The Positive Impact of Social Contact

Sep 28, 2023

Humans are social creatures, hard-wired to connect. Back in the cave-people days, connection to others meant survival. It’s still true today. This is why it feels so terrible to be left out of a group or be rejected by others. That primal robot part of your brain wants you to be in a group of people for safety. Your monkey mind just loves to have friends! We need people in our lives to feel safe, have fun and better understand ourselves.

The positive impacts of social contact are many. Including:

  • Improved Mental Health
  • Increased Happiness
  • Enhanced Communication Skills
  • Strengthened Relationships
  • Social Learning
  • Stress Reduction
  • Improved Physical Health
  • Increased Empathy and Understanding
  • Community Building
  • Economic Benefits
  • Cognitive Stimulation
  • Psychological Resilience

Studies conducted at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) looked at the benefits of being with others on mental and emotional wellbeing. The research paper suggests that, “Social contact appears to have a very positive influence on the psychological and the physiological aspects of social animals, including human beings.” Psychological = mind. Physiological = body. 

Specifically, socializing reduces stress hormones in the body helping us feel less anxious. This is called “social buffering”. The people in your life can reduce, or buffer, how intensely you feel stressful situations. This same report found, “Solitude itself can be a stressor to social mammals and they may show a high stress response when socially isolated.” 

Today, there’s more interaction than ever through electronic devices and yet you may feel less connected than ever. You’re not alone in feeling alone. Isolation and loneliness are an epidemic. Children, adolescents and young adults are suffering from loneliness at alarming rates. Generation Z, those between the ages of 11 and 26, are being called the loneliest generation. An article in Psychology Today states that seventy-three percent of Gen Z report they feel alone either sometimes or always.

Anxious feelings can interfere with a child’s ability to socialize. It’s beyond being shy. It’s the amygdala. The amygdala is like a tiny security guard inside your brain, always on the lookout for any potential danger or problems. When you encounter something new or scary, like a big, loud dog or a dark, spooky room, the amygdala sends out a signal to the rest of your brain, saying, "Hey, there might be something dangerous here! Be careful!"

In social anxiety, the amygdala gets a little too overprotective. It interprets normal social situations as threatening, even when they are not. For example, when you have to talk in front of a group or join a conversation with new people, the amygdala may go into "fight or flight" mode as if you were facing a dangerous situation.

This response can make people want to avoid social situations altogether to avoid feeling anxious. But avoiding social situations exacerbates the loneliness problem. It causes kids to miss out on fun experiences and all the benefits that come from social contact.

This is one I can speak to from experience. I’ve dealt with social anxiety by not socializing! It felt easier than trying to negotiate all the nuances of being in a group. When I am out with friends and that overwhelming feeling starts to rise up in me, I would walk out of the party, the beach gathering, or whatever was going on. I imagine others thought I was rude or something like that.

As I practiced being more aware of how I felt inside, I learned to enjoy socializing and also learned when I needed to take a break. I’ve learned to manage the feeling of my gut starting to fall in on itself while people stand around and say goodbye…for hours, like we do in Minnesota. 

Here’s what I do. First, I notice the feeling. It starts out as a tightening in my gut and a fidgeting feeling. I’ve learned this is my nervous system getting ready to fleeeee. In the past, that fleeing feeling would swoosh me out the door before I even noticed what had happened.

Now, I notice. Then, I accept. I allow it to be what it is. Then, I breathe. My stomach has tightened up and I realize I’m not really breathing so I start to soften my abdomen and let the air flow. I relax my face and smile. This also sends a message to my brain. Finally, I tell myself I’m going to be okay. “Mira, you’re fine. You’ve got this.” And then I’m able to say all the “good-byes” with warm and friendly feelings.

Try it:

  • Notice
  • Accept
  • Breathe
  • Smile
  • Affirm
  • Repeat until the feeling passes

This works for many anxious situations. It works even better when you have a daily routine of connecting to and being aware of your body, breath, mind, nature and people. It can help prevent anxious feelings in the first place and also puts you in a better place to deal with it when it does happen.

Working on social skills, facing small social challenges step by step, and having supportive friends or family can help children feel more confident in social situations. Over time, the amygdala will learn to be less anxious, and social situations will become more enjoyable and less scary.

If you have or work with a child who struggles to make social connections, check out the strategies in Anxious to Awesome: A Practical Guide for the Whole Family.

Being with others, in whatever way you can, is an important strategy for your wellbeing. Plus, it’s awesome to have great friends!

Get 5 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Help Kids Feel Less Anxious and More Awesome

We are passionate about helping children better understand and move through anxious feelings. It’s a big problem for a lot of kids right now! So we’ve created a free resource guide full of proven strategies that have been successfully used with kids just like yours for many years.

Whether anxiety has been showing up in your life more lately, or it’s been around a long time, this free guide will help you and your kids shift out of anxious feelings today!