Have you ever noticed yourself being short on quality time with friends and family but high in stress? When you get bogged down at work or overwhelmed by a personal crisis, it’s natural to want to keep to yourself. You might find yourself making the excuse that you “don’t have time to socialize.”
That one decision could be negatively affecting your mental health. Here’s how it works.
The Power of Social Support
Researchers have been talking about the relationship between social support and mental health for years. In fact, the connection doesn’t stop at psychological health—social support benefits physical health, too.
Studies show that having positive social ties helps build resilience to stress, which ultimately influences physical and psychological health. Social support is broadly defined through interactions involving emotional (e.g. a shoulder to cry on) and practical support (e.g. help moving to a new place).
What’s most important about this connection is that the focus lies in the quality of the relationships rather than quantity—you don’t need tons of friends to reap the benefits.
How to Make Your Connections Count
Your social circle is an amazing, untapped resource. Here are 5 ways you can use social connection to improve your mental health.
1. Be Present
In the age of technology, everyone’s so focused on their phones and tablets. What little social connection you do get probably isn’t mindful. Make a commitment to put your phone down the next time you’re engaged in conversation with someone else. Smile, make eye contact, and listen to what they are saying. Then, offer a thoughtful response that allows you to really connect with the other person.
2. Have a Meal Together
How many meals do you have on-the-go or while browsing your social media feed? Use mealtimes to connect with those who matter most. If your family doesn’t typically eat meals together, start a new practice. Turn off the TV and set a no-technology at the dinner table rule. Suggest that everyone share a high and low moment about their day.
3. Do Random Acts of Kindness
One way to boost your own mental health and others is by paying it forward. Think of ways you can do something nice for the people in your life. These don’t have to be huge gestures. You can treat a friend to lunch. Or, help your elderly neighbor bring in her groceries.
Volunteering is a great way to feel more connected to your local community. Donating your time to a worthy cause can help you meet others with common interests. Studies also show that volunteerism boosts self-esteem and improves mental well-being.
5. Pursue Your Hobbies
What do you like to do in your spare time? Use your hobbies to connect with others. There are two perks to this: you get to spend time doing something you’re passionate about and you will meet people who have the same interests. Plan that getaway you’ve been putting off. Dig out your running shoes from the back of your closet. Ask a friend to take a photography or cooking class with you. Start back doing the things you love.
If you are feeling stressed, lonely and disconnected, I can help.
To learn more about counseling and how it can help you get back connected to the people in your life…
Sources: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921311/, http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/social-support-getting-and-staying-connected, http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/emotional-support.aspx, http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/social-support/art-20044445, https://dignityhealth.org/articles/How-Human-Connection-Can-Relieve-Stress, https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/resources/faq/, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/volunteering-may-be-good-for-body-and-mind-201306266428
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