Social Connections for Mental Health
Guest post from Shay of ShadyApe.
3 Ways to Strengthen Social Connections for Improved Mental Health
Edmonton’s population sits around 980,000. It’s pretty hard not to encounter others as you move through your day. Yet, you can be surrounded by hundreds of people throughout your day, and feel so incredibly alone. The City of Edmonton recognizes that Edmontonians are less likely to experience stress, depression, loneliness, and isolation if they feel connected to a supported community. It can be challenging for our mind to reconcile being constantly surrounded by people who don’t ever really ‘see’ us.
A landmark study showed that a lack of human connection can be more harmful to your health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure. Human connection is critical. It's well-established that social relationships provide a crucial safety net when it comes to mental health.
Other research findings show that strong social connections:
● Lead to a 50% increased chance of longevity (aka you live longer)
● Strengthens your immune system
● Lower levels of anxiety and depression
● Increase self-esteem (Who doesn’t want to feel better about themselves)
● Increases empathy for others
3 Ways to Deepen Social Connections:
Open up to the people that are already in your life
It’s not uncommon to assume that everyone has it together but us. However, once you step into vulnerability instead of trying to uphold some perfect version of yourself, you will build some of the best interactions and relationships of your life. When we are willing to open up about our internal experience, our thoughts and emotions and desires, we start to realize that almost everyone is just as messed up as we are. It also allows us to truly see the people we are in relationship with and deepens our relationship and trust with them. When other see us, they are able to understand where some of our more unhealthy behaviours are coming from, and to help guide us to choose better ones.
In my own experience, the ability to be vulnerable and to be seen when you are dealing with mental health challenges is a game-changer. For a long time (and it still pops up now and again) I held a tremendous amount of shame around my internal world. There was immense power in creating a network of people in my life with whom I could share the thoughts and emotions that I thought of as imperfections that needed to be hidden.
Connect with people in your community
There are countless opportunities to connect with others who have similar interests in a city like Edmonton. UrbanYeg is a great example of this - the organization creates space for people to meet, connect and learn from each other to establish community and social connection. What do you love to do? Find a group of people that also love to do that thing, find out how you can connect with them, and step out of your comfort zone to do so.
Through our partnership with Urban Yeg, we’ve created an incredible space for connection within the Urban Yeg Meditation Series. The space is non-judgmental and people are encouraged to show up just as they are. We consistently receive feedback that participants are blown away by the sense of acceptance and the ability to feel like they can be themselves.
Actually listen when in conversation
Practicing mindful listening and showing genuine interest in those in our lives can help deepen our social connections. When in conversation, allow all of your awareness to be focussed on the person you are with, without interrupting, judging, refuting, or discounting while they are speaking. Avoid being on your phone and other distractions while someone is speaking to you - it can communicate indirectly that you are not interested in what they have to say (it sucks for the other person and we all know how it feels when someone does it to us.