Guest article provided by: bettersaid.org
Loneliness has become an increasingly prevalent issue in today’s world, and its impact on individuals’ lives cannot be overlooked. Studies have shown that a significant number of people, including many American adults, experience a lack of close friendships and social connections. According to a survey conducted by Cigna in 2020, nearly 61% of American adults reported feeling lonely or isolated at least some of the time .
This alarming trend has serious consequences, not only for individuals but also for communities as a whole. The effects of loneliness extend far beyond mere feelings of isolation. Research has revealed that loneliness can have detrimental effects on both mental and physical health. In fact, a meta-analysis published in Perspectives on Psychological Science found that loneliness and social isolation are associated with a 29% increased risk of coronary heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke . Moreover, the same study showed that loneliness has a comparable impact on mortality to that of smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being obese.
On the other hand, cultivating meaningful connections and a strong sense of belonging can have a transformative effect on one’s life. Connection with others gives us purpose and enriches our existence. It expands our bubble of awareness, exposing us to diverse perspectives, experiences, and support systems. When we feel connected, our problems and challenges seem more manageable as we gain perspective and empathy from those around us.
My grandparents, in their later years, experienced a growing sense of isolation and resentment. They lacked close friendships and rarely ventured out of their home. As a result, they became increasingly critical of their children, nitpicking at every opportunity.
In the last 6 months, when my grandpa was placed in a senior home where he had peers around him, everything changed. Suddenly, he had a support network and realised how often his children came to visit him.
This was partnered with the fact that he had a routine and around the clock care, but he felt a renewed sense of gratitude and happiness. Having others to talk to made him feel less isolated and less ashamed of his loss of independence. It was a powerful reminder that we are never truly alone, regardless of the stage of life we find ourselves in.
This example highlights the transformative power of connection. Even for parents who often prioritize their children’s needs, maintaining connections outside of the family unit is vital. It allows them to retain their individuality, receive support, and nurture a full sense of identity beyond their role as caregivers.
II. The Benefits of Connection
Connection with others goes beyond mere social interaction—it provides us with a profound sense of purpose and enhances our overall quality of life. When we form meaningful connections, we tap into a wellspring of benefits that enrich our well-being and contribute to our personal growth.
One of the primary benefits of connection is the sense of purpose it instills within us. When we feel connected to others, we find meaning in our interactions and relationships. Whether it’s through friendships, family bonds, or belonging to a community, connection gives us a sense of belonging and significance. It reminds us that we are part of something greater than ourselves and that our actions and presence matter.
If you’ve ever left home, felt lonely then made new connections that gave you a new spark, you know how that feels.
In addition to providing a sense of purpose, connection significantly improves our overall quality of life. It brings joy, support, and a deeper understanding of ourselves and others. When we have meaningful connections, we have a support network during times of adversity. Whether it’s seeking emotional support during challenging situations or receiving practical assistance, such as help with childcare or career guidance, our connections become sources of strength and resilience.
Moreover, connection broadens our horizons and expands our perspectives. When we engage with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, we gain valuable insights and learn to appreciate different viewpoints. This exposure to varied perspectives fosters empathy, compassion, and open-mindedness, ultimately leading to personal growth and a richer understanding of the world around us.
III. Common Challenges to Connection
While the benefits of connection are clear, there are several common challenges that can hinder our ability to build and maintain meaningful relationships. Recognizing and understanding these challenges can help us overcome them and forge stronger connections with those around us.
- Time Management: In our fast-paced lives, time is a precious resource, and often we prioritize other responsibilities such as family, career, and personal health above social connections. Building and maintaining friendships require a significant investment of time and effort, which can be challenging, especially for those with demanding schedules. Additionally, for individuals who have recently moved to a new city or undergone significant life changes, establishing new connections may take even more time and energy. It’s important to be mindful of the time we allocate to fostering relationships and make a conscious effort to prioritize social connections alongside other commitments.
- Personal Biases and Differing Opinions: Another challenge to forming new connections is our tendency to gravitate towards people who share similar beliefs, values, and interests. While it’s natural to feel more comfortable around like-minded individuals, this can limit our exposure to diverse perspectives and hinder the growth of new relationships. Preconceived biases and judgments can create barriers to connection, preventing us from truly understanding and appreciating others. By actively challenging our biases and approaching others with curiosity rather than judgement, we can create opportunities for deeper connections and expand our understanding of the world.
