Wellness professionals know that health is about much more than physical health. While physical health is essential to survival and well-being, humans are complex beings for whom “feeling good” is implies feeling content, stable, safe, financially secure, respected, and so much more.
One of the most seldom talked about dimensions of health and wellness is interpersonal and social wellness. Cultivating interpersonal and social wellness is important for having a sense of belonging, counting on friends, family, and community for support, and being willing and able to provide support to them.
This article takes a deep dive into interpersonal and social wellness, describing what it and why it is important, and how to cultivate it to create social conditions for long-term well-being.
Social and Interpersonal Wellness as One of the Seven Dimensions of Wellness
The many components of health and wellness are reflected in what are referred to as dimensions of wellness. By speaking about health from a holistic wellness view, we acknowledge the complexities of the human experience and also present a jumping-off point for reflection about health and wellness and identifying concrete actions to improve wellness on the individual, population, and community levels.
There are multiple iterations of the dimensions of wellness, with the National Wellness Institute’s Six Dimensions of Wellness as the most popular. AFPA proposes seven dimensions of wellness, described as follows:
- Physical wellness: Adopting and sustaining practices that allow for optimal growth, development, healing, and maintenance of bodily tissues. It also encompasses following through with healing practices.
- Emotional wellness: Developing awareness and acceptance of one’s feelings.
- Occupational wellness: Contributing unique skills, gifts, talents, and passions to the community and world through work or occupation.
- Intellectual wellness: Being open to new ideas and information and a capacity to question and think critically. It also implies being open to changing your way of thinking, and the motivation to learn new skills and understand new perspectives.
- Spiritual wellness: Possesses guiding principles, beliefs, and values that give purpose to human existence while developing the capacity to love and feel compassion, empathy, forgiveness, and joy. It includes the development of a worldview that is consistent with those values while also respecting differences in spiritual beliefs.
- Cultural wellness: Developing a meaningful sense of cultural belonging, acceptance and appreciation, and embracing cultural differences.
- Interpersonal and social wellness: Developing the capacity for close, intimate, and reciprocal relationships and to cultivate a support network.
Here are the seven dimensions of wellness described in infographic form:
What is Social and Interpersonal Wellness?
At AFPA we define Social and Interpersonal Wellness as the capacity to develop and retain close, intimate, reciprocal relationships and to cultivate a support network.
When a person has social and interpersonal wellness, they contribute to the wellbeing of the people and communities around them, including actions that protect the environment.
They also have a community or communities of people with whom they feel comfortable
- Asking for help, support, and advice
- Sharing challenges
- Expressing opinions
- Sharing experiences
- Sharing successes and wins
- Being their true selves
- Challenging thoughts and opinions of others and being challenged.
Social and interpersonal wellness is deeply interconnected to other dimensions of health, including physical health. Research has shown that healthy close, intimate relationships, close friendships, social support groups, and family have an impact on heart health; brain and mental health; sleep; and pain.
The Components of Social and Interpersonal Wellness
Let’s take a closer look at the components of social and interpersonal wellness
- The capacity to develop close and intimate relationships. Intimacy often connotes images of romantic relationships, but it should also occur in close friendships and family relationships. Intimacy requires are parties willing to be truthful and vulnerable, as well as create a safe space for sharing experiences and thoughts while being true to themselves.
- Reciprocity in social relationships: Giving and receiving both have an important role in healthy social relationships. The relationships should feel balanced; while everyone’s individual needs are different, those differences should be honored, meaning that they are respected and all parties are willing and able to offer and receive advice and support, as well as space for sharing opinions and experiences.
- A balance of flexibility and consistency in social relationships: It is normal for relationships to evolve as people grow and learn. In many cases it is also normal for relationships to end as a result of a wide range of circumstances. For healthy relationships to thrive there needs to be a balance of consistency and flexibility. Consistency is important for cultivating trust, while flexibility is important for cultivating a growth mindset that can allow the relationship to mature and develop as the people involved do.
- A variety of types of relationships: People who have social and personal wellness are able to maintain a variety of types of relationships: friends, close friends, acquaintances, romantic relationships, childhood friends, work friends, confidants, professional relationships, mentorships, and others.
- Letting new people in and letting go of others: People’s relationships should evolve as they evolve. In general, people should have relationships with people whom they met in a wide range of circumstances and times in their life.
Tips for Cultivating Interpersonal Wellness
The University of Arizona recommends several tips for cultivating interpersonal and social wellness.
Learning to Distinguish Between Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships
Healthy relationships are those that are based on mutual respect, empathy, and trust. People in healthy relationships are able to resolve conflicts in a healthy fashion. They leave you feeling safe and understood.
Some of the components of unhealthy relationships include:
- Invalidation and gaslighting
- Power imbalance
Improving Communication Skills
Communication can be challenging for multiple reasons: we can assume what others should know, we panic, we have difficulty managing our emotions, we have different backgrounds, we lack the vocabulary to express our thoughts, and, most commonly, we lack the skills to communicate effectively.
Some components of effective communication include a true desire to understand, understanding the context, active listening, paying attention to your and the other’s body language, and clear messaging.
These are skills that can be developed and practiced.
Gratitude is associated with happiness and a sense of well-being. Gratitude researchers propose that practicing gratitude may help to increase positive emotions, allowing individuals to broaden their outlook and be more creative in finding solutions to problems while also building an ability to be resilient.
Researchers have also found that gratitude is associated with greater relationship satisfaction, social functioning, and feelings of connectedness to others.
Showing and telling others you care about them and are grateful for their presence and actions in your life can help to cultivate social and interpersonal wellness.
For more tips on cultivating gratitude check out this blog.
Learn to Heal After Conflict
Conflicts are normal in any type of relationship, and it doesn’t have to result in ending it. Healing after conflict is an important characteristic of healthy relationships. Some of the ways to heal after conflict are:
- Focusing on finding common ground
- Learning to accept mistakes or errors in judgment
- Giving the other person the benefit of the doubt
- Avoiding trying to psychoanalyze
- Letting yourself feel your emotions
- Avoiding “stonewalling” or giving the silent treatment
- Using communication skills to express what you are feeling and accepting what the other person is feeling, too.
Care For Yourself
When you are healthy, well, and respect yourself, your relationships reflect that. For you to treat others well, and to recognize how you deserve to be treated, it is important to treat yourself well.
You can help to cultivate self-compassion by being mindful of your emotions, feelings, and needs, accepting imperfections, and speaking to yourself kindly by acknowledging everyone has issues and struggles.
Find Ways to Bond
Bonding is the key to forming close relationships. It happens when you spend quality time with one another, and have quality interactions. The secret to quality time and interactions is not necessarily planning a unique, fun, or expensive outing, but instead being fully engaged, listening actively, being compassionate, asking meaningful questions, and sharing your experiences and thoughts. This can happen over text, phone, or on your walk to the bus.
Social and interpersonal wellness is an equally important dimension of wellness as physical or mental wellness. In fact, research shows how social and interpersonal wellness is deeply and intricately connected with other dimensions of wellness; when your social relationships are healthy, they are likely also having a positive impact on other aspects of your life, and even on your body.
If you feel your social and interpersonal wellness could improve, take a moment to cultivate and deepen the relationships with people who respect you while learning to identify and limit or let go of unhealthy relationships. When your social and romantic life is thriving, your wellness is also on the right track.
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