“To be without a friend is to be poor indeed.”
Tanzanian proverb

According to a recent study conducted in the United States of America, loneliness and social isolation is the next pandemic.

This study even found that prolonged loneliness can be as bad for your health as smoking or being obese.

Loneliness can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke by 30%, according to Dr. Ramesh Mazhari, Director of Interventional Cardiology at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences”

We are lonelier than ever.

According to Statista, 33% of people feel lonely worldwide, and that number increases to 40% in South Africa.

With the rise in physical isolation brought about by remote working and the past two years of rolling lockdowns due to the Covid – 19 Pandemic, social isolation and loneliness has become a big concern for many people.

Having strong, healthy, and fulfilling relationships with friends, family and life partners can help you fight of loneliness and increase your physical health.

Health benefits of healthy relationships:

Reduced stress and anxiety, better sleep, lower blood pressure and stronger immune systems are all benefits of healthy relationships.

All relationships are not created equal.

While good, healthy and loving relationships can make you healthier, the physical health impacts of bad relationships can be just as far reaching.

How do I know if my relationship is healthy?

A healthy relationship is one that does not cause recuring stress or anguish. They are characterized by the following:

  1. You can safely speak your mind.

If honest discussions are met with outbursts, and conflict never gets resolved, the relationship cannot be healthy.

  1. Trust is at the core of the relationship.

If the people within the relationship constantly wonder about where they stand with each other and cannot rely on the relationship to be a stable and safe place, it is not healthy.

  1. Both parties have the freedom to disagree.

One party cannot continually attempt to influence and persuade the other party. Differences should be accepted and even celebrated.

  1. There is mutual encouragement.

Each party should feel supported and individual victories are praised without jealousy.

  1. All parties are physically comfortable with each other.

There is no space for discrimination based on physical appearance or embarrassment within a healthy relationship. You should feel good in your skin!

  1. Separate interests and relationships.

You should have the freedom to pursue certain activities that you do just for yourself. The same goes for maintaining friendships that predate the relationship.

Toxic relationship red flags

On the other hand, toxic relationships can negatively impact your health by directly causing insomnia, increased heart rate and blood pressure, gastrointestinal distress leading to indigestion and stomach ulcers. Bad relationships also directly impact all aspects of your mental health

Toxic relationships are characterized by:

  1. Lack of support.

Envy, jealously and belittling of your goals or achievements should be a glaring red flag.

  1. Toxic communications.

Outburst, unwillingness to resolve conflict and holding on to resentments are common in Toxic relationships.

  1. Controlling behaviour and isolation.

If you are forced to cut yourself off from relationships and if there are limits being placed in your physical and social freedom of movement – toxic warning signs should flash!

  1. Dishonesty and disrespect.

This should go without saying but being lied to and publicly or privately shamed or belittled by the other person, is a strong indication of a toxic relationship.

  1. Financial selfishness.

Shared finances should be shared. Savings and earnings goals should be set and kept, and expenses discussed in a calm and free manner.

  1. Hyper vigilance.

If you are constantly checking your partner’s mood for triggers of outburst and walking on eggshells around them, you are living a toxic environment.

Cortisol and the mind-body connection.

The connection between your mind and body is extremely strong and impossible to ignore. If you are unhappy or suffer from mental ill health, you cannot possibly be completely physically health. The mind does not distinguish between mental and physical trauma. This means that mental anguish due to toxic relationships directly affect your body. Often this presents as increased rates of cortisol production by the brain. Cortisol is also called the stress hormone and while it is important in certain fight-or-flight situations, an overdose can cause severe health implications, including:

  • Weight gain, mostly around the midsection and upper back and rounding of the face.
  • Acne and slowed healing.
  • Thinning skin, easy bruising, and a constantly flushed face.
  • Muscle weakness and severe fatigue.
  • Irritability, difficulty concentrating.
  • High blood pressure and headaches.

Not every disagreement or stressful situation necessarily means your relationship is toxic but be aware of the negative effects that patterns of toxic actions can have on your health.

You deserve to have a healthy relationship just as much you have a responsibility to be a healthy, trustworthy, and caring friend and partner.

Sources and further reading: