The impact and role of social connection

by Liesje Donkin
in News
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We are naturally social creatures and biologically wired to socially connect with others. Nobody likes being lonely….even those who may struggle with socially connecting with others. We know that there are mental and physical health consequences of feeling lonely like poor sleep, low mood, low self-esteem, higher stress levels, as well as negatively affecting our immune and cardiovascular systems [1, 2]. The consequences can be different for everybody, and some people may not appear as negatively affected by their level of connectedness (we all have different needs and expectations).

Whilst social connection is important, we all also have times where solitude and physical isolation is what we need…but there is a difference to being physically alone and feeling lonely.

There are all sorts of reasons and risks for loneliness. Whether it is children leaving the family home, divorce, bereavement, bullying, relationships breaking up, moving school or town or country, we need to try and reduce loneliness. Each of us can help improve social connectedness by letting people know we are there for them and that they matter to us. And, if you are worried about their wellbeing and/or safety, help them find some help.

So, let’s get connected! But how do we do this? 

  • Call friend that you haven’t seen or spoken to for a while
  • Arrange a face to face visit with someone rather than just texting them
  • If you notice a friend who is starting to respond less and decline invites for social events, go visit them and ask them how they are doing. Tell them you care!
  • Send your grandparents or other older adults a postcard…they’ll be super stoked to hear from you
  • Do some volunteer work
  • Give a former co-worker a call and meet up
  • Bring back and take part in family traditions…if your family do not have any, start one!
  • Make a cake, bake cookies, pick fruit from your fruit trees, pick a lettuce out of your vege garden and give it to your neighbour
  • Smile and say hello to a stranger…your brilliant smile just might make their day!
  • Ask your shop keeper how their day is going and listen to their response
  • Let people know they matter to you

What if it is me who is lonely? What can I do about it?

  • Volunteer work can help reduce loneliness as we tend to feel better about ourselves when we help others, and it also helps us start to build our own social networks
  • Let someone you trust know how you are feeling (a teacher, family member or friend)
  • Try ringing one of the helplines. Sometimes it is easier to start the conversation with someone who doesn’t know you (see below for the numbers)
  • Join an interest group
  • Check out ‘5 ways to wellbeing’ (https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/home/ways-to-wellbeing/) on the mental health foundation website

Check out these websites for more cool ideas around connecting with others!

www.mentalhealth.org.nz

www.bigwhitewall.com

Or these helplines for someone to talk to

Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757

Anxiety Line - 0800 ANXIETY (2694 389)

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Samaritans – 0800 726 666 

References

- Lauren Gaffaney

Clinical Advisor for Towards Wellbeing