The social biome: how to build nourishing friendships – and banish loneliness
All your daily interactions with others, big and small, make up your social biome, and the pandemic has severely damaged most of ours. Here’s how to reinvigorate it
You probably don’t know you have a social biome – but according to Jeffrey Hall, professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, you do. Perhaps you’ve heard of the gut microbiome – the unique, diverse ecosystem of bacteria and other microbes that inhabit our gastrointestinal system and which, when balanced, keep us in good digestive health. Well, the social biome, says Hall, is the individual ecosystem of relationships and interactions that shapes our emotional, psychological and physical health. And – thanks to lockdown – it is unlikely to be in good shape.
Hall’s term encompasses the “pattern of your social interactions throughout your days; the who, the what you talk about, and the modalities you use to communicate, from face to face to other means”. The concept has roots, he says, in the idea that social interactions, like food, have “calories” that can make you feel socially nourished. And just as with what you eat, it is not just quantity that matters to health, but variety. Just as you need a mix of food groups on your plate, so you need a mix of modes of communication and types of relationship in your social diet.