Note: This article is not intended to replace medical advice. If you have any questions or are experiencing depression or other issues, contact your doctor to receive appropriate and specific help.
With winter around the corner and the effects of the pandemic lingering, it’s safe to say many of us are or will be feeling lonely or isolated. This is nothing to be ashamed of; loneliness is something we all go through at one point or another and it’s not something that you or anyone you know has to live with.
Experiencing a sense of close and positive relationships with others is the definition of meaningful social connection. Loneliness occurs when the desired amount of social connection does not match the actual social connection we have in our lives. Social media may seem like the perfect answer for increasing connections, but it is not a be-all-end-all solution. It is but one tool that when used correctly, can help develop and maintain social connections.
Why might you be feeling more socially disconnected?
Over the years, social networks have become smaller and less diverse than before as we interact less with those close by on a daily basis. Life can also take us apart from each other and keeping in touch can become difficult, taking a lot of effort from both sides. This, along with a general decrease in community involvement and increasing loneliness, particularly in older adults as friendships become more difficult to maintain (due to health challenges, mobility & even distance), suggests an overall less socially connected society.
I feel socially disconnected, so what? Why is this important?
While it may be true that many in society are experiencing feelings of loneliness, why does it matter? How is it relevant to you? There are many benefits to keeping close social connections. A study published by a journal called American Psychologist in 2017 states that strong social connection is associated with a 50% reduced risk of early death across all age, gender and health status groups. It is also linked to an increase in quality of life, a decreased risk of depression and anxiety and contributes to an overall sense of wellbeing and happiness.
The above health benefits are something that we would all say yes to in a flash. So, how can you make that happen?
Here are 9 tips to help you improve social connection:
- Get support: give those in your life an opportunity to support you by asking for help if you need it. Talk to your family and friends about how you are feeling.
- Meet people in your area: go for a walk. Not only does it help you stay active and prevent falls, but you can interact with others too, like your neighbour that always says good morning.
- Try to catch up with old friends: with technology making reaching out easier than ever, see if you can find old friends to reach out to.
- Ask questions and be curious: imagine if someone came up to you in the grocery store line up and asked you a question about something positive they noticed about you, how would you feel?
Probably pretty good, so why not try to start up conversations by asking someone else a question. For example, “I really like your sweater, where did you get that?." A conversation could lead to finding mutual interests and a base for the start of a friendship.
- Stay positive: People like to be around positive people. If you can practice coming to social interactions with positivity and a sense of gratitude for the present, it will be easier to make connections.
- Discuss options with your doctor: bringing up your feelings of loneliness to your doctor may be difficult, but they can connect you with professionals that can help. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or talk therapy can help you find new or different ways to connect with others and identify barriers in your own life that can make connecting more difficult.
- Join a class or group: have you always loved knitting or reading, or something else? Try to make or find a group with the same passion, either online or in-person.
- Use social media: while there may be a learning curve, social media can make it easier to stay connected with friends and family. It should however not be used as a complete replacement to in-person or telephone interactions, as it may leave you feeling more distant from your loved ones.
- Volunteer: not only will you feel great giving back to your community or others, you may find something you enjoy doing in the process. Volunteering can provide opportunities to interact with many people. In addition, there may be opportunities to get to know your fellow volunteers.
Remember that feeling disconnected and alone is common; it’s not something to feel ashamed about. Even having a short conversation with someone can be of value to you and the person you are interacting with. Take each experience as it comes and learn from it. It only takes 1 or 2 people that you can confide in to become more socially connected. Every small step we take toward improving our lives is a step in the right direction.
This blog was written by Ann Szczepanski, a Physiotherapy student from the University of Toronto.