Today we will focus on connectedness: why it's so important and how we can nurture the feeling of connectedness to improve our health and reduce stress, anxiety and depression. I previously posted five ways we can protect our mental health and well-being as our lives are put on hold and we are forced to self isolate. The "five a day" recommendations are:
1. Be active.
3. Keep learning.
4. Give to others.
5. Be mindful.
Research has shown links between a solitary life and anxiety and depression. Becoming lonelier and more isolated with each generation is a trend that started before Corona (Covid-19). Corona is accelerating the process and making it worse. The brain is wired to code isolation as dangerous and feeling connected as safety. Studies have shown that human contact like holding hands or hugging reduces cortisol levels, which translates in less stress during traumatic times. Conversely the human brain associates being on the social perimeter as dangerous. That makes it defensive and alert to any possible threat. Sound stressful? Not surprisingly social distancing is having a profound effect on how you feel. Social connectedness can actually improve health, in much the same way that exercising and eating a good diet can keep a sickness at bay.
To make things worse, the current culture of self-help and independence can make it embarrassing to admit that you are not enough to even keep yourself company. To be alone doesn't always mean to feel lonely. Loneliness is a subjective state of being sad. If you perceive yourself as isolated, you're lonely. Maybe this feeling of disconnection was always there and Corona just made it more evident. In any case, I would postulate that feeling connected is the antidote to feeling lonely, that feeling connected effects us at the biological level in positive ways and therefore nurturing the feeling of connectedness is more essential then ever. So let's see what you can do to feel more connected.
This can be an opportunity to connect with yourself and appreciate a little peace, quiet and solitude. Create your own rituals. This can be as simple as taking a routine (like grooming or preparing food) and giving it purpose. You can find purpose by asking yourself who and what is important in your life. For example, if you value healthy eating, then preparing food is a way to move towards healthy eating. See if you can connect your daily activities with someone or something that truly matters to you.
Rather than trying to stay connected to a large number of people, focus on few. Pick five that matter to you and do your best to talk to them as often as you can. Focus on the quality of the communication, on emotional openness. This may be harder for males because they tend to bond by doing things together rather than revealing themselves. With no sports or a workplace to go to - when there is no longer an activity to be shared - it's not surprising that men are experiencing a loneliness epidemic as well as a Corona epidemic. If you value connectedness, put in the work to maintain your friendships and schedule reaching out. Make your friends aware they can count on you and feeling that you can count on them will recharge your connection with each other. Maybe use a group chat to share your thoughts and feelings throughout the day.
Feeling connected doesn't always other people. You can nurture the feeling of connectedness with yourself, a pet, higher power, nature, your community, and so on. Meditation, prayer and a walk in nature can all be wonderful ways of feeling connected. Actually the more varied and abundant the recipients of your connection are, the better.
Set yourself the goal of connecting every day. To make sure you follow through with your goal, try the SMART acronym: Specific- Meaningful - Adaptive - Realistic - Time framed. So, for example, being supportive to my friends and family is important for me. That's the "Meaningful" part. A goal that can achieve that is connecting daily with at least one friend or family member, that is a Realistic, Adaptive, Time framed goal. I can schedule when and who I will call, that is a Specific action I can take right now.
Now you have two things to do daily: Be Active and Connect. Next we'll see how Learning - yes, your read correctly - can enhance your mental health during these stressful times of Corona.