The Power of Connection

This past weekend, with parents in tow, I attended a celebratory dinner in honour of my godparents, who were marking the impressive milestone of their 60th wedding anniversary.

Whilst this in itself was a genuine cause to mark the occasion with a party, I was excited at the prospect of meeting up with members of the extended family, who I had not seen for many years.  And let me tell you by the end of the evening my face was aching from all the laughter and talking over the memories of our formative years as children growing up together.

So why I am sharing this with you, well for me it was another reminder of how important human connection is.  The bonds we form with people who have helped to shape us and grow during various stages of life is foundational to our wellbeing.  As social beings we are hard-wired to connect and research tells us that for those of us who have strong community and network, we generally experience greater life satisfaction with higher levels of resilience and much better mental health.

This got me thinking about the epidemic of loneliness which has accelerated over the last few years and I found myself asking why our social connection plays such a vital role to our wellbeing?  It reminded me of a module I studied as part of my coaching certification where we explored Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  This model provides understanding of the motivations of human behaviour, with connection (labelled love and belonging) sitting just above our physiological (food/water) and safety needs (health, stability, financial security).  At their core, relationships fulfil our basic human need for love, friendship, touch and intimacy and that these must be met, before we are able to move up to the more complex or advanced human needs within this philosophy.

Life today seems to operate at a frenetic rate with many of us grappling numerous responsibilities or challenges and sadly more often than not, our social connections and relationships fall by the wayside in a bid to create some kind of balance.  As a consequence, this is driving the statistical rise of loneliness and prompting increased awareness that this a serious global health concern, which is impacting both physical and mental health.

In a world where we appear to be more technically connected than ever, with the use of our smartphones, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. For many the use of social media allows individuals to hide their true feelings behind a mask of pretence, plugging a false narrative that their lives are happy, full of fun and excitement.  Now I’m not saying this is everyone on social media, however studies have shown that those who have an intense use of these channels, tend to have a lower self-esteem or depressive symptoms.

Being technically connected is amazing as we have so much available at our fingertips, but it should never be a substitute for real-life, authentic relationships.

Here are some of my suggestions on how we can feel more connected:

  • Surround Yourself with Like-Minded People

It’s much easier to talk and share your thoughts on a subject or hobby you are passionate about, with someone who feels the same way.  So, whatever that looks like for you, join a new club, community or group, volunteer for a cause which you support and integrate yourself with people who find joy in the things you do.

  • Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

Making new friends can feel intimidating and we can find ourselves asking “what if they don’t like me?” fear of rejection is a powerful deterrent, but you just need to reframe it. The truth is not everyone will like you, however that’s ok, remember you have to be authentic to who you are, you shouldn’t mould yourself into someone else, just to “fit in”.  Be you, be proud of who you are (quirks and all) and find your tribe.

  • Reach Out To Your Existing Network

Connection needs to be nurtured so if you’ve lost touch with old friends for one reason or another, don’t be afraid to get in touch.  In my experience, they will be thrilled to hear from you and will be keen to carry on where you left off.  Go on, pick up the phone and make that call!

  • Be Present

In a social environment, focus on being present and in the moment, engage with the people around you and don’t be tempted to hide behind your smartphone if you are feeling socially awkward.  Ask questions and enjoy the process of connecting, you’ll be surprised what you discover about someone when you ask, even if you’ve known them for some time.

  • Ask for Support

If all of the above feels like too much and you are struggling with your mental health, don’t be afraid to seek help.  Speaking to a professional will assist with identifying any unhelpful behaviours and equip you with coping strategies to help navigate you through any challenging feelings you may have.

As a final thought, we often make the mistake of thinking that one person can give us everything we seek to fulfil all our needs, but the truth of it is that we need different types of connections in different relationships.  The health of our relationships has the potential to either nourish us or drain us, so it’s important to realise that our unique perspectives, values, lifestyles or attachment styles can have an impact, therefore, we should focus our energies on the connections that bring us joy and comfort.

Until the next time…

 

“In a world of algorithms, hashtags and followers, know the true importance of human connection.”

-UNKNOWN

 

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