Here we’re focusing on the power of LOVE and Social CONNECTION.
Research shows that having strong social bonds is closely related to increased happiness, resilience, and longevity. Accordingly to Harvard’s longest study of happiness, healthy relationships are the most consistent predictor of happiness, and, having a few close relationships has also been found to help us live longer, better quality lives. Which is why love, relationships and social connection comprise our third driver of wellbeing.
Other studies also show the health benefits of love and social connectedness. Spending time with friends and family causes an oxytocin release, which reduces blood pressure, decreases stress and reduces pain; and the positive impacts social connection has on our immune system and ability to cope with stress (rather than the negative impact stress has on our cardiovascular health) all lead to a healthier life.
Social connection is vital to our wellbeing. It includes our support network, family, close friends, relationships, our team at work, our community and other social groups. We can all benefit from connecting more deeply and more frequently with those around us.
Human beings need to feel connected. The human brain is actually hard-wired for connection. Which is why the most effective way to employee engagement is to facilitate a feeling of being heard, listened to, understood, and valued. Connection is vital.
Health Implications of a Lack of Connection
Even further, a landmark study conducted by the University of Michigan found that a lack of social connection can have a more detrimental effect to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure. The recent lockdowns have shown more than ever how much we value, and need to be connected. Loneliness, or when a person’s need for social connection is not met, can lead to real mental and physical health issues.
If you’re feeling lonely you can use alone time to get back in touch with you. Judith Orloff, MD, Psychiatrist and Author, says ‘You have to be your own best friend’. She recommends we sit for 3 minutes and focus on something we find pleasing, or simple things we are grateful for. This helps to shift any negative thinking.
It also helps to think of all the connections we already have. When we expand our definition of love to include a wider group, we realise we have more support than we thought.
There is strong evidence that indicates that feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to functioning well in the world. It’s clear that social relationships are critical for promoting wellbeing and for acting as a buffer against mental ill health for people of all ages.
Reach Out to Someone
As with all things wellbeing, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. We all vary in how ‘social’ we are, and how social we feel at times, so this needs to be adapted to one’s own situation. If you do feel like reaching out, who will you reach out to? They will be so pleased to hear from you. You could:
• Suggest you grab a coffee, or virtual coffee if they are far away?
• Put five minutes aside to find out how someone really is.
• Speak to someone new, or someone you don’t already know too well.
• Ask how someone’s weekend was and really listen when they tell you.
• Give a colleague a lift to work or share the journey home with them.
• Sign up for an evening class, take up a new hobby, or perhaps start a book club.
• Volunteering can be a particularly rewarding experience.
Participation in social and community life has attracted a lot of attention in the field of wellbeing research as it enhances self-esteem, and encourages social interaction and a more active life. Individuals who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy.
Connecting with others will improve mental and physical health, and it will also help you to develop emotionally, including building resilience and coping skills. It will help you to solve problems that you can’t solve yourself, and can also unlock new opportunities for you both personally and professionally.
Don’t Forget About YOU!
Whilst reaching out for social interaction, we should also remember to show ourselves some daily love. Self-love or self-care is not selfish, it is essential. How much love will you show yourself today? No-one is perfect, so why would you set the barrier so high when it comes to expectations you have of yourself? Try to stop judging yourself so harshly, and instead practice a little self-kindness, you never know, a little each day could create a lasting habit.
And of course, whilst social wellbeing is important, it is also more than OK to take time alone, or to set those important boundaries in all areas of our lives. We must have time for ourselves and this may mean saying ‘no’ or ‘not now’, especially when dealing with toxic or overly demanding people. Instead, when you feel like it, reach out and connect with people who enrich you.
You may also have mixed emotions about returning to the office or coping with large social occasions following lockdown, this is understandable. It has even been referred to as Lockholm Syndrome (a play on Stockholm Syndrome). It’s based on the idea that now we can, we’re not sure we want to leave behind the ‘comfort zone’ of our restriction-filled life, even though the restrictions were initially forced upon us.
As with most things, when we challenge ourselves to move outside our comfort zones, in a gentle, step-by-step way, we will be able to create new neural pathways in our brain to know that these situations are safe. If in doubt, simply explain any Covid-related boundaries people should know about, and enquire the same of your colleagues. It may take a while for things to return to how they were pre-lockdown, if they ever do.