People with poor social skills might have worse physical health because of the stress of loneliness. CC0 Creative Commons

People who are more socially awkward might also have worse physical health than their more popular counterparts, all because they are stressed out and lonely.

Although previous research has linked social interactions and factors to mental health, a new study in the journal Health Communications also draws a connection between poor social skills and poor physical health, based on a survey of adults across a broad range of ages. An analysis of the data, taken from 775 people between ages 18 and 91, “showed that poor social skills were associated with poor mental and physical health through elevated stress and increased loneliness,” the study explains.

That applied to those who were not good at giving emotional support to other people, sharing personal information about themselves, saying ‘no’ to unreasonable demands and introducing themselves to others.

It’s not a new concept that mental health and physical health can influence one another. People with serious physical illnesses like cancer, for example, could experience depression and anxiety. On the other side of things, mental health conditions can manifest themselves in physical ways, like how stress-induced alopecia causes a person’s hair to fall out or how social anxiety can lead to a sour stomach and skin irritation.

This study, however, focused specifically on how stress and loneliness, as they were connected to a person’s social interactions, could predict a person’s health on a physical level.

“We’ve known for a long time that social skills are associated with mental health problems like depression and anxiety,” study author Chris Segrin said in a statement from the University of Arizona. “But we’ve not known definitively that social skills were also predictive of poorer physical health. Two variables — loneliness and stress — appear to be the glue that bind poor social skills to health. People with poor social skills have high levels of stress and loneliness in their lives.”

In this context, the university explained, social skills were defined as “the communication skills that allow people to interact effectively and appropriately with others.” And people who were lacking in those reported being more stressed and lonely and having worse physical and mental health as a whole.

“We started realizing about 15 years ago that loneliness is actually a pretty serious risk for health problems,” Segrin said. “It’s as serious of a risk as smoking, obesity or eating a high-fat diet with lack of exercise.”

The researcher described a feeling of loneliness as being a desperate search for companionship and a form of stress.

“They’re not finding what they’re looking for, and that stress of frantically searching takes a toll on them,” he said, adding that these people may not even realize they have an issue. “One of the problems with possessing poor social skills is lack of social awareness, so even if they’re not getting the date, they’re not getting the job, they’re getting in arguments with co-workers or their spouse, they don’t see themselves as a problem.”