Popping back in from a blogging hiatus to share some thoughts about a non-physical element of health: social connection.
One of the recognized predictors of lifelong health is maintaining healthy social connections. And yet it seems to be one of the more overlooked elements of a healthy lifestyle. Many people when thinking about their health focus only on food and movement (and possibly sleep), and give very little thought to creating and maintaining healthy social connections.
Indeed, healthy social connection can be a much more daunting element to tackle, because it relies on other people as well as ourselves. Some people in our culture are privileged enough to be able to have some degree of choice around food and movement, and they don’t need to rely on other people in order to make changes in those areas. They can make changes on their own timetable, without fear of rejection from others.
Creating and maintaining healthy social connections is not always so easy. We need to coordinate with others. We need to make ourselves vulnerable. We need to try new things. For some personalities, this is not easy. Especially when we think about how many people in our culture don’t settle down in the same area where they grew up. Many people need to, as adults, create a whole new social network, while they are juggling other areas of life that demand their energy, such as jobs and taking care of family. That can leave you with very little time and energy left to devote to forming social connections. Especially when social media is so……easy, compared with strengthening relationships in person.
All that is to say….I get it. I’ve been there. It is hard. Young adulthood is hard when you are settling into a new community.
Lately though, I’ve been feeling extremely well and at peace with my social connections in my community. It’s a novel feeling for me, so I looked at what had changed.
For one thing, I have lived in the same area for seven years now, and even worked at the same company for most of that time (with a break when I had my son). Before I moved here, as an adult, I had never stayed in one place for more than 2 years.
Also, I have a kid now (who is almost 5). Before I had my kid, I worked full time. Now that I work part-time, I do have more time to see people and take my kid places (which I realize is a privilege in and of itself!). Also, there are gatherings and ways for families to connect that don’t seem to be as easy to find for adults without children.
And finally…..about a year or so ago I decided to prioritize connection with others more. It wasn’t an official “habit” that I put on my spreadsheet. I simply decided to treat connection with others as though it was more important to me than I had in the past. For me, that looked like saying “yes” more when invited to do things. Even if I really didn’t always feel like it. I don’t always say yes and I do balance invitations with my other self care needs. Its just that now I recognize social connection as a self-care need in and of itself, so I say yes sometimes.
It also involved connecting more online, but prioritizing people I actually know in person. This helps me feel closer to people I actually know, than if I had just relied on getting to know people when we were able to consciously make an effort to get together (once every few months or years!). Some friends I only see once or twice a year, and yet it warms my heart to see that we all pitch in and help each other out where there is a need.
Anyway, I feel really settled and well in this area of life lately. If you are feeling lonely and disconnected, know that small consistent steps can help in this area just like it can help in changing other habits.