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The Power of Staying Connected: Social Connection and Health

By Cmdr. Brandy Cloud, DNP, U.S. Public Health Service
August 14, 2023

U.S. Army photo by Maj. Pedro Perez
U.S. Army photo by Maj. Pedro Perez

What is social connectedness and why is it important?

The world around us is fast paced with many of our interactions occurring on social media, but are we really connected in a way that improves our overall health? Social connection is a sense of belonging and support we get from the relationships we have in our lives.1 You may have heard that humans are social by nature and that we thrive on being connected to the world around us, but did you know there is science that supports this saying? Researchers are increasingly focused on social connection and how the quality and quantity of it impacts wellness, improves physical and emotional health, and provides support for life’s challenges. 1,5,6 Many people may feel lonely or isolated at one time or another, but there are some specific populations that appear to struggle to find and maintain lasting social connections, to include  service members and their families.2,3,4,6,8 

Developing and maintaining social connection is an essential part of readiness and overall health. This blog will look at the impact of social connection on overall health, and particularly mental health. It will provide tips and resources to help service members, veterans, and their families develop and maintain social connection to improve their overall fitness.

What are the health risks of poor social connection?1-9

  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of depression
  • Increased risk and severity of posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Increased anxiety
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Increased stress
  • Decreased sleep
  • Increased risk of cognitive decline
  • Decreased immune response
  • Decreased quality of life

Military families and social connectedness

Service members and their families have unique experiences that require consideration when building and maintaining social connections.2,3,5,7,9 Service members often find connection and camaraderie within their units; but frequent movement and deployments can make developing and maintaining long-term relationships challenging.2,3 Military families move often, experience long periods of family separations, and may find it difficult to build connections when they move from one duty station to another or when they are reunited after long separations.3,7,9 The transitions from civilian life to service, and vice versa, are commonly overlooked as a potentially challenging period for all parties involved.2,5 Service members and their families may feel a loss of social identity when they transition away from the military that can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.2,5 During times of transition it is important to find ways to connect with others in meaningful ways.

Ways to improve social connectedness1-9

  • Devote focused time for regular contact with others. Setting aside time will help you develop and maintain relationships.
  • Find new and diverse social networks. The diversity of social networks can help you navigate life’s challenges.
  • Join a new group. It is important to find a group that shares your values, interests, and goals; this can deepen your sense of community.
  • Volunteer or get involved with your community. Getting involved can help strengthen ties to the community.
  • Spend time in nature with others. Getting outside with others can help you relax and focus on what is around you.
  • Get to know your neighbors. Developing relationships with those near you is a simple step you can take to widen your social connections.
  • Provide support to others and help them with their life challenges. Offering help to others can make you feel good, but it also creates closer bonds between individuals.
  • Remember to focus on your health and stay active. People who are healthy and active physically are more easily able to build connections with others.
  • Focus on using technology in ways that improve social connection while minimizing distractions and negative influences that can occur on social media. Technology can be a great way to connect with those who are far, but remember that technology may have a negative impact on your mood and life if not managed effectively.
  • Find time to turn work off; there are so many competing demands, but it is essential to do things with others that you find enjoyable.

Whether it’s a particularly difficult permanent change of station, deployment, transition to or from service, or life transition that occurs, there are resources available to help you improve connectedness. Service members and their families can reach out to Military OneSource for free and confidential consultations to help improve communications, and can also help during times of transition. The Real Warriors Campaign has some tips for staying connected, and you can also reach out to inTransition for specialized individual coaching and mental health resources to support transitions between systems of care for service members and veterans.   

It is essential for overall health and wellness to develop and maintain social connections, not just while on active duty, but also when you transition from active duty to civilian life. There is never a wrong time or wrong way to reach out. Service members, veterans, and their families are a priority. It’s just as important that you have the resources you need to stay connected and mentally fit.


  1. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Population Health. (2023, May 8). How does social connectedness affect health? U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Flack, M., & Kite, L. (2021). Transition from military to civilian: Identity, social connectedness, and veteran wellbeing. PLOS ONE, 16(12), e0261634.
  3. Jiang, H., Dowling, R., Hameed, M., Painter, F. L., Vuong, A., Booth, A. T., Opie, J., Boh, J., McLean, N., & McIntosh, J. E. (2022). Comparison of social and economic stress in military and civilian families: A Rapid Review of the evidence. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 10(11), 320–347.
  4. Mann, F., Wang, J., Pearce, E., Ma, R., Schlief, M., Lloyd-Evans, B., Ikhtabi, S., & Johnson, S. (2022). Loneliness and the onset of new mental health problems in the general population. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 57(11), 2161–2178.
  5. Misca, G., Augustus, J., Russell, J., & Walker, J. (2023). Meaning(s) of transition(s) from military to civilian life at the intersection with mental health: implications for clinical settings. Frontiers in Psychology, 14.
  6. National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2020). Social isolation and loneliness in older adults. In National Academies Press eBooks.
  7. Ross, A. M., DeVoe, E. R., Steketee, G., Emmert-Aronson, B. O., Brown, T. M., & Muroff, J. (2020). Outcomes of a reflective parenting program among military spouses: The moderating role of social support. Journal of Family Psychology, 34(4), 402–413.
  8. Smith, R., Barnes, I., Green, J., Reeves, G. K., Beral, V., & Floud, S. (2021). Social isolation and risk of heart disease and stroke: analysis of two large UK prospective studies. Lancet Public Health, 6(4), e232–e239.
  9. Tong, P. K. (2018, October 18). Enhancing family stability during a permanent change of station: A review of disruptions and policies. RAND.

Cmdr. Brandy Cloud, DNP, is a family nurse practitioner, licensed professional counselor, and Chief of Research Adoption for the Psychological Health Center of Excellence. 

Last Updated: September 28, 2023
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