You know the basics of health and wellness: Follow a diet that favors fruits and vegetables, get adequate exercise and sleep, take a multivitamin, make skincare a priority, and dodge habits that can wreak havoc on your well-being.
But did you know that your relationships can also contribute to your health?
While often overlooked, who you work, play, and live with can have an enormous impact on your overall health—determining everything from the food you eat to the way you approach problems.
Research consistently demonstrates that a negative relationship can take a major toll on one’s mental, physical, and spiritual health. It can diminish your sense of self-worth, make you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression, and lead to a slew of unhealthy behaviors.
A positive relationship, on the other hand, is an absolute goldmine. Take it from Dr. Carmen Harra: “Being around other people can enhance your lifespan. This is because being in good company rewires your neurons and can downright change your brain chemistry.”
Not sure where your friendships stand on the spectrum? Here are 4 signs that the relationships you have with your partner, pals, colleagues, and family are enriching—or derailing—your health:
1. They’re Full of Enthusiasm
Dysfunctional relationship dynamics can cause a great deal of distress and serve as a major drain on your physical and psychological energy. A well-functioning, healthy relationship, on the contrary, is distinguished by the support and encouragement of each other’s goals. Your relationship should give you the vitality you need to go after—and accomplish—your aspirations, whether they’re big (running a marathon) or small (running the dishwasher!)
2. They Make You Feel Terrific
When you’re in a secure, loving relationship—whether that’s romantic or platonic—life feels a whole lot easier to navigate. This is because safety and connection are deeply-rooted survival mechanisms. When they’re realized, our brain produces those “feel-good” chemicals Dr. Harra alluded to—primarily, dopamine and serotonin, both of which are critical to your general well-being.
3. They Encourage Smarter Choices
Higher self-confidence is a natural byproduct of a strong relationship with others, and being empowered can provide you with the fuel you need to handle stress (a key indicator of how robust your overall health is). What’s more, healthy couples, friends, families, and colleagues inspire each other to make wholesome choices, whether it’s hitting the trails on a Saturday or hitting the salad bar on a Tuesday. A toxic relationship, in contrast, can ravage your health, particularly if you’re coupled up with a partner, friend, or family member whose lifestyle habits are reckless, even dangerous. “Social ties influence health, in part because they influence, or “control,” our health habits,” says the National Institutes of Health. In other words? ‘Choose your friends wisely’ is far more than just a saying.
4. They Bolster Your Immune System
An unhealthy relationship can often lead to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can lower immune function, decrease memory and learning, increase blood pressure—even cause weight gain. In contrast, a joyful, healthy relationship often generates an upbeat, can-do attitude, thereby reducing stress and strengthening your immune system. Plus, who can argue with the power and importance of having a helping hand?
All that being said, the most important relationship you can have is with yourself. Embracing who you are, cultivating your skills, championing your beliefs, and taking excellent care of your mind and body will render you more capable of receiving love—and of offering a helping hand to others.