​How Relationships Affect Our Health

March 29, 2018

COMMENTARY by

Nicole Phillips, MD – IU Health Physicians Primary Care

While personal relationships have a significant impact on our life, we often don’t think about the influence they have on our health. Studies show that people involved in positive relationships with family and friends tend to be happier and live longer than people who are isolated.

As we look for ways to manage and improve personal health, it’s worth considering how our relationships affect our physical health and emotional well-being. Certainly, there can be positive effects. For example, if we surround ourselves with people who eat healthy and exercise, we’re more likely to adopt the same behaviors. Relationships can also result in negative consequences. While every situation is different, here are some common health concerns that can be influenced by family and social relationships.

Depression – While this condition has many causes, unstable relationships with family members and close friends can contribute to depression. Frequent negative interactions with spouses and children can cause mood swings and emotional distress that over time may affect physical health.

Weight management – Managing weight is easier when individuals spend time with people who eat healthy. Conversely, when we’re around people who overindulge, it’s tempting to follow along. Social outings with friends and co-workers often take place at restaurants, which typically means larger portions and food selections that are higher in calories and less nutritious.

Alcohol and drug use – Again, it’s more likely that people will engage in unhealthy behaviors such as heavy drinking or drug use when they spend time with others who do the same. While this can occur at any age or life stage, it can be more common with teenagers and young adults.

The first step to making positive changes is to identify and acknowledge when a relationship is negatively impacting health and well-being. A primary care provider is a good resource for exploring possible solutions, which may include referrals for counseling or connecting individuals to community resources or support groups. If isolation is an issue, volunteering or joining a social group are great ways to meet people. Relationships are an essential part of life, so it’s important to establish and nurture the ones that provide the greatest joy.

Nicole Phillips, MD, specializes in internal medicine. She is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Primary Care in Plainfield and can be reached by calling the office at 317.754.5080. For more health information, subscribe to Strength in You at iuhealth.org/StrengthInYou.

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