By Sinay Butler, Counselor
In today’s world, it is easier than ever to communicate with other people, whether across the globe or across the living room. Our means of communication have become more sophisticated and easily accessible. Although communication is a foundation for connecting with other humans, what is becoming more and more apparent is that we are sorely lacking in “true” human connection. Prior to the pandemic, three in five Americans reported being lonely. Since then, things have gotten worse. A study done in the fall of 2020 indicates that more than half of new mothers and six out of ten young adults say that they are “miserably lonely.”
The last few years have been even more challenging for most of us to make true connections with others. For many, human interactions were made solely by virtual connection online — for business, socialization and even for health and mental health care services. With use of today’s technology, people have maintained friendships, and even romantic partners, with those they may have never met in person. Most of us have become fairly comfortable with the platforms involved, but recent research reports that virtual socialization doesn’t meet the same needs as does interacting with people in a real-world environment.
When we engage in face-to-face interactions with people, it is a different experience than from behind a screen or keyboard. Having real life connections with others is especially important for children and adolescents for learning social cues, emotional regulation, empathy and tolerance. Appropriate social interactions in a variety of settings are learned by experience; social learning is not fostered in an artificially created virtual environment. Having easy access to information and online communication seems to be contributing to our lack of true connection.
Humans are created for connection. Seeing a smile releases neurotransmitters in our brain, which reduces heart rate and blood pressure and decreases stress. Social connection has many positive results; it can elevate (and help regulate) our mood, reduce stress, lower anxiety, and depression, increase empathy, improve self-esteem and boost our immune systems.
Research indicates that social isolation is more harmful than obesity and smoking and can increase our chances of death by at least 50%. It can increase our chances of having a stroke or heart disease by 30%. A lack of human connection contributes to addiction, depression, insomnia and cognitive decline. It increases adverse health risks such as lowering the immune system, which makes us more vulnerable to viruses and diseases.
Making True Connections
Making the decision and following through with actions to have more true connections starts with engaging with other humans in real life activities. Here are some tips on how to start connecting with others in your area.
Volunteer at an organization where you value their mission. This connects you with a higher purpose as well as with others who may be like-minded with you.
Join a local group, such as a book club, or a group-based activity like hiking or kayaking or mushroom hunting. This can be challenging in our rural area, but those groups do exist.
When you are talking to someone, really listen. Ask questions. Show that you are interested. When we show curiosity about another person, it builds connection. In couples’ therapy, this is a foundational skill we work to develop.
Become involved in community activities such as the local Grange, historical societies, organizations supporting state fairs, schools and church committees, beautification projects, and other local projects and events.
When you are out in the community, look around. Smile at strangers. Introduce yourself to neighbors. Hug friends. Do random acts of kindness. Plan to get together and follow through.
Human connection involves more than just social interaction, although this is a good starting point. To truly feel connected, we need to be seen and known. This comes from developing relationships with others, which can be scary and messy. It is the exchange of ourselves with another person. Healthy connection is emotionally intimate. Often, in our culture, we settle for physical intimacy at the expense of healthy emotional intimacy.
True connection is not transactional, but transformative. True connection involves vulnerability and risk, but it is what our humanity craves for. This kind of connection happens when we learn to listen to understand rather than just to respond, when we are curious about the other person’s inner world, and when we prioritize the other person. You may be seeing a common theme here.
True connection doesn’t start with a self-centered position. It starts with being more interested in hearing what the other person has to say than needing to share our opinion. It is about being present and engaged. It involves putting down the phone and looking in each other’s eyes and focusing on the other person. In this kind of connection, we grow as individuals and in our relationships. If you would like to know more about improving communication and connection, Dragonfly Wellness and Education Center (see advertisement page 19) offers support through counseling and life coaching. We can be reached at (509) 724-0221.
Source: Loneliness in America Report – https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b7c56e255b02c683659fe43/t/6021776bdd04957c45