Mental Health research has discovered a predictor for well-being: People who eat with friends and loved ones are more likely to feel happy and satisfied with their lives.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
October is recognised as ‘Mental Health Month’ in NSW Australia and overlaps with World Mental Health Day on 10th October.
The focus is to rally support and awareness around issues relating to mental health and wellbeing.
Considering what the world has endured since March this year with the coronavirus pandemic I thought now would be a timely opportunity to reflect on what we know and offer a simple research based insight into how to boost your happiness, mental health and the well-being.
What do we know?
Mental Health before COVID-19
“Self-esteem is as important to our well-being as legs are to a table. It is essential for physical and mental health and for happiness.” – Louise Hart
Up to 2018 The NSW Mental health Commission had conducted regular surveys to access the mental health of the general population. They had looked at a number of factors.
One predominant indicator that was on the rise was psychological distress. Known as a common mental health problem for communities it relates to a state of emotional suffering typically characterised by symptoms of depression and anxiety.
In 2013 that figure was 9.8%, but over 4 years to 2017 it has increased to 15.1% as an average for the general adult population.
Breaking it down further we see women suffer greater than men:
- 2013- men 8.5% women 11.1%
- 2015- men 10% women 13.6%
- 2017- men 12.9% women 17.3%
The growing trend indicated that mental health was starting to decline due to psychological distress, but what was the impact when Covid-19 disrupted our lives?
Mental health and the Coronavirus
“What people never understand is that depression isn’t about the outside; it’s about the inside.” ― Jasmine Warga
The enforcement of social isolation and restrictions due to Covid-19 was a factor causing a surge in various psychological problems. The consequences in terms of mental health included increased stress, anxiety, depression, frustration, uncertainty.
As COVID-19 swept across the world, it has caused a ripple effect of loneliness for many and not feeling connected. No one is immune from the feelings of isolation that this infection has caused. When loneliness becomes a chronic experience, it can harm our health and well-being.
It became difficult to be optimistic and stay positive for ourselves and the people around us.
So what can we do to ensure we have a healthy mental state?
Spending Time with Friends Is One of the Best Things You Can Do for Your Mental Health
“My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.” Henry Ford
Human beings are naturally wired for face to face social contact. Research has shown the negative influence a lack of social interaction can have on our health.
One study looked at how a decline in social activity was detrimental to cognitive functioning. They monitored 1,100 seniors over a 12 year period. They found the rate of cognitive decline was 70 % less in people who frequently had social contact with others compared to those who only minimal social interaction with others.
Similarly, research conducted at the University of Michigan found people who made social contact with family and friends at least three times a week had the lowest level of depressive symptoms. Alternatively, in the same study they found replacing face-to-face contact with friends and family with social media messaging methods potentially doubled the threat of depression.
What are the benefits of friendships?
Good friends are good for your health
“..balancing time you spend with or without people is crucial for mental health.” ― Amy E. Spiegel
50 years of ‘happiness’ and well-being research has come to the conclusion that the quantity and quality of a person’s social connections—friendships, relationships with family members, etc.—is so closely associated to well-being and personal happiness.
Friend connection and interaction:
- Prevent loneliness
- Increase your sense of belonging and purpose
- Boost your happiness and reduce your stress
- Improve your self-confidence and self-worth
- Helps you cope with traumas
So how can you cultivate your social well-being and improve your mental health?
Gathering around a dining table together has mental health benefits
“It’s up to you today to start making healthy choices. Not choices that are just healthy for your body, but healthy for your mind.”― Steve Maraboli
Generally when we think about the health benefits of eating, we typically consider what we should – or should not – be eating.
However, experts agree the get-together around a dining table with friends has huge mental health benefits way beyond the delicious enjoyable experience.
Eating together with friends and loved ones can have a really positive impact on our wellbeing.
I found this to be the case during those months of lockdown when the restrictions allowed a number of friends to visit. Having regular 2 to 3 hour drinks or dinner parties with people who made you smile, laugh and feel good became the norm. I remember it made a big difference to how I felt emotionally through those tough times. I was able to relax and enjoy the company of others.
What does research say about social eating?
Research suggest communal Eating with friends increases social bonding and feelings of wellbeing
“Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.” Woodrow Wilson
Research has shown this type of quality time benefits every aspect of our wellbeing – emotionally, physically, socially, intellectually and mentally – which all contributes to our overall quality of life.
Research from the University of Oxford found the more often people eat with others, the more likely they are to feel happy and satisfied with their lives.
Results suggested communal eating:
- Increased social bonding
- Increase a feeling of wellbeing
- Enhanced one’s sense of contentment
- Increase connection within the community.
- Felt emotionally supported
Time to enhance your life and improve your well-being
“With a Little Help from My Friends” The Beatles
In these increasingly anxious times, when community cohesion is more important than ever, making time for and joining in communal meals is perhaps the single most important thing we can do – both for our own health and wellbeing and for that of the wider community.
The ability to stimulate positive emotions, which is linked to happiness, begins in one to one interactions with others. When we see our friends and they say, ‘Good to see you’ – it’s important.
So, next time instead of texting a friend or messaging them on social media, why not ask them over, share a bite to eat, look them in the eye and make you both feel better.
Have you found getting together around a dinner table with friends and loved ones a great relaxer during these challenging times?
Share your thoughts below