top of page

The power of social wellbeing

How do we look after our wellbeing? Most of the common recommendations can feel like a list of no-fun activities. Eat the right food, take exercise, prioritise sleep, avoid stress: these are all incredibly important and do make a massive difference – but let’s be honest, they don’t sound much fun.

However, before we all consign ourselves to a life of self-denial and monastic living, it’s worth bearing in mind that one of the most significant steps we can take towards looking after ourselves is through social interaction. Basically, hanging out with friends and family is really good for our wellbeing. Keep reading, because we’ve got some science to back that up!

On one level, this is pretty obvious stuff. We all know the benefits of a chat and a laugh with pals, being able to forget life’s stresses for a little while and relax in the company of others. And discussing one’s problems can help give you a different perspective, or just lighten the burden a bit and make you feel heard. Whether it's sharing your latest triumphs or seeking advice, having a supportive network can help us navigate through tough times and improve our mental health.

The science of sociability

Research shows that the physical health benefits of social ties are significant, even if your other mortality risk factors (such as smoking, drinking, obesity and lack of physical activity) are low. In other words, even if you live a generally healthy life, you still need to be socially active to stay well and happy over the long-run. Strong social connections are a better predictor of long, happy lives than social class, intelligence, or genetics.

A 2017 study showed that those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer tend to fare better if they have access to social support and interaction, suggesting that just by being around family, friends, or peers going through similar experiences can strengthen us both mentally and physically.

Several recent studies have also linked social connection with other physical health benefits. Researchers at Maastricht University Medical Centre, for example, saw that socially active individuals have a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. In contrast, individuals who did not participate in social activities had a 60% higher risk of developing a condition called “prediabetes,” which generally predates diabetes.

Researchers who have studied the inhabitants of so-called Blue Zones around the world — places with a high number of Super-Agers who live to ripe old age while maintaining good health and cognitive function — have noted that while other elements related to diet and lifestyle varied widely, they all appeared to be dedicated to being highly socially active.

A cocktail of chemicals

And the mental health benefits are just as significant. According to psychologist Susan Pinker, personal contact triggers parts of our nervous system that release a “cocktail” of neurotransmitters tasked with regulating our response to stress and anxiety.

“Social contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like a vaccine, they protect you now, in the present, and well into the future, so simply […] shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust, and it lowers your cortisol levels, so it lowers your stress.”

She adds that, as a result of social interaction, “dopamine is [also] generated, which gives us a little high and it kills pain, it’s like a naturally produced morphine.”

Building friendships

In short, the science is sending us a clear message: Being sociable (including virtually) Is good for our physical and mental health. Which is all very well, but what if we don’t necessarily have a supportive network around us?

The answer is, we create it. Building solid, open and mutually-rewarding relationships simply involves connecting with others. It doesn’t need to be an in-person visit; even a regular phone call or text message can help strengthen bonds with existing friends and family and bring the health benefits of socialising.

Joining existing communities can also be a great way to connect with others with similar interests. Whether it's a sports team, a book club, or a social group, finding a community of similar minded people can help improve our social wellbeing. Or you could volunteer with a local organisation such as a charity shop or food bank, with the associated positive psychological effects of giving back to the community as well as getting to meet new people.

And we’re all familiar with that sinking feeling we sometimes get when faced with a looming social occasion, and the pull of the latest Netflix must-watch is calling to us. But we’re also all familiar with the realisation, if we do make the effort and go out, that these events are pretty much always more fun than we anticipated, and well worth the effort. In short, if you’re thinking about bailing on a social occasion, try to resist the temptation. Just say yes – it's nearly always worth it.

Sociability in the workplace

The workplace, too, can play a key role in building relationships.

Social interaction at work can be just as important as time spent with friends and family. It can help to build strong and productive teams, improve communication and collaboration, and foster a sense of community within an organisation.

According to Naomi Humber, Clinical Psychologist and Head of Mental Wellbeing, Bupa UK, it’s vital that organisations find ways to foster social interaction and connection among their employees, even when they’re not physically together. One approach is to encourage social events and activities, such as virtual – or in person – coffee breaks, happy hours, or team building exercises. Another option is to provide opportunities for employees to connect with one another in more structured ways, such as through mentorship programs or cross-functional project teams.

She says: “Business leaders have a real opportunity to lead from the top when it comes to prioritising social interaction opportunities. Everyone’s busy at work, but by setting aside time to socialise – and engaging in initiatives themselves – executives can demonstrate that social interaction is a valuable part of working life.”


That’s why the entire BuddyBoost programme of workplace wellbeing is built around the concept of social interaction and community. BuddyBoost offers a series of workplace challenges across a diverse range of topics, including exercise, nutrition, sleep, life-balance and sustainability. But the common thread in each of them is the emphasis on community.

Participants form into buddy groups of up to 12 people. In the BuddyBoost app’s private Buddies page, the group provides support and encouragement for each other – and the accountability to make sure everyone sticks at it! Meanwhile, everyone taking part in the challenge can interact on the app’s community feed, posting messages, photographs or video to encourage one another and share their stories. The result is a greater sense of connectedness and stronger, more open workplace relationships.

An added bonus

This ‘Buddy’ element has a further positive benefit to participants. Interacting with people who encourage us to keep healthy habits or achieve challenging lifestyle goals could help us to remain mindful of our eating, exercise, and other lifestyle-related habits.

A recent study has found that people who exercised in a group rather than on their own had decreased stress levels and had better mental and physical well-being at the end of a 12-week fitness program. Their peers who went for solo fitness sessions did not experience the same improvements.

“The communal benefits of coming together with friends and colleagues, and doing something difficult, while encouraging one another, pays dividends beyond exercising alone,” notes the study’s lead author.

Being socially active, then, benefits us in myriad ways. Of course, it’s important to recognise that we’re not all wildly sociable types who can be found swinging from the chandeliers of local nightspots of an evening. Some of us might prefer time alone, or just need a little space. That’s okay – enjoying our own company helps us to get to know ourselves better and develop some of our inner strengths.

However, at least occasionally, socialising with people — whether they’re our close friends or new acquaintances — can allow us to get out of our own heads a little and gain fresh insights about the world. And the physical and mental benefits are greater than you might think.


bottom of page