What’s good mental health got to do with being a connector?
When the Surgeon General speaks, we listen. Dr. Vivek Murphy, the 19th U.S. Surgeon General, has recently delivered a gripping message. In his new book, “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World”, Dr. Murphy addresses head on what happens when we are isolated.
Calling loneliness a public health concern, Dr. Murphy believes it is the root cause of addictions, violence, depression and anxiety, as well as physical maladies. Our ability to process our emotions, work through conflict, and deal with life’s challenges, he says, comes down to how connected and supported we feel.
Here’s the rub: as humans, we are wired for connection. We need to be around people to survive. We need to feel nurtured, heard, understood, and valued. We need to learn, get feedback, and grow by being a part of a community.
And yet, we are often unsure how to connect. We don’t know how to ask. And we don’t know who to ask. We may be waiting for someone to connect to us. But the hard truth is that if we are to have good, solid connections, we must initiate them.
Three reasons being disconnected puts you in harm’s way
If we don’t take responsibility for connecting, we stay disconnected at our own peril.
- From birth, we have needed others to survive. Our dependency on our families of origin helped us navigate danger, find sustenance, and grow into youth and adulthood. Once our basic needs for shelter and housing were met, we flourished by having others we could trust guide us and be there for us. This trust factor gives us a way to safely navigate and interpret the world. Being able to trust in others is as important in adulthood as it is in childhood. Without trust, we cannot create structure. And structure is what gives life meaning. The loneliest people have no order to their days, and nothing to look forward to.
- Life is full of twists, turns, and transitions. Just when we think we have the world figured out, here comes a challenge. Maybe it’s the end of a relationship. Maybe it’s the loss of a job. Maybe it’s a health scare. What do we do when life throws us those curve balls? We turn to those closest to us – for advice, commiseration, listening – to get us through. But if you experience one or more life challenges and no one is there to catch you, what happens? You may seek unhealthy ways of coping. You may despair. You may even give up.
- When we are most distressed, we tend towards pessimism. We are likely to ruminate. We sometimes give ourselves negative messages. And if we are alone, we don’t have the opportunity to feel better by sharing our distress with others. Equally as important, we can’t supplant those negative internal thoughts with more positive, realistic ones.
What can you do now to get connected?
- Start with those closest to you. Be there when you can for family. Cultivate friendships that are valuable to you. Recognize who matters most to you. Make a list if that helps. Who are the five people who mean a lot to you? How much are you staying in touch with them?
- Figure out what’s missing in your community and go after it. Do you need professional resources (like doctors, educators, clergy)? They count too as connections. Take the initiative to find the best and the most helpful.
- Extend assistance to others. Help to be helped. Life always gives back what you put into it. Life certainly doesn’t give back when you make no investments.
I agree that it’s overly simplistic to say that making connections is easy. Making connections – and being a connector – takes effort. But where there is effort, there is reward.
Think of being a connector as imperative to your health and well-being. And then take action to give yourself the gift of optimum well-being. Don’t delay finding community for yourself. It could mean the difference between thriving and just surviving.
Tell me what connections have made a difference in your life. I want to hear about your experiences at Ann@AnnLouden.com.
A seasoned executive in the nonprofit world, Ann Louden is the founder and CEO of Ann Louden Strategy and Consulting. Recognized for her expertise in fund raising, high profile special events, and campaign planning, Ann provides counsel to chief executives, staff, and volunteer leadership.
Ann’s primary interest areas are education, health care for women and children, the arts, and adoption. As a cancer survivor, she led and was the twelve-year spokesperson for a breast cancer advocacy initiative that engaged thousands of survivors, volunteers and medical providers. With a mantra of bringing big ideas to life, Ann focuses on identifying a compelling vision and creating a goals-oriented plan for execution.
An in-demand national speaker for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, Ann is the recipient of the Steuben Excellence in Teaching Award and has been named as a CASE Laureate. She is the author of the upcoming book: From Social Courage to Connection: Lessons from Leaders Who Change and Save Lives.
You can find her at www.AnnLouden.com.