Improve your health through healthy relationships

Caring interactions are inexpensive, easy ways to improve overall health.

During the winter holidays, many will be gathering with family and friends. This is time for us to connect, re-connect and just be around those who are near and dear to us. While these situations can be stressful, striving to make them the most enjoyable not only helps us mentally, but can have a great influence on our overall health, even our life expectancy. Michigan State University Extension offers resources on many topics, including ways to stay healthy.

According to Harvard’s Women’s Health Watch, positive social relationships have a positive effect on our health as much as adequate sleep, a healthy diet and not smoking. Numerous studies show that people who have healthy relationships with family, friends and co-workers are happier, healthier and tend to live longer. Of course, the opposite is also true. People who lack satisfying social interactions and connections are more at risk of developing depression, later life dementia and premature death.

So how does it work? Scientists have found that positive interactions with others help to combat the effects of stress. Cortisol is a hormone that is released in your body when you are under stress and can increase your blood pressure and blood sugar, among other adverse effects. When people engage in caring behaviors there is a release of stress-reducing hormones. Being kind and caring to others is not only good for them, it’s good for you too!

In reality, the stress of the holidays can put a strain on the best of relationships. The University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center suggests some characteristics of a healthy and enjoyable relationship.

  • Honesty and trust – give genuine compliments, sharing feelings, discussing problems
  • Emotional respect – disagreeing without using put-downs, trying to understand feelings even if you disagree, caring to find out their point of view
  • Listening – asking what others think and how they feel, empathizing by seeing things from their perspective, replying with what you thought you heard them say
  • Freedom and encouragement – you each have a right to your own, and support each other’s rights to have opinions, feelings, space, activities, friends and dreams
  • Sharing activities – doing things each person enjoys, learning from each other
  • Kindness – helping each other (while respecting our own limits), giving gifts sincerely, not to get something in return, it is the thought that counts
  • Mutual affection – tell each other what you like and appreciate about each other
  • Shared decision making – deciding together, negotiating differences, searching for win-win solutions

During this winter holiday season, as you negotiate social gatherings of family, friends and coworkers, be sure to take time to really focus in and nurture those relationships that are most satisfying and rewarding to you. You will be happier and in the end, healthier!

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