Social connection is good for us. Loss of social connection is a major causative factor in physician burnout. Even in our hyper-connected modern world, isolation is a problem. Even more so among physicians with hectic work schedules, demanding lives, no time to breathe or connect genuinely with others. In this article we explore social connection for physician burnout, offering a number of suggestions to reach out and connect for your own wellbeing.
Groundbreaking work by Julianne Holt-Lunstad suggests that social connection’s effect size on mortality is on par with blood pressure, cholesterol, and obesity. The benefits likely come from the immediate activation of prosocial emotions and the long-term benefits of social support.
Below are 5 simple suggestions to increase your social connection and, we hope, your wellbeing.
Good friends are good for your health. Adults with strong social connections have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI).
In fact, studies have found that older adults who have meaningful relationships and social support are likely to live longer than their peers with fewer connections.
Quality counts more than quantity. While it may be good to cultivate a diverse network of friends and acquaintances, you may feel a greater sense of belonging and well-being by nurturing close, meaningful relationships that will support you through thick and thin.
So, we suggest making a call. To an old friend, colleague, mentor, junior. Just connect and ask abut their life with deep interest, This will also take you out of your own head, in addition to creating a social connection.
Invite a friend to join you for coffee or lunch. When you’re invited to a social gathering, say yes. Contact someone who recently invited you to an activity and return the favor.
Helping others allows us to meet some important psychological needs, such as developing our senses of agency and competence as we strengthen social relationships. When we act on our values by being a good friend and helping those in need, we foster a sense of purpose, which is foundational to a meaningful life.
The great thing about showing up for other people is that it doesn’t have to cost a whole lot or anything at all, and it ends up being beneficial to the giver.
Our bodies and minds benefit in a variety of ways when we help others. Some research has focused on the “helper’s high.” Studies show that volunteering, donating money, or even just thinking about donating money can release feel-good brain chemicals and activate the part of the brain stimulated by the pleasures of food and sex. Studies of volunteers show that do-gooders had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol on days they did volunteer work.
In fact, research by Stephanie Brown suggests that those providing help may get more benefits than those receiving it. In this study, mortality was significantly reduced for individuals who reported providing instrumental support to friends, relatives, and neighbors, and individuals who reported providing emotional support to their spouse.
Hugging releases oxytocin that helps build social bonds and lowers the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Yep, for the non-Ob/Gyn/Pediatricians among us, that’s the same oxytocin release by breastfeeding, social bonding — and orgasm. When hugging, we also release endorphins that lead to a sense of well-being and relaxation.
* obviously, hug appropriately and safely.
Making music, and in particular singing, just makes us feel better. We all know that moving our bodies improves our health, but moving to music has additional benefits.
The mood boost from dancing lasts much longer than from exercise alone. And dancing often has social benefits.
This happens through several mechanisms. We release endorphins when we sing; given this, it is not surprising that singing reduces pain. Stress hormone levels fall, leading to improved immune function. We make meaning as we embody the lyrics.
Another step: join a choir. Singing surrounded by others greatly magnifies the benefits of singing.
Groups that provide us with a sense of place, purpose, and belonging tend to be good for us psychologically. They give us a sense of grounding and imbue our lives with meaning. They make us feel distinctive and special, efficacious and successful. They enhance our self-esteem and sense of worth.
Consider joining a group of physician peers, like the safe, confidential, and anonymous ones set up by Physicians Anonymous.
Group membership repeatedly has been shown to provide significant health benefits. The evidence suggests that belonging to social groups can protect against depression, alleviate symptoms of depression, and reduce the risk of depression relapse. Even joining just one group seems to work.
Family, civic or religious organizations, interaction with colleagues in the workplace, involvement in professional societies, or some combination thereof offer the human connection we all need to thrive—to build resilience and grow.
Social connection is good for us. In this article, we have discussed how social connection for physicians may tackle stress, burnout, and social isolation.
We trust that you will find these useful!
If you would like to join our physician-only anonymous peer-support groups, please click here to find out more.