The importance of social relationships

In this module we briefly describe the importance of social relationships for us humans. After that we present scientifically based tips on how you can increase your social interactions, if you feel that this is something that you need.

Cheers in coffee
Photo: Unsplash

Background: social relationships

We humans are social creatures. Our ancestors did not survive on their own, but instead helped to protect each other from dangers and gather food. Being ostracised from the group meant great danger and that vulnerability persists even today. When we perceive that we do not get to "belong to the group" we become stressed (Picket & Wilkinson, 2019 et al., 2009). Conversely, we have a feeling of well-being, security and calm when we spend time with people by whom we feel accepted (Cacioppo & Patrick, 2019, Miller et al., 2009).


Introduction: social relationships

Good social relationships are a protective factor against illness and mortality (Hold-Lundstad et at., 2010). This may be because social relationships can facilitate healthy behaviours, for example in terms of diet, exercise, sleep and following medical recommendations (Holt-Lundstad et al., 2010, Miller et al., 2009, House, Landis & Umberson, 1988, Uchino 2009, 2018). Social relationships can also affect how we feel and how we perceive stressful factors in our environment. They may increase our sense of control, our possibility to have influence on our lives and may also provide support in solving problems and dealing with challenges (Miller et al., 2009, House et al., 1988, Uchino 2006, Uchino et al., 2018).

However, we have different social needs. While some people enjoy being alone a lot, others feel more comfortable having other people around them almost all of the time. For many people, the ideal option is a combination of company and alone time. Neither of these variations of social needs are better than any other, but if you notice that the way you live your social life has a negative impact on your well-being you can take steps to change that.


Steps to take for more social interactions

Tips: Steps to take for meaningful social interactions

What are your social relationships like right now? Do you often feel isolated or without context? Is this something that you don't enjoy? If so, perhaps you would find pleasure in having more contact with other people. Think about how and when you see people that you like being with and think about how you yourself can change your behaviours to increase these encounters. You can follow the steps below to change your social interactions, if you feel a need for it.

What would be meaningful? What sort of social contacts might feel meaningful to you? For example, do you want to study with other students, exercise with someone, do volunteer work or go out together? Are there people or groups that would be meaningful or fun to have more contact with?

Find a first step. What could be a first step that you could take to increase your social relationships in the desired direction? Maybe you could ask an another student today if you can study together tomorrow.

Identify obstacles. Are there obstacles to social relationships, for example: Are you worried about what other people will think if you make contact with them? Are you unsure of who to make contact with? Do you lack a social context to be active in? Once you have identified possible obstacles it might be easier to find solutions.

Be patient. Allow to take some time but be consistent and schedule social activities. Establishing new social relationships might take time, so you need to be patient. As time goes by, more social interactions will become a natural part of your day to day life!


Social relationships - more at KI

Tips: Build social relationships as a student

Many students make lifelong connections during their studies. KI organises many activities for students, among other things through KI's two student unions Medicinska Föreningen and Odontologiska Föreningen, which gather students and organise many social activities.

If you want to learn more about these organisations, you will find more information on their websites.

Medicinska föreningen

Odontologiska föreningen (information in Swedish)

You can contact Student Wellbeing Centre for help and support if you are struggling with social relationships (for example if you are really scared about what other people will think about you or if you have a fear of speaking in front of others).

References: Social relationships

Cacioppo, J.T., & Patrick, W. Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. (2019). W. W. Norton: USA.

Holt-Lundstad, J., Smith, T.B., & Layton, J.B. (2010). Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Medicine, 7(7): e1000316.

House, J.S., Landis, K.R., & Umberson, D. (1988). Social Relationships and Health. Science, 241, 540-545.

Miller, G., Chen, E., & Cole, S. W. (2009). Health Psychology: Developing Biologically Plausible Models Linking the Social World and Physical Health. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 501-524.

Pickett, K., & Wilkinson, R. The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone's Well-being. (2019). Penguin Books: UK.

Uchino, B.N. (2006). Social Support and Health: A Review of Physiological Processes Potentially Underlying Links to Disease Outcomes. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 29, 377-387.

Uchino, B.N., Trettevik, R., Kent de Grey, R.G., Cronan, S., Hogan, J., & Brian R. W. Baucom. (2018). Social Support, Social Integration, and Inflammatory Cytokines: A Meta-Analysis. Health Psychology, 37, 462-472.

Content reviewer: