Do current world events make you want to become a hermit? If so, you’re not alone. I know there are times I feel I just want to shut myself away in my house and not have to deal with anyone. Withdrawing from the world can sound appealing, but forming and maintaining connection with others is vital to our wellbeing.
The truth is, we don’t exist in a vacuum. We were created to be in relationship with others, and it shows in the way we’re wired to connect with others. As we talked about in Let’s Talk About Social Wellness, good communication skills, treating others with respect, and forming meaningful relationships are key to optimal wellness.
The Benefits of Strong Social Connections
Even those of us who are introverts benefit from connection with others. Just take a look at some of the ways strong social connections improve our lives:
Increased Longevity. People who have strong social connection have a 50% increased chance of longevity. (1) According to Mindwise.org (2) , “This remained true across a number of factors, including age, sex, initial health status, and cause of death.” According to one study referenced by Psychology Today, “lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.”
A Stronger Immune System. The same genes that are impacted by our social connections can also affect our immune function and inflammation in our bodies. With a stronger immune system, we can recover more quickly from illness or disease.
Better Mental Health. Connection with others can give us a sense of belonging, reduce stress, and increase our happiness levels. Studies also show that people with stronger social connections tend to have lower rates of anxiety and depression. In addition, according to Olivia Ellis in her article The Power of Connection in the Age of Social Distancing (3), if we feel “we have enough social support, we will be more likely to manage our stress better.”
More Support for Healthy Habits. Remember that old saying that we become like the five people we spend the most time with? We do tend to take on the same behaviors as the people we surround ourselves with. Therefore, if the people we hang out with tend to lead a healthy lifestyle, we’re more likely to stay on track with our wellness behaviors as well.
More Resilience. When we have supportive relationships, it can help us bounce back from difficult or stressful circumstances.
How Do We Make/Maintain Those Connections?
With all these benefits, it’s easy to see that we need to have those connections, but how do we do that, especially during this pandemic, when we need to be social distancing?
There are many ways we can foster connection, even when we’re not doing a lot of face-to-face time with others.
For example, even brief moments of connection can add value to our daily lives. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson coined the phrase positivity resonance – a concept that says “when two people share positive emotions—even just momentarily—there is a synchrony between their biochemistry and behaviors, which can result in mutual connection and investment in each other’s well-being.” (4) These small actions that she calls micro-moments of connection can help us build bonds and create community.
That means that even short interactions with people at the grocery store, a quick “hello” to your neighbors, or even a “how are you today” – and really listening to the answer – when you pick up your prescriptions from the pharmacy can result in that positivity resonance we just talked about.
Add More Moments of Connection with Others:
Be intentional about nurturing your relationships. It’s easy, when we’re busy, to take our relationships for granted, but relationships take some work to remain strong. When we’re with someone, whether physically or on the phone, it’s important to really be with them. That means actively listening – listening to understand, not to “fix” something for them or to placate them with some meaningless phrase that’s supposed to be comforting. It also means being in the moment with that person. How many times have you seen people sitting together at a restaurant, both on their phones instead of talking to one another?
Even if we can’t get together physically, we can talk on the phone, keep in touch online, or of course, set up Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom calls. Also — remember snail mail? Who doesn’t like to get a card or personal note in the mail?
Take advantage of those “micro-moments of connection” we talked about above. A simple “hello, how are you?” can foster those positive feelings and help us feel more connected to others. Text messages have also opened up a way to experience those micro-moments. Just a quick text to let someone know you’re thinking about them can make all the difference in their day and strengthen your relationship.
Look for ways to show kindness to others. Right now, that may look like sending a text or calling to check on your friends and family, checking to see if your neighbor needs anything from the grocery store, or even paying for someone’s coffee in the line behind you at Starbucks. Even if we don’t actually see the results of our kindness, doing these small things can help us feel more connected.
Get involved in something bigger than yourself. Whether it’s working in a food pantry or writing a blog, helping others in some way can help us feel more connected with the world at large. And as we all know, we’re in serious need of that spirit of connectedness right now.
What If I’m an Introvert?
For people who are introverts, this whole ‘building connections’ thing can seem overwhelming. After all, for the most part, we tend to have a smaller social circle than our more extraverted friends. It’s important to remember that it’s not the number of social connections we have; it’s the quality of those connections. We don’t have to have a huge circle of friends in order to feel connected.
Forming and maintaining connection with others is vital to our wellbeing. We’re wired to connect with others, and fostering our relationships make those connections even stronger.
How do you tend to form connections with others? What are some ways that you’ve nurtured your relationships during this time of social isolation? Please share!
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3. The Power of Connection in the Age of Social Distancing, Olivia Ellis, MS, MA, IDEA Fitness Journal , November-December 2020, Pocket Outdoor Media, San Diego, CA.