By Jeremy Godwin
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast full of simple ideas for better mental health by Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on practical and simple things that you can do every single day to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing, based on quality research.
This is Episode 66 and this week I’m talking about connection. I’ll be discussing what connection is, why it matters for your mental health, and how to improve the quality of your connections with loved ones and strangers alike. So, let’s talk about mental health!
Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the article/transcript version.
Watch this week’s episode of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV, focused on how to stop overthinking and negative thoughts:
This episode was originally released on 14 February, 2021.
Hello and welcome to Episode 66, and thanks so much for joining me! 2021 is The Year of Wellbeing here on the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast… because wellbeing doesn’t just happen; it takes work. So each week on the podcast I’ll be continuing to share simple ideas for better mental health and practical advice for improving your overall wellbeing, by exploring lots of different things you can do every day to make a positive difference in your life.
This week is all about connection. Connecting with other people is one of the most important aspects of life and a big part of wellbeing, and since I just touched on it in Episode 3 of the Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV show on YouTube it seemed timely to expand on the subject in its own podcast episode this week.
Before I start, Episode 4 of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV is out now on YouTube where I’m talking about how to stop sabotaging yourself with negative thoughts and over-thinking. Find it on YouTube or watch it at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/YouTube, and while you’re there take a moment to subscribe to the channel. I also do a second weekly episode there which is a mini-version of this podcast covering five of the how-to tips from each podcast episode so it’s a good refresher if you’ve already listened to the show here and want to refer to it later, or even if you want to share it with someone you know for some quick advice.
So, now, on with this week’s episode about connection…
I think if there were ever a more perfect time to talk about connection, this is probably it! These last 12 months have been tough work and I think many of us have just gone into survival mode in some senses, especially in terms of being limited with our movement and often being separated from our friends and loved ones for long periods of time. I know there are two schools of thought when it comes to the ‘c’ word (and I’m talking about COVID, so don’t jump to the wrong conclusion here!) — people are either willing to talk about it or they’d rather just gloss over it or ignore it completely, like that cartoon of the dog sitting in a room on fire saying “This is fine.”
Let’s just say this upfront shall we: if you’re not fine, and if you’re struggling (especially when it comes to feeling disconnected from the people you care about) then that is absolutely fine and in fact I think most of us would be hard-pressed not to feel a bit shit most of the time at the moment, since we’re kind-of just expected to get on with our lives every day as if this whole thing isn’t just dragging on longer than a James Cameron movie (let’s just hope this doesn’t end up going on and on and on like Titanic, which was more than three hours of my life I still haven’t gotten back). I think it’s important to be honest and realistic about what we’re feeling, so that we can then deal with things as they are instead of pretending we’re OK when we’re not.
I think for most of us one of the main things we’re finding challenging is feeling disconnected from the people we care about (well that and being stuck at home all day and night without end in sight, but I’m a homebody so I’ve been training for this most of my life). Even in countries or cities without restrictions, it can be really daunting to go out and catch up with other people with everything going on, and I have to admit that I’ve kept things to just a 50km (or 31 mile) radius as much as possible to limit my exposure. With that said, that has meant that many of us (myself included) have had to work through new ways or better ways of staying connected with our family and friends, and I think it’s that sense of being driven to find a way to connect regardless of what is going on that speaks to the importance of quality connections with other people: we human beings are social creatures and there is something truly wonderful about spending time with someone we care about, whether in-person or on a video call or whatever.
What is connection?
When I talk about ‘connection’ I’m referring to your relationships with other people — family, partner if you’re attached, friends, acquaintances, neighbours, work colleagues… the list goes on. In the context of wellbeing and psychology, the word ‘connection’ is often used to describe our bonds and attachments with people in our lives, and it’s about how we feel linked with other people in terms of things like our values, beliefs, goals, desires and shared causes, amongst other things. I think it’s this very human sort of idea; it’s a bit intangible in terms of how it happens or why, and yet we all know what it is because it’s one of the most fundamental aspects of life for most of us.
I think that true connection is about having quality relationships with other people, and like I said it’s a big part of our experience as human beings — it can be really challenging to be alone or to feel disconnected (which of course is a big thing that so many of us are facing at the moment thanks to social distancing and all the lockdown sequels — I mean, this thing has been having more sequels than those Police Academy films from the 80’s and just like those it seems to get worse and worse the more it goes along!).
