“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” Professor Brene Brown, University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.
We seem to have an innate need to connect with others. Research shows that social connections enhance our health, happiness and our sense of purpose, in part, because the support of our friends and family reduces the impact of stress on our bodies and brains. Social connections strengthen our immune system and can be a protective factor against anxiety and depression. Relationships provide the opportunity to share positive experiences and provide emotional support making us feel loved and understood. Connections with other people form our ‘social network’ these include causal, personal and professional relationships. Casual relationships may consist of friends we know from shared activities such as art class, cooking class or the gym but only know on a first name basis. Personal relationships are the ones we care about the most and invest the most significant time. Our close circle of people may include family, friends and significant others. The final category of others in our lives is our professional relationships. These include bosses, coworkers and colleagues. Social relationships provide us with new information, entertainment, support, love and affection. Our network of social connection can open up countless new opportunities ranging from online chats to small visits over lunch to finding a new travelling partner.
Feel like you might be low on social connection? Here are a few ideas that may help you build your connections.
Say “yes” more often. Start with things that make you feel relatively safe remembering that at the same time trying new things will require you to be brave. If you are asked to a social event or to pursue something that interests you such as a hobby, volunteer group, or a sports team-do your best to attend, get involved with activities that invigorate you and will allow you to meet others who have similar interests.
Challenge yourself to try something new. Be open to new experiences. Getting out of your comfort zone can be tough at first, but facing unfamiliar challenges can give you a sense of accomplishment and boost your self-esteem. A great thing about having friends is that they introduce us to a myriad of new experiences.
Building connections takes time, effort and sacrifice. Instead of expecting others to reach out to you and then feeling rejected when they don’t, reach out to them. Make time for friends and family. Research, suggests that lending a hand to others may be more important than receiving it. If you are there for others, they will most likely be there for you in your time of need. If you need specific support such as caring for a family member or coping with an illness you may consider joining a support group to meet others who are dealing with similar challenges.
When you need extra support and do not have anyone to rely on, counsellors can help. Talking about your thoughts and feelings with a supportive therapist can help you find healing as you voice your worries or talk about things that are weighing you down. Counselling therapy can help you develop strategies to manage stress and improve your social connections.
Uchino, B.N. Understanding the links between social support and physical health. (2009). Perspectives on Psychological Science 4(3), 236-255.
Brown, S.L., Nesse, R.M. Vinokur, A.D., and Smith, D.M. (2003). Providing social support may be more beneficial than receiving it: Results from a prospective study of mortality. Psychological Science 14(4), 320-327.