As was highlighted during the seemingly never-ending lockdowns of the last couple of years, positive social contact is important for wellbeing.
Despite how annoyed we may become by other people, or how desperate we occasionally feel for some alone time, humans are generally wired to be social. Behaviourally, this is often shown in our innate nature to survive by conforming and fitting in with 'our tribe', and in our unconscious mimicry of body language and intonation when speaking to people.
Research now tells us that being in positive relationships contributes more to wellbeing than exercise or nutrition. And that even introverts need to feel connected at times.
In fact, loneliness and a feeling of disconnectedness has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, depression, cognitive decline and poor sleep, and is as harmful to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And even though most of us will experience loneliness at some point in our lives, it is not limited to the older generation. 16-24 year olds are now the loneliest age group in the UK and many feel misunderstood, uncared for and like they don't belong, even when spending time with friends and family.
Our need to 'belong' drives us seek meaningful relationships with people with whom we have shared interests, both inside and outside of work. With people who 'get' you. People who you enjoy spending time with and can draw on for support when times are tough.
Maybe this is why extroverted people are often more resilient. They are more likely to help and support the people in their network and also ask for help when they need it. By expanding the resources (both psychological and practical) at their finger tips, they increase their chance of support, success and encouragement, which allows them to solve problems and remain resilient.
So how can you improve the quality of your relationships to increase connectedness?
In my opinion, the first step is reaching out to the people who already matter the most to you to tell them how much you appreciate them.
This is a simple gratitude/appreciation exercise. It doesn't have to be overly emotional or cost anything. Just an 'I really appreciate your friendship' or, 'have I told you what an amazing friend you are?' is enough.
More recently, Valentines Day has inspired celebrations of more than romantic love. With February 13th now playing host to 'Galentines Day' (a celebration of your amazing female friends) courtesy of Parks and Rec's Leslie Knope, and 'PALentines Day' (a day to honour the platonic soul mates in your life) there's no excuse for not telling someone how important they are to you.
Secondly, being fully present during your interactions is key. Put your phone away and give your full attention to your friend. Listen with genuine curiosity to what they say and how they say it, clarifying the situation and questioning them appropriately. You don't always need to give advice, you just need to be engaged.
Finally, you need to take a risk and put yourself in situations where you can meet new people and expand your social circle. Or find out more about the people you interact with on a daily basis. Be friendly, honest, and open, and don't be put off if it doesn't happen straight away.
Creating positive relationships takes a little personal resilience too.
And you never know what they might be going through, so taking a dismissal or rejection personally, or trying to guess what the other person is really thinking is nothing but a recipe for misery and worry.
Just take a moment to consider what you could do differently next time, learn from it and move on.
I promise, your tribe is out there somewhere and they can't wait to meet you!
And, if you want to build your self-confidence and resilience, so you feel more able to put yourself out there and build your social circle, then I can help.
Get in touch and book a free coaching discovery call to find out more.
P.S. If you're experiencing loneliness, or you know someone who is, the Marmalade Trust has some fantastic resources available to help.