How relationships impact our health

Fatmata Kamara
Mental Health Nurse Global Case Manager
20 July 2023
Next review due July 2026

Having positive relationships is good for our health and can increase our happiness. These aren’t just the relationships we have with our partner, family, and friends. They’re also the connections we make with colleagues, neighbours, and the other people we meet during our life. Here I’ll explain why having strong relationships can boost your wellbeing and help you deal with life’s challenges.

three people laughing over lunch

How relationships benefit our health

As humans, we’re naturally sociable. We often need other people in our lives for practical and emotional support.

Feeling lonely or being socially isolated can have a negative effect on your physical and emotional health. But if you have strong social relationships, you may be happier and physically healthier than people who aren’t as well connected. You may also live longer and have fewer mental health problems.

Having a strong social network helps you to know there are people who care for you, and who can help if you need their support. And they know you’ll be there for them in tough times too. Your social network can help with the following.

  • Give you a strong sense of belonging and social identity.
  • Make you more likely to keep healthy habits, such as not smoking, drinking less alcohol, exercising more, or seeking health advice when needed.
  • Help you to access more information about your health, as well as health services.
  • Help you to cope during stressful times in your life.

The importance of positive relationships

Having positive relationships isn’t about having a wide circle of friends and family. Having a few people to confide in can be better than having a large network of people you hardly chat to. It’s the quality of your relationships that’s important.

If your relationships aren’t positive ones, you might feel lonely, even when in the company of family and friends.

People with stable relationships tend to be happier, healthier, and more satisfied with life. Being in an unhealthy relationship can have the opposite effect. Research shows that having unhappy or negative relationships can also make you feel lonely.

Social relationships and our mental health

Being involved in community life can be good for your mental health. And, getting to know some of the people who live in your local area may make you feel happier and supported. Getting involved in local groups, sports, clubs, and volunteering can boost your physical and mental health.

Many communities can be found online, through social media, networking sites, or support groups. It’s easier now, more than ever, to connect with people you’ve never met. But while online friends can be supportive and enrich our lives, it’s important to stay safe online too.

Changing times

Our relationships and social connections may change throughout our lifetime. It can be hard to spend time with family or friends when we’re stressed. Or if we have caring responsibilities, work long hours, or have other commitments.

Some people feel more socially isolated as they get older. This may be after retirement, bereavement, or if you become less mobile. Your health can affect your relationships too. You may find it harder to keep in touch with family and friends if you’re not feeling your best, physically or emotionally.

Building stronger relationships

If you’d like to feel more connected or find new friends, there are lots of things you can do. Below are some tips to help you build and maintain stronger relationships.

  • Be kind to yourself. How you feel about yourself can affect how you interact with others. If you look after your own physical and mental health, it can be easier to keep in touch with your loved ones.
  • Make more time. Set aside a specific time each day, week, or month to connect with family and friends to see how they are.
  • Find new ways to keep in touch. If you can’t see each other face to face why not make use of technology? You could try using messaging apps, phone calls, or video chats.
  • Be there for them. When you’re talking to your family and friends, concentrate on their needs by switching off any distractions, such as your emails or social media.
  • Share the fun stuff. Don’t just get in touch when things aren’t going well, as it’s good to share positive news too.
  • Be ready to share. If you’re struggling with life’s challenges, talk about how you’re feeling, so your loved ones can support you too.
  • Recognise negative relationships. If some relationships are making you unhappy, think about how you can resolve any issues so you can move forward.
  • Expand your network. Look for local volunteering opportunities, clubs that interest you, or groups for people with shared interests. And why not see if you can get to know some of your neighbours, if you don’t already.

If you’re worried about your mental health, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. You’ll be able to get mental health advice and support usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

Fatmata Kamara
Fatmata Kamara (she/her)
Mental Health Nurse Global Case Manager



Lucy Kapoutsos, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

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