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The Health Benefits of Strong Relationships With Exclusive Commentary From Anne Martin

NOTE: Only on Exclusive spa-focused commentary by Anne Martin, owner of Anne Martin Skin Care, follows this news item explaining how to understand and make the most of your relationship with your spa clients.

For many, the holidays mean family gatherings, getting together with friends, and participating in special religious, community and workplace activities. Such occasions are an opportunity to check in with each other, exchange ideas and perhaps lend a supportive ear or shoulder.

Social connections like these not only give us pleasure, they also influence our long-term health in ways every bit as powerful as adequate sleep, a good diet and not smoking. Dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends and their community are happier, have fewer health problems and live longer.

Conversely, a relative lack of social ties is associated with depression and later-life cognitive decline, as well as with increased mortality. One study that examined data from more than 309,000 people found that lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50%—an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.

What makes social connections healthful

Scientists are investigating the biological and behavioral factors that account for the health benefits of connecting with others. For example, they've found that it helps relieve harmful levels of stress that can adversely affect coronary arteries, gut function, insulin regulation and the immune system. Another line of research suggests that caring behaviors trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones.

Research has also identified a range of activities that qualify as social support, from offers of help or advice to expressions of affection. In addition, evidence suggests that the life-enhancing effects of social support extend to giver as well as to receiver.

All of this is encouraging news because caring involvement with others may be one of the easiest health strategies to access. It's inexpensive, it requires no special equipment or regimen, and people can engage in it in many ways.

What counts

The quality of your relationships matters. For example, one study found that midlife, women who were in highly satisfying marriages and marital-type relationships had a lower risk for cardiovascular disease compared with those in less satisfying marriages. Other studies have linked disappointing or negative interactions with family and friends with poorer health. One intriguing line of research has found signs of reduced immunity in couples during especially hostile marital spats.

Having a network of important relationships can also make a difference. A large Swedish study of people ages 75 and over concluded that dementia risk was lowest in those with a variety of satisfying contacts with friends and relatives.

Strengthening ties this year

Take time to foster your most meaningful relationships. Choose activities that are most likely to bring joy to you and the people you care about. Delegate or discard tasks that eat into your time, or do them together with family or friends.

From Harvard Women's Health Watch, December 2010

Spa Professionals and Connection: Strong Relationships, Healthy Benefits, Exclusive Commentary From Anne Martin

Connection ... what is this tie between client and spa professional? Simple. Spa professionals offer a place of comfort, as they smile and invite clients into the haven that is a facial. They tell her they are glad to see her, because they are. And that gladness wraps its arms around her with welcome. In lives that are often scheduled down to the minute, at last it is her time. There’s nowhere else to be, nothing else to do but receive from a spa professional's hands that touch that is safe and without agenda, thus releasing pent-up stress so that it falls and then drifts away. Restful it is, that she may put her head down and be cared for, and cared about.

This profession is one of social support, because spa professionals offer advice about skin care, help solve skin problems, set up self-care regimens and work to bring into balance skin that suffers from aging or acne. Further, they ask after those things that make up the client’s life: family, pets, interests, jobs ... but most particularly, they wonder about her, and how she is doing. By this is caring expressed; just their willingness to ask and then to listen to the halting sentences or simple soliloquy that forms a spillway for the stories she may share. From the mundane, everyday and small moments, to those of loneliness, loss and change that comprise her life ... this is what spa professionals bear witness to, and out of these, trust forms. Life-enhancing trust. During this time with a spa professional, a client is not alone, for they will walk a little of the way with her. It is this that heartens the client, and what may be achieved through a healthy mix of laughter, kindness and empathy.

This a profession expressed through a language of touch and words and focused attention ... all of which translates to caring involvement with the client, underscored by skillful work. This is New Year’s, a time rife with resolutions, for what you want the future-us to be and do and have. Resolve to speak and tell clients you’re glad they are there, with you. Hug her hello, and hug her farewell, for your kind touch is an ever-precious gift. Resolve to forgive yourself for what you haven’t done, and propose to appreciate yourself for the good you do, and the good that comes from it, so that your own spirit will quiet with the satisfaction of genuine accomplishments. Resolve to open your heart to the grace of relationship, and, in so doing, discover anew the meaning inherent in your profession. Connection: with the client, with yourself, through your profession. All spa professionals are together in these resolutions and rediscoverings. It will be a Happy New Year.