve been nurturing for good social wellness. Engaging in quiet, calming activities such as meditation, yoga or even a good, long nap can help ease your worries and lower your stress levels.
  7. Embrace empathy. Sometimes the best perspective of the world around us comes from looking at it through someone else’s lens. We can build connections across differences by taking a moment to consider another point of view. Even if we don’t agree with each other, showing empathy strengthens relationships. It also results in supportive behavior on both sides.
  8. Take care of yourself. Beyond just brushing our teeth, taking our vitamins or getting an annual physical, “self-care” as it relates to social well-being is different. There’s no prescription for how to improve our social health by practicing self-care, but it starts with taking time for ourselves. After successfully completing a big project at work or getting through a tiring week taking care of a sick family member, you might reward yourself with a trip to the salon. You might also take a day off to curl up with a good book. Finding “you time” is vital to recharge your social health batteries.
  9. Stay in a routine. This tip for staying socially healthy may seem like a chore, but sticking to a healthy routine makes it easier for us to manage our time on a daily basis. It also helps ensure that we are paying attention to good habits, such as eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep. Your body appreciates knowing what’s in store for it every day, especially when you’re giving it lots of healthy inputs!
  10. Sit by yourself. While this article stresses the importance of building meaningful relationships and connections with others, it’s OK to carve out alone time, too. In fact, being alone gives us time to reflect on the relationships around us and assess our social connections. Evaluate what is going well with each of them or what could be improved. Think about what you could change about your social network to make it stronger. Alone time also gives us a chance to practice gratitude. When we acknowledge the positive things that we have in our life, both large and small, we can’t help but feel buoyed by gratitude. And that transfers to better social health — for us and those around us.

RECAP: What are some ways to improve social health?

In this article, we’ve explored 15 ways to improve social health. We looked at five factors affecting social health and how each plays a vital role in our quality of life. We also have presented a detailed list of 10 ways to improve social health, including how to promote social wellness in our daily schedules. Incorporating even a few of these suggested activities into your day can make a big difference in your overall social well-being.

Learn more about adult social well-being and connectedness by checking out Hello4Health’s online resources and following us on social media.