The power of human connection
Over the last 18 months, I am sure you have all discovered what it is like to be separated from your friends, family, and colleagues. Even with the lifting of some travel restrictions, it is still challenging to visit our relatives and loved ones across the world.
What is more, despite the easing of measures, many of us still find ourselves remote working. As offices begins to open up, the expectation is that we will be working in some hybrid form for the foreseeable future. Outside of Europe, people are still finding themselves in even more challenging situations.
Across the world, COVID-19 has left millions feeling isolated and lonely, and struggling with their health as a direct consequence of this isolation. Some studies have shown that loneliness has the same negative impact on health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or obesity. It is associated with heart disease and inflammation, as well as having effects on mental health including irritability, depression, and insomnia.
We need social connections
We feel lonely when we are isolated and separated from our people. It is a painful and vital evolutionary response that ensures we return to the safety of our family and our community. People who feel lonely are often ashamed to admit it, even to those close to them. And being surrounded by others does not protect from loneliness. Loneliness is often paired with feelings of self-blame which can drive the emotion of shame. Those who are suffering often cover it up and push away the very people they most want, or need, to be connected to.
The fact is that as humans, we need social connection and to feel like we belong. We are designed to be connected with each other and to help and support each other, and we see these instincts shining through even more strongly during times of crisis.
Social connection can lower symptoms of anxiety and depression, help regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and boost our immune system.
By neglecting our need to connect with others, we are putting our health at risk.
Connecting with someone who is lonely can be a lifeline for them. Through simple acts of kindness, the expression of gratitude, and reaching out, we can make a difference to someone in their moment of need.
And another bonus: these simple acts can make us feel good too.
Kindness is contagious
Kindness is contagious. We all feel good when we do something kind for others. Their gratitude builds our self-esteem and self-value.
Kindness is good for our health. When we help others, we experience an anti-stress response. The ‘helpers high’ stimulates the release of endorphins that counter the effects of adrenaline, directly impacting our stress levels.
So why not check on a neighbour, call a friend tor deliver food to someone who might be struggling? These acts of kindness could be a lifeline to others and can have direct benefits for you as well.
We know that the simple act of practicing gratitude improves our well-being and health, reduces the risk of developing burnout and increases resilience. Having a ‘gratitude attitude’ also promotes happiness by making us more aware of the positivity around us. But gratitude is not just good for us; it is good for those on the receiving end. It can help us to build connection and make a person feel valued and appreciated.
So why not give ‘gratitude attitude’ a go? Say thank you to others; do something nice for someone else. And another suggestion: consider three things you are grateful for each day.
Even more powerful is sharing these with others.
How are you?
Humans have an innate need to belong; simply reaching out, checking in and acknowledging others on a personal level, makes us feel valued and connected. If we make contact, initiate a conversation, and connect authentically, it can offer a lifeline to someone who may be struggling. Asking them how they are really feeling and showing compassion and empathy can provide them with the opportunity to share their troubles and concerns.
Someone simply listening with care and kindness may be all that person needs.
The power of human connection
Let’s all take steps to strengthen our connections with each other and create more meaningful moments through acts of kindness. Express gratitude and engage in authentic conversation this World Mental Health day.
By Dr Mecky McNeil and Dr Michelle Wright from HealthFirst