The influence of friends and acquaintances on health and mood
Friends, family, acquaintances, neighbors, colleagues are our social network, all the people we interact with every day and who, more or less unconsciously, influence our choices and our mood. Often, when we talk about well-being, we neglect the impact of interpersonal relationships and yet they count, of course.
Several studies have in fact found that those around us affect our health and our emotional balance, for better or for worse, as well as smoking or exercising. Two fundamental parameters for assessing the quality of our social network are social capital and the balance between positivity and negativity in relationships.
Social capital refers to the resources that are available to us within our circle of acquaintances, relatives and friends. A recent study found that having people with high levels of education and vocational training in our social network exposes us to a lower risk of depression and anxiety.
Having a lawyer as a friend, a doctor as a relative, a teacher as a neighbor and so on makes it easier and makes it less hostile to access a consultation, a visit rather than a repetition for the children. Generally we feel distrust when we have to consult strangers for a job rather than for any performance and this would explain lower levels of anxiety when we draw from professionals already present in our social network, known and family, people we trust and immediately available.
We come to the second factor: the balance between positivity and negativity in our relationships. We draw up a list of our acquaintances, relatives, family and friends. Now let’s analyze them one at a time. Is the first thought or memory we associate with that person positive or negative? What emotions trigger us to meet them, talk to them, receive a phone call from them? What kind of experiences did we share with every person on our social network and what role did they play? Did they help us or did they represent another obstacle?
These are all useful questions to determine whether our social network includes more positive presences and relationships for our well-being or, on the contrary, a hindrance to our psychophysical balance. Usually our choices, when it comes to making a social life, are instinctively oriented towards positive people. Friends, for example, have a favorable impact on our mood to say the least. In our circle we should usually find a majority of positive people. However, experts warn that even a small circle of negative people has its weight, since negative relationships have a greater impact than positive ones on our mental health.
In order to live better, it is therefore useful to reduce social conflicts and negative interactions within one’s circle of contacts. A study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Utah found that in times of stress, students with good friends had lower cardiovascular responsiveness to exam pressure. Usually the blood pressure rises when we are worried but having positive presences to support us reduces the effects of anxiety, consequently improving our psychophysical health.
Changing the composition of our social network is not easy. Even when some people are not really part of the solutions of our life, but part of the problem, it is difficult to change, often out of fear or laziness, and embark on new friendships, forge new ties. However, the experts explain, it is good to start reducing the possibilities of conflict in one’s own social network, perhaps looking for people with our same interests and needs and decreasing interactions with people who have a bad influence on our psychophysical balance.
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