Close relationships improve mental, physical health

Instead of stressing yourself out this year over Valentine’s Day, reflect on all of the close relationships that you do have: Psychologists say relationships are keeping you alive.

Carolyn Cutrona, professor and chairwoman of the psychology department, said studies have shown since the 1970s that people who are not in close relationships are two to three times more likely to die earlier than those who are in close relationships.

Cutrona said that social isolation can have similar effects on the human body to smoking or suffering from obesity. She said this is due to the fact that loneliness is a leading cause of depression, substance abuse and eating disorders.

It has been proven that holding a lover’s hand can cause the brain to react to a lesser extreme when faced with threatening situations such as giving a speech, Cutrona said.

Not only does being loved have an effect on mental health, it also affects a person’s physical health. Cutrona said that a study was done where subjects were put in a painful position, such as putting their hands in ice water. It was found that subjects who looked at a photograph of their partner did not have as severe of a reaction to the pain as those who were did not look at photographs.

Cutrona said that, especially for college students, loneliness can cause weaker immune systems. In one study, test subjects were injected with a cold virus. The subjects recorded the number of tissues used the week after. Subjects that were in close relationships used less tissues and healed faster than those who were not in relationships at all, Cutrona said.

There are many reasons that relationships have these effects on us, Cutrona said. It could be that people take better care of themselves when they are dating someone or that their partners prevent them from entering harmful situations. The human species is one that needs social interactions to survive because people make each other happy, Cutrona said.

“Valentine’s Day can be a reminder of your current status, whether that be single, in a relationship that you are very happy with or maybe one you are not so sure about,” said Kathryn Sirridge, staff psychologist at the Student Counseling Center.

Sirridge said that she encourages students who are single to get involved on campus and to spend time with good friends and roommates. Family and friends can make you feel better if you are down in the dumps, she said.

Also, Sirridge said the Student Counseling Center is always willing to help out with the Valentine’s Day blues.

“Valentine’s Day is about celebrating all of your relationships, not just romantic ones,” Sirridge said.