For example, imagine attending a social gathering where you encounter someone with differing opinions on a topic you feel strongly about. Instead of immediately dismissing or engaging in heated debates, approach the conversation with curiosity. Seek to understand their perspective, the experiences that shaped their beliefs, and find common ground. This open-mindedness and willingness to explore differing opinions can foster connection and create an environment of mutual respect and understanding.
IV. Practical Strategies for Building Connections
A. Make Your Intentions Clear
Just like if you were going on a date, you need to make it clear to the other person what you are looking for. You don’t have to go up to them and say, “You wanna be my friend?” but you can follow up with, “Hey I had a great time chatting with you, you want to grab lunch sometime for a friend date?”
If you want to stay away from the word date, try hang out.
B. Find Adaptability in Activities
Adapting to different circumstances is key to building connections, especially during challenging times.
During the pandemic, I started an accountability circle with my girl friends to keep each other motivated in our personal and professional goals. Once a month, we got together and had a chat. We have been doig it since 2020 and are still going strong!
Engage in virtual game nights, online classes, book clubs, or collaborative projects. By exploring and embracing new ways to connect, you create opportunities for shared experiences and strengthen your bonds with others.
C. Incorporate Connection into Existing Responsibilities
Short on time?
Integrating social connections into routine tasks or obligations can be an effective way to foster connections amidst busy lives. Find opportunities to engage in activities with friends or family members that align with your existing responsibilities.
Don’t have time for a lunch or activity? Do a chore together. Who doesn’t want a Costco buddy once a month?
Combine fitness goals with socializing by attending exercise classes or going on walks with a companion. By intertwining connection with your existing responsibilities, you optimize your time and create meaningful connections along the way.
D. Embrace the Helper Mindset
Adopt a mindset of being helpful and supportive.
My introverted clients feel shy approaching others but imagine yourself in their shoes. How great is it when someone else says hi to you and makes you feel comfortable. Do that for someone else.
In addition, offer people suggestions. I’ve made connections with people at our fav breakfast spot. They are overwhelmed by the amazing options so I’ll lean over and tell them my personal favourites.
By being a helper, you create a sense of connection and build trust with those around you. Similarly, be open to receiving help from others. Allow them to contribute and be part of your journey. Embracing the helper mindset opens doors to meaningful connections based on mutual support and kindness.
E. Prioritize In-person and Meaningful Communication
While technology provides convenience, prioritize in-person interactions.
Face-to-face will be better than a call which is better than a voice note which is better than a text. The more you can give with your presence and tone, the more you can understand one another.
As you reflect on the insights shared in this article, I encourage you to make a conscious effort to prioritize connection. Take the initiative to reach out to others, express your intentions, and commit to regular interactions. Embrace adaptability, whether through virtual meetups or incorporating connection into routine tasks. Leverage technology to bridge distances and utilize platforms that foster deeper connections. Approach interactions with empathy, curiosity, and an open mind, and embrace the role of being a helper in your social interactions.
Remember, connection requires time, effort, and vulnerability, but the rewards are invaluable. By nurturing stronger connections, you enhance your well-being, find support in challenging times, and create a richer and more fulfilling life.
I challenge you to take action today. Reach out to someone you care about, schedule that coffee date, or join a new community that aligns with your interests. Together, let us cultivate a world where genuine connection thrives, bringing joy, understanding, and a sense of belonging to all who seek it.
- Cigna. (2020). Cigna COVID-19 Global Impact Study: Building Resilience and Fostering Connection During the Pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.cigna.com/assets/docs/newsroom/covid-19-global-impact-study.pdf ↩
- Valtorta, N. K., Kanaan, M., Gilbody, S., Ronzi, S., & Hanratty, B. (2016). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(2), 227-237. ↩
Erika Ng is a communication coach who helps introverts shine without losing their sense of self. She’s guided over 150 clients from big companies like Meta and Google but also freelancers looking to make their mark on the world. If you want to connect and work better with those around you, reach out for a free discovery session at bettersaid.org
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