Being socially awkward can often be embarrassing, causing you to feel uncomfortable in your own skin. You may have a hard time starting conversations or become completely paralyzed due to a sense of unrelenting anxiety.
It was thought that a healthy social life was the only victim of such behavior, but a new study suggests that those who struggle in social situations may be at greater risk for mental and physical health problems. Researchers from the University of Arizona believe that those who have poor social skills experience more stress and loneliness, which inevitably has negative consequences on their health.
“We’ve known for a long time that social skills are associated with mental health problems like depression and anxiety. But we’ve not known definitively that social skills were also predictive of poorer physical health. Two variables—loneliness and stress—appear to be the glue that bind poor social skills to health. People with poor social skills have high levels of stress and loneliness in their lives,” said study author Chris Segrin, head of the UA
Department of Communication.
Looking at social skills across a broad age group
The study in question surveyed 775 people between the ages of 18 to 91. All questions were asked online and measured social skills, loneliness, as well as mental and physical health.
Having appropriate social skills allows people to interact and communicate appropriately with others. This includes both verbal and nonverbal communication through gestures, body language, and personal appearance.
The team focused on four specific indicators of social skills including:
- The ability to provide emotional support to others.
- The ability to share personal information with others.
- The ability to stand up to unreasonable requests from others.
- The ability to introduce yourself to others and get to know them.
The participants found to have deficits in the aforementioned social skills reported more stress, more loneliness, and poorer overall mental and physical health.
Stress has long been known for having a negative effect on overall health. Also, loneliness may be as serious a risk as smoking, obesity, or eating a high-fat diet and not exercising.
“When we lose our keys, 99 percent of the time we find them, the stress goes away, we get in the car and it’s over. Lonely people experience that same sort of frantic search—in this case, not for car keys but for meaningful relationships—and they don’t have the ability to escape from that stress. They’re not finding what they’re looking for, and that stress of frantically searching takes a toll on them,” said Segrin
Technology may be to blame for poor social skills
A big problem the researchers find is the lack of awareness that people have of their poor social skills. This is more tragic as social skills can be improved through intervention. They think that the use of technology, such as texting, is the biggest impediment to developing social skills in young people today, reducing face to face interaction.
Segrin and his team plan on expanding their research to look at additional social skills that may impact health. They hope their study will shed some light on how valuable good communication skill can be, and implore parents to help their children’s social skill development my limiting screen type and exposing them to more social interactions.