Let me just say here though that you don’t need to physically be with people to be connected — Zoom will do just nicely, thank you very much; I mean, you can’t replace in-person contact but it’s not like Zoom or any other kind of video conferencing doesn’t help to actually have a good connection… because the thing is that it’s about the quality of your connection, not the quantity or the format, and I’ll come back to that shortly. And I also want to say here that you can have connections with total strangers just as much as you can with family or long-time friends — again, it’s about the quality of the connection and not how long you’ve known the person. I think connection is very much that incredibly special thing where we see another person and they see us, and I’m not talking about visually seeing but more about ‘seeing’ in terms of recognising another human being; you won’t necessarily connect with everyone, but when you do it’s a lovely feeling. Anyway…
So why does connection matter for good mental health?
There are very few people in this world who don’t want to feel liked or even loved. We crave intimacy because we want to connect with other people because it’s one of the things that makes this whole human experience feel worthwhile and fulfilling! A lot of it is about wanting and needing support, and it’s also about feeling seen as an individual. Most of us like to be liked, and it’s an amazing feeling when you make a good friend or have a relationship where the other person sees you for who you really are and chooses to stay around. A lot of that comes down to the quality of your connections.
Let me quote from Beyond Blue, an Australian mental health organisation, and I think I’ve used this in a previous episode but it’s a good one so I’m sharing it again here. The quote is:
“Connections matter. Strong ties with family, friends and the community provide us with happiness, security, support and a sense of purpose. Being connected to others is important for our mental and physical wellbeing and can be a protective factor against anxiety and depression.”Source — https://www.beyondblue.org.au/who-does-it-affect/older-people/connections-matter
And according to the Canadian Mental Health Association:
“Social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and actually improve our immune systems. By neglecting our need to connect, we put our health at risk.”Source — https://cmha.ca/blogs/the-importance-of-human-connection
And you can find the links for both of those sources in the transcript, available at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes — by the way, did you know that if you sign up to my free mailing list at the website you actually get the full transcript sent to your inbox every week for free? Plus I don’t spam you because spam is gross (and I’m talking about both the mystery meat in a can as well as those ridiculous emails you get from people 42 times a week when you sign up to their mailing list — with me you get one email a week with the audio link and full episode transcript, plus on the very odd occasion I let you know about new things that are happening here in Let’s Talk About Mental Health world, so I’d love it if you’d sign up at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au!).
So moving on, how do you establish and maintain quality connections? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of this week’s episode…
How to improve the quality of your connections
I’m going to start by talking about the connections you already have, and then I’ll also cover off on a few things about connecting in general which can apply to anyone, be they friend or total stranger.
Treat your existing connections like gold and spend quality time with the people you care about (in-person or virtually) — you don’t have to be in the same room to have quality time with someone (and hooray for that because, you know, Lockdown 42: Electric Boogaloo). It’s also not about the length of time you spend together… like most things in life it’s about quality over quantity. So spend some time together where you connect with one another and have good quality conversations about what’s going on in each other’s lives (and hopefully that means it’s 50/50 for both of you between speaking and listening, because a quality connection is a two-way street, not a one-sided conversation!) And for the love of Celine Dion put your phone away, switch off the TV and give the person you’re talking to your full and undivided attention! That episode of Coronation St will still be there later, I promise! Connection is about feeling seen and supported, so the quality of your interactions is far more important than any other factor. Speaking of…
‘Quality’ means having meaningful conversations — have you ever drifted apart from someone because the connection slowly faded over time and you talked about the stuff that mattered less and less? That’s because our more intimate connections require us to reveal more of ourselves than just how the weather is going or what we’re watching on TV. Hopefully there’s a reason why many of you come back and listen to me week after week, which I think is because I share a lot of my true self here and we’re able to form this type of connection even though you’re just listening to me via a podcast… because when we share more of ourselves it can be a very vulnerable thing to do but it also helps other people to see who we truly are, and although you won’t be for everybody (and that’s totally fine) there will definitely be people who are drawn to you and who form connections with you, regardless of the nature of your relationship. All of that starts and ends with conversations that actually mean something and which aren’t just small-talk, so consider who matters most to you and how you have those meaningful discussions (by the way, not every conversation has to be a therapy session but instead it’s about being authentic, something I covered in Episode 55, so check that out for more on the subject).
