Research has shown time and again that good relationships are just as important as having enough sleep, a healthy diet, exercise routine, and even not smoking.
We know, and we have seen that people who have satisfying relationships with their friends, family and their community around them are happier and live longer. Cultivating a network of healthy relationships is like regularly watering your plants or your garden. It isn’t just healthy for the person who receives the nurturing, but it is also healthy for the one who is nurturing. Relationships can also reduce stress. When we have supportive relationships and we are supportive in our relationships we grow. We become better people who interact and socialise which enriches our life experience. February 14th is not the only day to set aside to honor your relationships, but we should be mindful of honoring our relationships all year long.
That was the good news. Relationships can also be quite challenging and exhausting. People with poor relationships may also suffer from fear, depression, anxiety and even loneliness. All this is enough to affect one’s immune system to the point of getting sick. When someone is living in an unhealthy relationship or is tied into a troubled relationship with a family member it is like they are living with low level inflammation. Long enough, inflammation will eventually lead to disease.
Lack of a social network later in life can also lead to cognitive decline and even higher rates of premature death. One research compared lack of social ties to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. There is also a chance of greater obesity from comfort eating which compensates for sad feelings, this leads to inactivity and we know activity is necessary for a healthy heart both physically and mentally! The stress of an unhealthy relationship therefore can affect coronary arteries, proper gut function, insulin levels and the general immune system.
On the other hand, caring behaviours trigger the release of stress reducing hormones so how can we maintain healthy relationships and benefit from these good feeling hormones?
It has been shown that one way to cultivate healthy relationships is to practice gratitude. Looking for ways to show gratitude to someone whether it be your life partner, your relative, your child or parent or your close friend will highlight the good aspects of the relationship. You will feel joy and happiness around these feelings of gratitude and so will they. All good relationships require investing time to grow and evolve as we change in our life journey. It is important to make the effort to spend time together, to accept one another without judgement and most important to practice forgiveness every day.