- A study finds that chatting with friends even for short periods can help your mental health.
- Discussion of mental health has become increasingly normalized, experts say, which can help people prioritize their well-being.
- Experts say a study like this shows how important human connection can be and how simple steps can help people maintain their mental health.
A new study suggests that one conversation with a friend a day can have a significant effect on a person’s mental health.
The study, published in Communication Research in January, comes three years after COVID-19 spread across the globe. While daily life for many has moved closer to a pre-pandemic version of normal, those long years of social distancing, remote work and isolation have taken a dramatic toll on the mental and emotional health of many.
“The little moments of connection are so important to us as part of the human experience,” he said Thea Gallagher, PsyD, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. “Post-COVID, many of us still work from home and still have limited social contact. People have moved and changed. Lives are different. Finding places to connect is so important to mental health. Social connection and community have a huge effect on alleviating depression and anxiety.”
What the study found
The study included 900 participants from five university campuses before, during and after pandemic lockdowns. Participants were instructed to engage in one of seven communication behaviors during a single day and then report that night on their feelings of stress, connectedness, anxiety, well-being, loneliness, and the quality of their day. The seven behaviors included:
- Meaningful conversation
- Showing care
- Valuing others and their opinions
- By offering sincere compliments
The study found that it did not matter which of the behaviors were practiced. It was the act of intentionally reaching out to a friend in general that had an impact.
A conversation had a direct positive effect on mood and general behavior.
The importance of mental health
“We saw about the pandemic
Discussion of mental health has become increasingly normalized, experts say, which can help people prioritize their well-being. Experts say a study like this shows how important human connection can be and how simple steps can help people maintain their mental health.
“Mental health is something that everyone has and we’re just starting to understand that, especially with the pandemic. It touched everyone. This collective traumatic experience that we had as a global community brings to the fore how important mental health is and how much a part of everyday life it is,” he said. Naomi Torres-Mackie, PhD, clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital. “Something like this study is great because it’s something many of us already do.”
Experts say that conversations don’t have to be long or deep, instead, they say look for moments when you have time to catch up, even if it’s not a lot of time.
“When we see these articles, we have to be intentional about following them and allowing them into our lives,” Gallagher said. “Call your friends in the car. Look for those little moments of connection. Use this as a way to be more intentional.”
It is important to note that the study highlighted small and meaningful associations. It doesn’t mean that introverts have to go talk to a large crowd of people to benefit. Experts emphasize that finding a connection is essential and that quality is more important than quantity.
Experts also say that some people may feel intimidated by reaching out to people, and that for some even minimal interaction can be challenging.
“Sometimes people talk themselves out of relationships, and that can come from a place of social anxiety or depression,” Gallagher said. “If you’re saying you don’t need connections every day, just make sure that’s actually true and not just something you’ve come to accept.”
Why connection is key to health
Connection, even on the smallest level, is something that is a basic human need, experts say.
“As human beings, we thrive in connection with others, not just on a psychological level, but on a physiological level. Whether or not you are an extrovert or introvert or somewhere in between, human connection is important. If you’re someone who’s more introverted, it can make hooking up and hooking up a little bit more uncomfortable, and that can serve as a barrier,” Torres-Mackie said.
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