People with poor social skills tend to experience more stress and loneliness, which can negatively affect their physical as well as mental health, a study has found. “We have known for a long time that social skills are associated with mental health problems like depression and anxiety,” said Chris Segrin, from the University of Arizona in the US. “But we have 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,” he said. The study, published in the journal Health Communication, is among the first to link social skills to physical, and not just mental health. The research is based on a survey of a nationally representative sample of 775 people, aged between 18 and 91 years, who were asked to respond to questions designed to measure social skills, stress, loneliness, and mental and physical health.
Social skills refer to the communication skills that allow people to interact effectively and appropriately with others. Segrin focused on several specific indicators of social skills such as the ability to provide emotional support to others or self-disclosure, and the ability to share personal information with others or negative assertion skills. They also focused on the ability to stand up to unreasonable requests from others known as relationship initiation skills, and the ability to introduce yourself to others and get to know them. The participants who had deficits in those skills reported more stress, more loneliness, and poorer overall mental and physical health, said Segrin. “We started realising about 15 years ago that loneliness is actually a pretty serious risk for health problems. It is as serious of a risk as smoking, obesity or eating a high-fat diet with lack of exercise,” he said.