Daily Bulletin


News

  • Written by Ziggi Ivan Santini, Postdoctoral associate, University of Southern Denmark

We know having friends is generally good for your happiness and mental well-being. Likewise, keeping socially active and engaging in formal social activities like volunteering has been linked to better mental health.

But it is also possible to have (or do) too much of a good thing. In a recent study, we tracked people aged 50 and older from 13 European countries over a two-year period to explore how volunteering, education, involvement in religious or political groups, or participating in sport or social clubs influenced their mental health.

We also looked at how many close social relationships people had — the kind of relationships in which they would discuss important personal matters. We found social activities especially benefited individuals who were relatively socially isolated (with three or fewer close relationships).

For people with a higher number of close relationships, engaging in social activities did not appear to enhance mental health. It could even be detrimental for some.

Who benefits from social activities

Social isolation is a major health issue. Apart from compromising the mental health of isolated individuals, it is linked to many other adverse health outcomes, including dementia, heart disease and stroke and premature death. But people who experience social isolation can take steps to improve their situation – for example, by engaging in formal social activities.

Read more: Here's a mental health workout that's as simple as ABC

Among individuals who were relatively socially isolated (people with three or fewer close relationships), we found more engagement in social activities was linked to improved quality of life and fewer symptoms of depression.

On a population level, our estimates suggest if such people were to engage regularly in social activities, we would see a 5-12% increase in people reporting better quality of life and a 4-8% reduction in people experiencing symptoms of depression. This would be a substantial change to population mental health, given more than 70% of people in our sample (aged 50+, in Europe) have three or fewer close relationships.

There are many reasons being socially active is linked to better mental health and well-being. Social activities can be a way to establish new relationships, provide opportunities for social support and foster a sense of belonging within a community.

People clearing weeds Social activities can increase a sense of belonging within a group. Shutterstock/Syda Productions

‘Too much’ social activity

While research so far has suggested having more social relationships is always better, our study indicates this may not be the case. Just like too much physical activity can compromise mental health, too much social activity can also backfire.

When we looked at how the study variables (quality of life, symptoms of depression) mapped against our two variables of interest (number of social activities, number of close relationships), we found U-shaped curves. That is, poor mental health at low levels of social activity, good mental health at moderate levels of social activity, and again poor mental health at high levels of social activity.

Read more: Five activities that can protect your mental and physical health as you age

Depression appeared to be minimised when people reported having four to five close relationships and being engaged in social activities on a weekly basis. Any more social activity than this, and the benefits started to decline, disappear or turn negative.

This downturn was particularly clear among individuals reporting seven or more close relationships. For these very busy people, engaging in social activities was linked to an increase in depressive symptoms.

Woman under stress. Too much social activity can backfire and lead to exhaustion. Shutterstock/Maksim Shmeljov

People typically report having an average of five close friends. Extroverts tend to report having more friends, but pay the price of having weaker friendships.

Because our social capital (essentially the time we have to devote to social interactions) is limited and roughly the same for everyone, extroverts in effect prefer to spread their social efforts thinly among many people. This is in contrast to introverts who prefer to focus their social efforts on fewer people to ensure those friendships really work well.

This trade-off is at the core of our capacity to engage in social activities. If you engage in too many, your social time is spread thinly among them. That thin investment might result in you becoming a peripheral member of numerous groups in the community rather than being embedded in the social centre where you can benefit from the support of your connections.

Another possibility is that too much social activity becomes a stress factor. This can lead to negative outcomes, such as social over-commitment, emotional and cognitive exhaustion, fatigue or feelings of guilt when social relationships are not properly nurtured because of limited time.

This raises another important consideration, albeit one we were not able to investigate empirically in our study. Family is an important part of our social world, not least in terms of the emotional and other support it provides. Devoting too much time to community activities means less time for family. That bottleneck might well prove to be detrimental to well-being because of the strain it could impose on family relationships.

So what’s the take-home message? Perhaps just this: if you want to live a happy and fulfilled life, be actively social — but do so in moderation.

Authors: Ziggi Ivan Santini, Postdoctoral associate, University of Southern Denmark

Read more https://theconversation.com/social-activity-can-be-good-for-mental-health-but-whether-you-benefit-depends-on-how-many-friends-you-have-148255

Writers Wanted

Why some people find it easier to stick to new habits they formed during lockdown

arrow_forward

Why is it worth playing at an online casino?

arrow_forward

What is Self-Education? + 4 Ways to Improve Yourself

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Business News

Cybersecurity data means nothing to business leaders without context

Top business leaders are starting to realise the widespread impact a cyberattack can have on a business. Unfortunately, according to a study by Forrester Consulting commissioned by Tenable, some...

Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable - avatar Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable

InteliCare triple winner at prestigious national technology awards

InteliCare triple winner at prestigious national technology awards Intelicare wins each nominated category and takes out overall category at national technology 2020 iAwards. Company wins overal...

Media Release - avatar Media Release

Arriba Group Founder, Marcella Romero, wins CEO Magazine’s Managing Director of the Year

Founder and Managing Director of the Arriba Group, Marcella Romero, has won Managing Director of the Year at last night’s The CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards. The CEO Magazine's Ex...

Lanham Media - avatar Lanham Media



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion