Social interaction fuels our minds and souls and can lead to a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in life. Friends, family and colleagues offer us support, connection, advice and empathy. People who have satisfying relationships with others and a positive connection to their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer. Social connectiveness can lad to higher self esteem, greater empathy for others, and decreased symptoms anxiety and depression.
Dozens of studies (including one co-authored by Dr. Miller) have demonstrated that social support can decrease symptoms of depression. Social isolation has been linked to increased levels of stress and inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked to heart disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes and depression. One study showed that lack of social connection is a greater risk to health than obesity, hypertension and smoking.
Common core symptoms of depression and anxiety are increased amounts of time spent in isolation, decreased energy and decreased joy in things that people used to love to do. In essence, depression and anxiety often cause individuals to retreat and pull away from the connections that are so important for mental health. The more individuals isolate the worse the symptoms of depression and anxiety tend to become which leads to a downward negative spiral. Trying to take small steps towards becoming more connected to the outside world is important to begin generating a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well being.
Social media has changed the nature of our connections with the word. In some ways it has opened us to new ways of fostering and maintaining connections to those we may not have been able to in the past. For contemporary adolescents there is often no clear distinction between their social media relations and their in person relations. However, it is important to develop and maintain real life relationships in addition to social media relationships. Talking and maintaining in person relationships allows us to foster a deeper sense of empathy, connection and deep listening skills. An individual who receives mainly texts from others or who communicates only online with individuals will miss out on verbal cues like eye contact, facial expression, body language and tone of voice which is crucial for the development of empathy and a deep sense of connection. Below are a few ideas to get you started:
Reach out to friends or family that you have not connected to in awhile. Set aside time in your day to phone a friend to see what they have been up to or make a plan to meet for coffee or lunch.
Practice mindful listening with your friends, colleagues or family. Truly focus on what the other person is saying without thinking of what you are planning to say next or jumping in. Ask the other person questions about themselves.
Consider joining a group to increase your connection to others. Find something that you love to do or would like to learn about and check your local listings. Examples are cooking, acting, dancing, computer programming, yoga, ect..
Try working or studying in a public place if possible such as a coffee shop or cafe. Just being around others can help us feel more connected and increase our chances to meet someone new.
Try out a class at your local gym. There are several options available including boxing, aerobics, yoga, swimming and even meditating. You will connect with others while also experiencing the mood boosting effect of physical activity.
We are often so busy we eat on the go and miss the chance to sit around the table and connect with each other. Take time to cook and eat together with your family and friends.
If you love video games or computers try spending time at a local arcade or find an in person video game tournament where you can connect with others in person while learning more about the games and improving your skills.
Pick an organization you feel strongly about and try volunteering. You will likely meet others who are also passionate about the same thing you are and feel great about helping those in need.
We are social beings and it is important for us to develop a sense of belonging and connection emotionally, physically and cognitively. It is not the number of connections that we make that matters but instead the quality of our connections. Even having a few strong connections with others can make a world of difference and sometimes the most important thing is that we continue to foster and nourish these important relationships in our lives.