When lockdown started last year, I quickly realized that not seeing other people, outside of my family, was going to be a big deal. I had taken coffee dates and impromptu chats at work for granted.
Humans are social creatures. Seeking and securing social connection is one of our brain’s primary functions. Like it or not, we need each other for survival.
In the past few years, the media has reported on research studies explaining how social connectedness helps keep us alive. Our need for social connection is so vital that both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the editors of the World Happiness Report (WHR) chose to adopt the term “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing”.
Social connectedness supports physical and psychological wellbeing. The WHR described the importance of social connectedness in supporting wellness along with other factors such as personality style, time use, and life circumstances:
Social connectedness is important for our physical wellbeing too. An article in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine described several positive health outcomes linked to social connectedness:
Maintaining a healthy body mass index
Controlling blood sugars
Improving cancer survival
Decreasing cardiovascular mortality,
Decreasing depressive symptoms
Mitigating posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms
Improving overall mental health
So, you know that positive social supports are good for you. How do you create and nurture those relationships? It’s kind of like planting a garden.
At the risk of taking metaphor too far, I’m going to stick with this one because healthy relationships really are like healthy gardens.
You have to plant the right seeds for healthy relationships.
Look for people who share your interests and values. Who else is interested in inviting healthy relationships in their lives?
It’s great if you find a friend who shares your love for the Seattle Seahawks by strictly reserving Sundays to watch the game. It’s unhealthy if that person is overly demanding of your time and attention the other 6 days of the week becoming angry when you hold your boundaries.
Engage in relationships where you and the other person both feel cared for, valued and understood.
This goes for your current relationships too. How do those relationships measure up?
A supportive, healthy relationship grows on a foundation of mutual care, respect, and shared values.
Once you have the seeds of a healthy relationship planted, you have to feed it.
Like flowers in a garden, relationships need nutrients.
Communication Healthy, active, and clear communication supports relationships. Communication helps each person understand what the other thinks, feels, wants, or needs. It also supports healthy conflict resolution.
Boundaries So many of us struggle with healthy boundaries. What will others think of you? You don’t want to be seen as selfish or difficult.
Boundaries help you maintain mental wellness. They allow you to engage with others in ways that are sustainable and growth promoting. Your limits become clear, and others know what to expect from you. You get to show up as your authentic self.
Time Make having healthy relationships a priority.
Texting is great, but connection happens during real-time conversations. I get that face-to-face isn't always possible, but we are in the technological age. Phone calls and video calls are fair game.
Make the time. Phone a friend. Meet up for tea. Go take a stroll.
Like any flourishing garden, relationships need continual care.
Life gets busy, so naturally, it’s easy to take important things for granted. This includes relationships. Those same nutrients that helped your relationship flourish and grow are the same ones that will help it thrive through the years.
Don’t worry, the strongest relationships can weather distance, gaps in communication or conflict. Just make sure that you don’t let these meaningful connections completely fade away. When you realize that a relationship has faded, reach out and restore your connection.
Just for you!
I’m all about building supportive villages around me. If you're a physician mom who could use the support of your physician mom peers, then check out my new coaching group, Parenting Under Pressure. Become a more confident mom and physician in a safe circle of those who get it.
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