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Social relations are an integral part of well-being and mental health. People have a natural need to join with others and feel that they belong to a group. For some this means a vast circle of friends, for others just one or two close friends. The feeling that you belong to a group can give you strength during hard times and enable you to share joy during good times.

Building and maintaining social relations requires social skills. These skills begin to develop in childhood, and the outcome will depend on the person’s temperament, social experiences, and the environment in which they grow up. Some people are naturally more outgoing and enjoy the company of others, whereas some people need more time alone and may find social situations draining. A person’s growth environment can support the development of good social skills by providing an example of good interaction skills and an opportunity to practise these skills. However, some people have to practise on their own and have to learn by experience.

The more there are positive social experiences, the easier it is to create them in the future. Positive experiences help you perceive yourself as a likeable person who can easily approach others. If you’ve experienced disappointments, discrimination or bullying in your social relations, you may easily have a negative perception of yourself and find it hard to build new social relations. Developing social skills at a later age requires adopting new skills (and perhaps forgetting old ones) and assessing your self-image in terms of how your beliefs about yourself and others guide your behaviour in social situations.

Feelings of loneliness

If the social network you’re in doesn’t meet your needs, you may feel lonely. Loneliness should be distinguished from being alone. You may feel lonely even in the company of others. On the other hand, being alone doesn’t necessarily mean feeling lonely but can be pleasant and even desirable. Loneliness has a significant effect on mental health and may result in the development of mood symptoms, among other things. Long-term loneliness can impair self-esteem and complicate building new personal relationships.

It’s important to remember that loneliness may have several causes. It may be due to long-term difficulties building close relationships, which will result in a vicious circle where the negative self-image complicates acting in social situations. Loneliness may also be due to factors related to one’s situation in life. Moving to a new town, giving up a hobby, breaking up or having children may result in a temporary feeling of loneliness. Remember that loneliness is not your fault or a sign that there’s something wrong with you.

Impact of social media

Nowadays, social relations have become affected by social media. The benefit of social media is that it provides an additional opportunity to keep in touch with others and to form a social network. On the other hand, it can also make you compare yourself to others, cause unrealistic expectations, expose you to cyberbullying, and worsen the feeling of loneliness.

Many people have a lot of friends on social media yet have just a few close relationships. People tend to show the highlights of their life on social media. This creates distorted views and can make your own life seem more boring and more problematic compared to others. However, sharing difficult moments on social media may provide peer support for others struggling in the same situation.

You can assess your own use of social media by reflecting on what effects it has on you, whether you can follow it critically enough, and whether you can use it to support other social relations instead of hindering them.

Taking care of your social relations

  • Stay in contact with your friends. Ask how they’re doing and tell them how you’re doing, as shared experiences strengthen friendships.
  • Don’t be afraid to turn to others for help in difficult times. Friendship involves helping and supporting one another.
  • Sometimes busy schedules may curtail time spent with friends. Even a short message helps to keep you in touch with your friends, and as soon as your situation eases, you can spend more time with them.
  • Remember that there’s no one correct way to be social. Identify your social habits and needs.
  • If you’ve experienced disappointments or unfair treatment in your personal relationships, think about how these experiences are affecting you now. To make sure that your future relationships will be as successful as possible, try to distinguish past experiences from the present day and question the negative perceptions caused by these experiences about yourself and others.