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Protective Factors of Self-Care: Positive Social Connections

Posted on May 12, 2017

“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Jim Rohn

Recent research presented in Christakis and Fowler’s book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks demonstrates the impact of social networks on individuals. While the percentage can vary slightly depending on what is measured, there has emerged a strong correlation between the characteristics of your social network and your behaviors and emotional health. Research shows three levels of influence from social networks. The first level of influence is your immediate relationships – people with whom you have frequent interactions. The second tier of influence comes from the people that are in relationships with your immediate relationships. Finally, the third level comes from the people in relationships with the people who are in relationships with your immediate relationships.

Whether researchers are measuring someone’s chances for heart disease, smoking, or happiness, those with whom they regularly interact will increase that person’s chances for that characteristic by around 15%. Here is an example to demonstrate the concept. Let’s say you have a close friend, Sue, from college, who has moved to your town. You have kept in touch with Sue over Facebook and with holiday cards but hadn’t spent much time with her since college. When you meet up to reconnect, you find that you and Sue “click,” just like during college. You start seeing Sue weekly, if not more often, and Sue becomes an immediate relation in your network. Based on the research, if Sue smokes, your chances of smoking increases by around 15%. If Sue struggles with depression, your risk for depression has also increased. On the other hand, if Sue loves to take long bike rides on weekends or enjoys regular massages, you increase your chances of picking up these behaviors as well.

Emotions, behaviors, and habits are contagious. Now, this is where the research gets cool – and maybe a little scary, depending on your network. Researchers also found that we are influenced by the family and friends of our immediate relationships by 10%, and by their friends and family by 7%. Sue’s family and friends are influencing you by 10%, even if you have never met them! You might catch the biking bug or a love of sushi from Sue, but it is likely that Sue caught it from one of her friends, who was introduced to it by still another friend.

This research is cool, but gets a little scary when thinking about helpers working with clients struggling with intense mental illness, addiction, and other emotional or behavioral issues. While the current body of research does not give a specific answer to where our clients fall on our social network, it is easy to see the potential danger of working with individuals who are struggling with their hurt and pain. Even if clients do not impact us as much as a close friend or family member, their emotional states can be just as contagious.

Think about your average week. Much of the time you spend with other people, clients included, is characterized by positive, neutral, or negative emotional states. We know that this will fluctuate depending on the week, but on average, what percentage of interactions leave you in a good mood? What percent do not affect you one way or the other? What percent are characterized by negative or painful emotions? Clients, co-workers, romantic partners, family, and friends all share their emotions and behaviors with us.

The people around us can make us stronger or weaker physically, mentally, and emotionally. The stronger and healthier our relationships, the stronger and healthier we are as people. Having healthy and happy people around us will build our resiliency and energy to succeed in our work and personal life.

Healthy social networks increase a person’s long-term health, and they also play a role in regulating a person’s more immediate stress and emotional states. Research shows that six hours a day of social time greatly increases a person’s well-being, while minimizing their stress and worry. The six-hour mark is also shown to correlate to people self-reporting that they had a great day. Anything less than six hours decreases these positive effects proportionally to the decreases in social contact.

One last note on personal social networks. Just as others greatly influence us, our emotions, behaviors, and health will also impact those in our social network. We can either be a source of happiness and joy for our children, spouse or partner, and friends, or we can introduce negative emotions and unhealthy behavior into the lives of those we love. Remember, behaviors and emotions are contagious. Pay attention to what is spread!

If you have a minute, try this exercise:

On the average week:

  1. List the top five emotions you experience in your social and home life with friends and family
  2. List the top five emotions you experience during interactions with your co-workers and other professionals you encounter as part of your work
  3. List the top five emotions you encounter in your work with clients. If you don’t have direct client contact, use the emotions your co-workers experience, as those will still impact you indirectly.

How does your own emotional state reflect your emotional environment? I’d love to hear your insights in the comment section!

4 responses to “Protective Factors of Self-Care: Positive Social Connections”

  1. Philip J. Malebranche says:

    Negative emotions may be considered as unnecessary weight. Athletes know what it’s like to try to play without conditioning. Spring training in baseball, for instance, is a period for ensuring proper conditioning for the rigors of the season. Negative emotions hinder the mental agility that we may need in our professions and social lives. As the baseball team is a unit for positive reinforcement, one’s social environment elsewhere would also reinforce one’s attitude, one way or another. One’s Weltanschauung finds support; and one proffers approbation to others in a pool of common beliefs. Variant personalities (say, coaches on a team, or a functioning system of checks and balances in a political system) help correct discrepancies in the unit, but concurrent attitudes bring a body in the same direction, overall. The spirit of competition, or a common goal, is preferable and works to bring a unit to harmony and to the objective. Suggestion:
    Spread love.

  2. Philip J. Malebranche says:

    Negative emotions may be considered as unnecessary weight. Athletes know what it’s like to try to play without conditioning. Spring training in baseball, for instance, is a period for ensuring proper conditioning for the rigors of the season. Negative emotions hinder the mental agility that we may need in our professions and social lives. As the baseball team is a unit for positive reinforcement, one’s social environment elsewhere would also reinforce one’s attitude, one way or another. One’s Weltanschauung finds support; and one proffers approbation to others in a pool of common beliefs. Variant personalities (say, coaches on a team, or a functioning system of checks and balances in a political system) help correct discrepancies in the unit, but concurrent attitudes bring a body in the same direction, overall. The spirit of competition, or a common goal, is preferable and works to bring a unit to harmony and to the objective. Suggestion:
    Spread love.

  3. Matt Bennett says:

    I love the athlete analogy. One I often use in my trainings!

  4. Matt Bennett says:

    I love the athlete analogy. One I often use in my trainings!

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