Family can be a wonderful social support and connection if the relationships are positive and healthy.
However, some of us lack healthy family interaction and will develop these ties with other social groups. Others have a combination of family, social groups and individual relationships that are supportive and provide a sense of interconnection.
The need for social connection has deep cultural roots as we consider that early humans bonded together in groups or tribes for survival.
In contrast to basic survival, several studies over the past 40 years that have suggested that social relationships may greatly enhance health and wellness by helping us to feel more positive and less depressed, and by contributing to our sense of belonging and security.
A lack of social contact is a risk for cardiovascular disease and earlier death. In fact, social isolation is a major risk factor for depression, and some studies have highlighted brain changes in mice as a result of social deprivation.
Now, in describing social isolation, I am not talking about people who prefer alone time to go to parties. Rather, it seems that most of us need a couple of people we can talk to about personal issues and the things that are important to us, along with sharing life experiences together.
In addition, when we connect with others by helping them or doing acts of kindness and compassion, serotonin, one of our “happy chemical messengers”, actually rises, and we feel better.
What about you? How do you connect with other people? Do you have people you can confide in? Do you feel supported and satisfied with your relationships? Do you contribute to relationships and foster closeness? Do you limit relationships that are draining, conflicted or downright harmful?
What are some ways to foster healthy connections?
Here are a few examples, and I invite you to brainstorm your own:
- Join a club or social group with a common interest.
- Engage in an online game that will encourage you to connect with others for fun and a common goal.
- Volunteer for projects that are meaningful to you and bring you in contact with other people.
- Send an email, text, or phone someone every day or two and thank or encourage them.
- Listen with your “whole self” in conversations, ie. be present, keep eye contact, don’t worry about what you need to say. Allow the other person to feel that he or she was heard.
- Ask friends about how you can support them in the friendship and tell them what you need.
- Remember to appreciate and encourage time for positive family interaction.
Keep in mind that our social ties not only foster our own health and wellness but also help others.
We can make small changes in our social lives that have large impacts. What would it mean to reach out to someone who is feeling lonely or having difficulty driving to be with others?
What would it mean for you?
What is one small step you could take tomorrow that would promote connection?