Would you like to be happier, physically healthier, live longer and have fewer mental health problems? Research suggests you can by building connections with your family, friends, neighbours and community. Relationships are one of the most important aspects of our lives yet most of us complain about them and our approach to building and maintaining them is passive. Why? We simply do not know how to invest in them Most of us are aware what we do with our body can impact our wellbeing because a number of well-executed campaigns informed us. Unfortunately, information on building and maintaining healthy relationships and tackling the barriers to forming them is not so readily available. Most campaigns that seek to promote our mental health and wellbeing, mention the importance of “connection” but the question of how to connect still remains.
It’s not about the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you are in an intimate relationship, but it’s the quality of your close relationships that matter. The reason close, positive relationships are important is that they give us a sense of belonging. Loneliness and isolation remain key predictors for poor psychological and physical health but living in conflict or within a toxic unhealthy relationship is more damaging than being alone. To make matters even more complicated, the way we interact and form relationships has changed drastically over the past decade. The evolving family structure, reliance on online technologies, longer working hours and how we define community means that who and how we connect is more challenging than ever before. For example, in my work as a relationship coach, my single clients believe that online dating is eroding their social skills and affecting their ability to connect with people face-to-face.
So, what can you do today to start building and maintaining healthy relationships? Let’s use a simple example and presume you are committed to keeping physically well. Reflect on the level of dedication you give to eating healthy and exercising. I expect in the beginning some deliberate effort was applied before these good habits became second nature. We need to adopt a similar approach to relationships. For some of you this may require a great deal of awareness, honesty and dedication, for others it may be very natural. The following suggestions will increase your opportunities to connect with others and can improve the quality of your relationships.
- Time: Relationships are important to your health and wellbeing. Being connected with other people protects not only your mental health and wellbeing but also your physical health. Assess how much quality time you are giving yours and if there are ways you can increase this time or use it more wisely.
- Quality: Increase the quality of your connections. Consider if you can be more present when in the company of others. Ask yourself, how good are your listening skills, have you really heard the other person.
- Practice: To flourish we need relationships. Create connections and build relationships with strangers, be it the cashier in your local shop, the person standing beside you in the queue to pay for your groceries or your coffee. Talk, engage and connect with others face-to-face. There are opportunities everywhere. Practice. You don’t know the kind of impact you can have on someone’s day by showing interest and talking to them.
- Barriers: Perhaps you are unsure if some of your relationships are unhealthy. Identify the barriers that prevent you from achieving the kind of connections and relationships you desire. Work on them with the help of a relationship coach or counsellor.
- Develop New Skills: Maintain the health of your current relationships by taking a relationship skills workshop or talk. Read a book that serves to empower you to tackle what you describe as your relationship concerns. Value your relationships. They are a vital component of wellbeing.
Remember, if you experience anxiety or depression, developing relationships and socialising in traditional ways can be that bit more challenging and may impact your ability to interact and connect with others. Link in with www.aware.ie or www.socialanxietyireland.com to empower you to develop more confidence in social settings and build healthy relationships.