- A study finds talking to friends even for short periods can help your mental health.
- Discussing mental health has increasingly become normalized say experts, which can help people prioritize their well-being.
- Experts say a study like this shows how important human connection can be and how simple steps can help people preserve their mental health.
A new study suggests that having one conversation with a friend per day can have a significant effect on a person’s mental health.
The study published in Communication Research in January comes three years after COVID-19 spread around the globe. While daily life for many has gotten closer to a pre-pandemic version of normal, those long years of social distancing, remote work, and isolation have taken a dramatic toll on many people’s mental and emotional health.
“Small moments of connection are so important for us as part of the human experience,” said Thea Gallagher, PsyD, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. “Post-COVID, many of us still work from home and still have limited social contact. People have moved and changed. Lives are different. Finding places of connection are so important for mental health. Social connection and community have a large effect mitigating depression and anxiety.”
What the study found
The study included 900 participants from five university campuses before, during, and after the pandemic lockdowns. The participants were directed to engage in one of seven communication behaviors during a single day and then report back that night about their feelings of stress, connection, anxiety, well-being, loneliness, and the quality of their day. The seven behaviors included:
- Catching up
- Meaningful talk
- Joking around
- Showing care
- Valuing others and their opinions
- Offering sincere compliments
The study found that it did not matter which of the behaviors were practiced. It was the act of intentionally reaching out to a friend in general that had the impact.
Having a conversation had a directly positive effect on overall mood and behavior.
The importance of mental health
“Over the pandemic we saw a 25% increase in depression. The quantity of human connection was taken from us. Finding ways to come back to that, even in small ways, can be powerful,” said Gallagher.
Discussing mental health has increasingly become normalized say experts, which can help people prioritize their well-being. Experts say a study like this shows how important human connection can be and how simple steps can help people preserve their mental health.
“Mental health is something that everyone has and we’re just starting to realize that, especially with the pandemic. It affected everyone. This collective traumatic experience we had as a global community brings to the forefront how important mental health is and how much a part of daily life it is,” said Naomi Torres-Mackie, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital. “Something like this study is wonderful because it’s something a lot of us already do.”
Experts say conversations don’t have to be long or in-depth, instead, they say look for moments when you have time to reach out, even if it is not a lot of time.
“When we see these articles, we need to be intentional about following through and allowing it into our lives,” said Gallagher. “Call your friends in the car. Look for those small moments of connection. Use this as a way to be more intentional.”
It’s important to note that the study emphasized small, meaningful connections. It does not mean introverts have to go talk to a large crowd of people to benefit. Experts stress that finding some connection is key and that quality is more important than quantity.
Experts also say some people may feel intimidated by reaching out to people and that for some even minimal interaction may be challenging.
“Sometimes people talk themselves out of connections and that might come from a place of social anxiety or depression,” said Gallagher. “If you’re saying you do not need connection every day, just make sure that that is actually accurate and not just something that you have come to accept.”
Why connection is key to health
Connection, even on the smallest level, is something that is a basic human need, say experts.
“As human beings, we thrive in connection with others, not just on a psychological level but on a physiological level. Whether or not you’re an extrovert or an introvert or fall right in the middle, human connection is important. If you are someone who is more introverted, it may make reaching out and connecting a little bit more uncomfortable and that can serve as a roadblock,” said Torres-Mackie.
Written By: Meagan Drillinger
Edited By: Gillian Mohney
Fact Checked By: Dana K. Cassell