The surprising ways little social interactions affect your health

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Greeting neighbours or gossiping with a colleague can boost your health and well-being, but coronavirus lockdowns are putting that in jeopardy. Here’s how to stay connected

Health

12 August 2020

By David Robson

AT THE beginning of the UK lockdown, I woke each morning with a feeling of impending doom. I was scared about covid-19, of course, but also worried about isolation. How would I cope without seeing friends and family? How could I perform my job as a journalist if I couldn’t meet people?
These weren’t baseless fears. In recent decades, a raft of research has shown that individuals with richer social worlds tend to have better mental well-being and lower stress, and to perform better at work. Missing out on our interactions with friends, colleagues and even shopkeepers can have a surprisingly powerful impact on our health.
WhatsApp conversations and Zoom “parties” have helped me to maintain a sense of connection, but these tools can’t replace aspects of interaction – like social touches and impromptu chats by the water cooler – that can boost mood and strengthen relationships.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella suggested as much in a recent interview with The New York Times. Although he felt the shift to digital interactions was going relatively smoothly, he wondered if we were burning through the “social capital” built up over years. He suspected that social bonds might start to evaporate. “What I miss is when you walk into a physical meeting, you are talking to the person that is next to you, you’re able to connect with them for the two minutes before and after,” he said.
“A wealth of studies have shown that high ‘social capital’ enhances our quality of life”
As many of us continue to work remotely, the long-term effects of social distancing could be serious. What can …

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