How can connecting with others help my mental health?

A version of this article was originally published as part of Mental Health America’s Live Your Life Well campaign.

Your friend gets your joke. Your coworker offers congrats. Your spouse hugs you hello. They are all helping you bust stress and boost well-being. Often, people turn to friends or family in times of stress. As human beings, we all want to feel supported, valued, and connected.

How connections help

Sometimes connection is a heart-to-heart, spill-it-all-out talk. But sometimes it’s just a funny text or meme. There are benefits of social connection. Some of these benefits may include increased happiness and living a longer, healthier life. Connections with other people are good for our mental health and well-being. No matter how we connect with others, it helps us improve our health, stress, and overall quality of life.

Creating connections with the people in our lives

We know that having and creating connections is good for us. But it isn’t always easy to do. Sometimes, we create connections easier than we think we do. For example, connections with others happen when we get:

  • Concrete help like having a friend takes notes for you when you miss school
  • Emotional support like hearing someone say, “I’m sorry you’re having a tough time.”
  • Perspective like being reminded that your feelings right now are not your feelings forever
  • Advice like a suggestion to plan to take time each week to care for yourself
  • Validation like learning that other folks love reading the same things that you do

Often we have these connections with people who support us—like family, loved ones, friends, and others. These are the people who we feel comfortable being around. They make us feel safe and we feel like we could tell them anything. They take our concerns seriously and help us work through our problems. And they make us feel valued or loved—like we matter.

Strengthening our current connections

At times we may become disconnected from the people in our lives. This is normal and happens throughout our lives as things change. But there are ways to reconnect and strengthen the relationships you have:

  • Make a list of the people you want to contact regularly. If necessary, add a reminder to your calendar.
  • Commit to a certain amount of time together each day, week, or month without distractions
  • Listen really well. Repeat what you heard to make sure you understood.
  • Ask for what you need. Even the best of friends can’t read your mind.
  • Show how much you respect, support, and appreciate your friends and family. You may think positive thoughts, but sharing them works wonders.

Sometimes it’s easier than we think to rebuild a connection that we thought we lost. Other times, it may take a bit more effort.

Relationship troubles

If you’re in a troubled relationship (romantic or otherwise), working on it may help. There are steps that we can take like considering the other’s feelings, focusing on what we value about them, and staying constructive. But this doesn’t always stop fighting and disagreements. If disagreements get intense, remember to fight fair. Two good ways to do this are:

  • Avoid over-generalizing. Beware of statements like, “You never pay attention to me.” Instead, make specific requests like, “Could we spend an hour together soon?”
  • Avoid finger-pointing. Instead of blaming the other person, focus on how you feel with an “I” statement such as, “I feel upset when you come home and get on your phone.”

When appropriate, try to forgive, but remember that forgiving doesn’t mean you’re saying the behavior was acceptable. Sometimes a relationship makes us feel unsafe. It may lower our self-esteem or draw us into unhealthy habits. A bad relationship can hurt you even more than a good one can help you. In this case, the best thing that you can do is leave.

Making friends and creating new connections

Sometimes, the people in our lives don’t provide the support we need. And we may need to take steps to make new friends and connections.  Some ways to do this include:

  • Enroll in a class that interests you. You’ll know your classmates already share a common interest and start a conversation.
  • Join a book group, hiking club, or other group. If you want to make your entry smoother, consider contacting the group’s leader in advance.
  • Volunteer. Working together builds bonds, and helping others has its own rewards.
  • Reach out—a lot. Especially if you’re in a completely new situation, like starting college or a new job or going to a new school. You may need to meet lots of people before finding some that suit you.
  • Joining a support group. If you’re facing a particular stress, like a serious illness, you may want to get additional support beyond what your friends and family can offer. Support groups can provide information, a reminder that you’re not alone, and inspiration from seeing others coping with similar issues.

Having meaningful connections with others is important to your overall well-being. But for people living with anxiety, it can be hard to reach out and connect with others. If you believe that you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, consider taking our anxiety test.

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