Nurturing our relationships and kindling new connections can make us not only happier but healthier, finds Gemma.
American researcher and podcast host Brené Brown defines connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued, when they can give and receive without judgement, and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.
There’s no doubt that relationships are fundamental to our wellbeing. In fact, strong, supportive relationships are the number-one predictor for wellbeing and in the absence of these, we simply can’t flourish. People are at the heart of this and we feel safest in the presence of familiar and nurturing friends, family and members of the community. Good relationships provide a buffer from stress and regulate the brain’s response systems, and are absolutely vital for our health and wellbeing. So, how do we nurture these relationships?
1 Cultivate friendships
The experiences that contribute to our wellbeing are often amplified through our relationships, for example, great joy, meaning, laughter, a feeling of belonging, and pride in accomplishment. So, surround yourself with people who support you and encourage you – and really invest in these relationships. It’s the quality of relationships, not the quantity, that matters.
2 Give love
Show people you love them with your actions, and tell them, too. We are often told to love ourselves, but the truth is, you cannot love yourself unless you have been loved and are loved. Child trauma expert Dr Bruce Perry states that if a baby receives predictable love and attention in the first two months of their life, this is a more powerful influence in emotional health than negative experiences in the next 10-12 years of their life.
Looking for a sure-fire way to connect? Volunteer. Creating connections with others can give life purpose and meaning, and donating your time and energy is a great way to do it. There are a range of amazing organisations that are always keen to welcome new volunteers, but you can also start in your own neighbourhood. Drop a meal or some baking off to a new mum, pack an extra school lunch for a child who could use it, offer to help an elderly neighbour or look at ways to support your own friends and family.
4 Random acts of kindness
Try doing something for someone else and notice how that connection makes you feel. Support from and connection with others is one of the best antidotes to “the downs” of life and a reliable way to feel good. Research shows that doing acts of kindness for others produces an increase in wellbeing.
Relationships can be challenging for a number of reasons, but the ability to repair them can be your secret weapon. This applies to all our connections, whether they’re with a romantic partner, family member, friend or colleague. Everyone makes mistakes and all relationships can run into problems sometimes, but it’s how we repair them that matters. If an interaction hasn’t gone as well as planned, reach out and repair. Be open to communication and do your bit to reconnect.
6 Connect with others
Research suggests that our pain centres become activated when we are at risk of isolation. So, from an evolutionary perspective, being alone is one of the worst things for our survival. When you are feeling lonely, it’s important you reach out and reconnect socially with someone you know or pick up the phone and talk. Our brain needs to know that we belong to a group, and this helps us feel safe and valued. Lack of social connection is a greater threat to our health than smoking or high blood pressure, so it is imperative we place importance on our connections with other.