TUCSON, Ariz. — For some, feeling a growing mass of stress weighing on their shoulders may actually be the result of poor social skills, a new study finds.
Researchers at the University of Arizona surveyed 775 American adults, aged 18 to 91, hoping to evaluate the strength of their social skills, along with their levels of stress, loneliness, and physical and mental health.
Defining social skills as the ability to communicate and interact with others effectively and appropriately, the researchers found that participants who were lacking in one or more related areas reported higher levels of stress and loneliness, which often translated into poorer physical and mental 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,” says study author Chris Segrin, who heads the university’s Department of Communication, in a news release.
“Two variables— loneliness and stress— appear to be the glue that bind poor social skills to health,” he adds. “People with poor social skills have high levels of stress and loneliness in their lives.”
Stress had long been known as a risk factor for diminished health, but the impact of loneliness on well-being has only come into the spotlight more recently.
“We started realizing about 15 years ago that loneliness is actually a pretty serious risk for health problems,” Segrin explains. “It’s as serious of a risk as smoking, obesity, or eating a high-fat diet with lack of exercise.”
Comparing the health effects of loneliness to that of a constant search for the car keys, Segrin states that lonely people are simply “not finding what they’re looking for, and that stress of frantically searching takes a toll on them.”
While social skills can be improved through interventions, such as therapy and counseling, many don’t realize that they’re lacking in the department, he says.
Future research could look at how a lack of social skills may affect other aspects of one’s health, including the development of chronic illness.
“I want to get the word out about how valuable good communication skills are,” he emphasizes. “They will not just benefit you in your social life but they’ll benefit your physical health.”
The full study was published last month in the journal Health Communication.