What makes your day?
Is it being out in the sunshine?
Or getting a project finished?
Or enjoying a cup of coffee made by your favourite barista?
Whatever you enjoy, sharing that moment is highlighted when you get to share it with someone else, a friend, your family, or even the dog!
We are social creatures hardwired to seek connection with others. You as a unique individual can achieve so much, but together those achievements will be amplified.
But recent events have caused many of us enormous social pain.
Did they affect you?
You weren’t allowed to travel to visit family even when they were unwell or dying.
You were required to isolate at home or in quarantine because of the risk of infection.
You were told you had to work from home rather than at the office.
All of this has contributed to the growing level of loneliness in our communities.
Did you know 1:4 Australians report being lonely on at least three days a week?
One in four also experience high levels of social interaction anxiety.
Loneliness affects all ages and all genders.
Do you have a strong network of friends? The ones you know you could call on at any time of day or night if you were in trouble?
Do you enjoy the companionship of time spent with others, that you consider you have something in common with?
Loneliness is a problem because of the negative impact it has on your physical and mental health and wellbeing.
Loneliness is as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Loneliness is more dangerous than obesity or lack of physical activity. It’s associated with a 50% increased risk of premature death due to reduced immunity that contributes to an increased risk of developing disease, heart attack and stroke.
A lack of social connection increases your risk of mental health challenges including anxiety or depression. It is associated with lowered self-esteem, lower selfcare and apathy.
How strong are your social networks?
When it comes to mental wellbeing, the strength and closeness of your personal relationships and the number of incidental social connections you have across your day has been shown to contribute to what keeps you feeling happy and more optimistic.
Putting this into the work context, consider this.
You will spend around 90,000 hours or 1/3 of your life at work meaning having good social connections here is every bit as important as your family and friends.
The findings of the Harvard Adult Development Study that commenced in 1938, and continues today as the world’s longest longitudinal study sought to answer the question, what makes for a good life?
The answer is neither money nor status. It’s not about having a big house, taking expensive holidays, or having multiple pairs of designer shoes.
It’s the quality and closeness of your most intimate relationships.
Feeling loved and being loved is what counts and plays an enormous role in determining your mental wellbeing, your overall happiness and success in life.
And the importance of social connection is now being taken seriously with a recent survey conducted by AIA Australia finding that 61% of Australians are taking action to manage their mental health.
While many health practitioners now write social prescriptions for their patients they consider at risk.
Making social connection part of your mental wellbeing strategy
If you are continuing to work from home, or are following a hybrid model, what have you done to ensure that you are staying sufficiently connected with other people?
Whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, we all benefit from regular interactions with other humans
How you do this might include,
- Setting the intention.
If working home alone or remotely, schedule time into your day to connect with others. Whether this is a Zoom call, Teams meeting, or a phone call, speaking with and hopefully seeing the other person(s) keeps you connected to the world around you.
- Seeking more micro moments of connection.
This could be chatting with the checkout operator at the supermarket, smiling at someone you walk past (not in a creepy way!) or saying thank you if a stranger helps you out by holding the door open as you wade past with 15 shopping bags under your arms.
- Add in opportunities to meet new people.
This could be a class you’ve signed up to after work, volunteering for a good cause, a sports team, or a social networking group.
- Strengthen existing ties.
Try to have dinner with the whole family on a regular basis. Make it a regular calendar fixture and get everyone involved in the preparation (and cleaning up!) Set aside time for real conversation.
- Choose to be friendly.
A smile costs nothing but shows the other person you’ve noticed their presence. Listen with your full and undivided attention to show you’ve heard. Being kind shows you are genuinely interested in the other person. Showing your appreciation and expressing thanks also shows you to be a warm and caring person.
Be interested not interesting and if you see the need ask – how can I help?
Above all, be yourself. Focus on what matters and remember those little things that others will appreciate so much – a birthday card, sharing congratulations on their success or happy event or your condolences if they have experienced loss.
Social connection keeps you feeling safe, fulfilled, and loved.
How do you dial up your social connection?
Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.
If psychological safety, resilience and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.