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Social Connection for Better Health and Happiness

There is an epidemic of loneliness in this culture. Over the last decades, we have become accustomed to doing things on our own. Families don’t necessarily eat together anymore. At work, we don’t talk to our colleagues but check our messages instead. We seem too busy to meet our friends for lunch or coffee. The structures for looking out for each other – family or neighbourhood – have been disintegrating, and therefore a sense of connection and community has been getting lost.

Today many people feel isolated and lonely.

(…) the use of the social media that is supposed to bring us together, but in fact creates more separation for many people. The online activity doesn’t meet our need for real sharing, connecting and relating to each other in a personal or intimate way. Many studies now have shown that high frequency use of social media has a detrimental effect on physical health and increases the risk of depression. In contrast, many studies confirm that a cut back on social media lead to a marked improvement in mood, a more positive outlook on life and decreased rates of depression and loneliness. (…)

In order to stay healthy, happy and balanced, we don’t only need healthy food, exercise and good sleep.

We also need connection to others. We need to feel loved and we need to belong. A sense of connection and belonging helps us to live a healthy life (…) This is an excerpt from my newsletter in December 2019. Just a few weeks after sending it, the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Now this content is more relevant than ever, and I would like to add some thoughts to this topic here:

We all know the devastating effects the pandemic had on our lives, especially on our social interactions.

Now at the end of 2023, many people still report that they haven’t been able to rekindle the same quality friendships, social circles or regular social events. We have gotten accustomed to using more social media which pulls us away from personal meaningful connections. We may still attend online yoga or exercise class instead of going to a studio or gym, or we may do more shopping online. Maybe we have adapted in a way not talking to people on the bus or in the line-up, or not inviting our family for our birthday anymore.

Have we gotten out of routines to connect?

Last month, the World Health Organization designated loneliness as a "global public health concern. Research and experts agree: ‘Loneliness is far more than just a bad feeling—it harms both individual and societal health. It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. The mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity.’ The data is shocking: loneliness and isolation is clearly devastating for our health.

Taking steps to increase connection is one of the best things to improve our health.

There are many ways to connect to friends, family and even to people we meet as we go on with our day: Smiling at someone, saying a friendly word, looking into someone’s eyes, holding a hand, giving a hug, being present and listening to someone. Why not calling a friend you haven’t talked to in while? What about meeting more often with friends or family: a weekly walking group, a monthly dinner or a regular get-together with a friend at your favourite coffee shop?

Connecting to another human being makes people feel good, loved and appreciated.

Positive emotions lead to changes in the body including lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, higher levels of serotonin, the ‘relaxing-hormone’ and improved immune function. Now the research is clear that connecting in person can reduce stress, anxiety, and even our risk of cardiovascular events, while increasing happiness and longevity.

Connecting to others require connecting to yourself.

We may be in a crowd of people and still feel isolated. Or we may be with someone else and we cannot be present for this person. In order to have meaningful connections to others we need to have a good connection to ourselves. In our busy lives, we often don’t find enough time for rest and recovery, and we get out of touch with our own needs and desires. As much as we put off seeing a friend, we may also put off taking time for ourselves.

Our needs for connection are very individual.

Whereas someone who is introvert may be happy relying on her/his few good friends, more extrovert people may thrive with a whole bunch of contacts and group activities. Also, different life circumstances require different ways of connecting. When confronted with a health challenge or stressful time at work e.g., a few close supportive friends may be sufficient. For most people, it is challenging to stay connected to ourselves and to others while balancing our lives between work, caring for children or parents, or difficult life events. – Be open, listen to yourself. Make it work for you. Engage in connecting to yourself, so you can find meaningful connections to others!

May you feel well connected, appreciated and loved in this holiday season and beyond! Happy Holiday, and good health and happiness in 2024!

Important note at the end: You want to find better ways to stay connected to yourself? Not sure how to start? – Alexander Technique, Reflexology and Bach Flower Remedies are excellent ways to get better connected to yourself and to learn how to navigate your life with more self-awareness. Contact Heike to find out more about her services!

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