Your Social Connection Matters
When you think of the resources you have in your mental health toolkit, what comes to mind? If you have read many of my articles on mental health, you already know that one resource in your mental health toolkit is a regular pattern of sleep. Another resource that I hope comes to your mind is exercise. A resource that might not come to mind but that is essential for optimal health is your social support system.
Think of the people in your life who know you well and love you unconditionally; the people with whom you feel emotionally safe; those with whom you can share anything without feeling judged; those who listen to your cares empathically without trying to fix you; those who will keep confidence with what you share. Those people are a valuable resource for your wellness.
We Need Each Other
In his Social Determination Theory, Edward Deci defines three areas of universal psychological need: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Relatedness refers to emotional connection and engagement with others. One of the five pillars of Positive Psychology is relationships. Research suggests that “good, caring and supportive interpersonal connections are essential to your well-being at any age in life” (Bridget Grenville-Cleave, A Practical Guide to Positive Psychology: Achieve Lasting Happiness, Icon Books, January 2012, Kindle, location 276). All of these areas of research indicate that our social support system is directly related to our mental health.
One of the challenges of the current pandemic is that many of our social support systems have been interrupted. We haven’t been able to be with family and friends as often. It has been difficult to meet others for coffee or lunch. We aren’t able to use our home for gatherings. In some cases, family members have not been together for over a year. And more and more often, so many of us are feeling isolated and lonely, which leads to stress, grief, and depression.
Community is A Lifeline
One of the goals of our church is to have everyone in a group. This is more than a goal for church growth—it is a goal for emotional well-being. Finding a group in which you can feel an emotional connection may be more important than ever. I have been a part of a prayer group for over 10 years. Our group meets every Wednesday. It has been almost a year since we were able to meet in person, but we have continued to meet each week via Zoom. We pray together about our families and ministries. We talk about our feelings regarding the pandemic, politics, and our favorite football teams. We laugh, and we cry together. I can’t tell you how much this group means to me and how close I feel to these people. It is a critical lifeline in maintaining my mental health.
Not every group is going to be life-giving for you. Not every group is going to feel safe. Not every group is able to keep confidence. If you can’t find a group that is life-giving for you, think about creating one. Think about who you would invite to participate, how you would structure the group, what you need from the relationships in the group, and then create that space.
Relationships are an important tool that needs to be developed and included within your mental health toolkit. This pandemic has reminded us just how much we need each other, and for that we can be grateful.