So the next few points are more general in nature and apply not only to your personal relationships but also in all circumstances — at work, at school, when dealing with strangers as well as acquaintances or friends of friends, or even just online such as when you might be talking to others on social media (and yes, this includes some stuff about thinking before you comment because if you’ve watched Episode 3 of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV on YouTube then you’ll know I think we have a lot of work to do as a community, as a society, to really get our shit together in terms of how we use social media to spread more kindness rather than being mean to one another). Which leads me to my next point…
Do no harm — I hope this one goes without saying and I talk about it a lot in the podcast but if you want quality connections then you need to do no harm, to yourself or others… and you are 100% responsible for what you put out into the world. If you’re gossiping, backstabbing, bullying, encouraging unhealthy behaviours or just generally being harmful in the things you do and say, you’re going to find it virtually impossible to have and maintain healthy connections with other people and you’ll be more likely to find yourself surrounded by unhealthy relationships. It’s that old saying, “you cannot change the people around you, but you can change the people around you” — so choose to do no harm and also choose relationships that are healthy rather than unhealthy ones.
Be kind — this is another one I talk about a lot, and it’s like the next step from ‘do no harm’ in the sense that first make sure you’re clearing out anything harmful (in terms of your own behaviours as well as your relationships with others) and then you can focus on taking things to the next level which is spreading kindness like it’s pixie dust and you’re a unicorn on acid. I mean, you don’t need to walk around singing Kumbaya and handing out love beads to strangers (unless that’s what you’re into) but choosing to be kind can take many different forms; even just a smile and a hello to a stranger at the supermarket is a form of kindness. When you are kind to others (and to yourself) it spreads and it takes on a snowball effect… it’s like positive thinking: when you start to see the positives in life, you find even more to be positive about. In the words of the Ancient Greek fable writer, Aesop, “no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted”
Give more than you take — when you give rather than just taking all the time, you’re topping up your relationships with kindness and positivity, and the more you give the more positive things will be. I’m not talking about money; I’m talking about giving your time, your warmth, your compassion, your understanding, your support and your kindness, because these are the things that matter most in life and which help other people, whether stranger or friend, to see the kind of person you are 🙂
Be thoughtful and considerate — e.g. Think before you speak and don’t just react. I’ve talked before about the way our brains can hijack us when we’re upset or angry or hurt, and so if we just hit the pause button for 5-10 seconds before we then decide how to respond, we can be much more thoughtful… and when you’re less reactive and more considered, the quality of your relationships will improve because the highly emotional stuff becomes less of a focus. And please be mindful of other people’s feelings… a simple please and thank you goes a long way to making other people feel seen and appreciated, and treat others the way you would want to be treated… so don’t do things like not bothering to reply to messages or being dismissive of their feelings or whatever, because all that stuff chips away at the quality of your connections… people want to feel seen, respected and appreciated, so, think before you speak and be considerate!
Talk to your neighbours and other people you see often — so far I’ve focused a lot on your more personal connections as well as things like work colleagues etc., but the reality is that none of us live in a bubble; you’re part of a community, and the more you interact with the community around you the more you will feel a sense of connection with that community. Say hi to your neighbours when you see them instead of just running into your house (and if you’re feeling really eager then talk to them — the very idea of that used to give me the horrors, but now not only do I know my neighbour but we have one another’s phone numbers which for an ex-city boy just made my brain explode!). Chat to the people who work at your supermarket or local shops and cafes, especially the ones who you see all the time… don’t treat people in these types of roles as simply being there to serve you, because they’re human beings as well (and besides, I think it became very clear thanks to the early days of the pandemic that we’d be stuffed without the people who sell us our food and bathroom supplies!). All of this stuff is about treating others as you would want to be treated; in other words, treating people as people and connecting with them regardless of what they do.
Connect with new people often — I talked about this in the loneliness episode which was Episode 15, and there are lots of things you can do to connect with new people… join a club or group, get involved in a cause, volunteer — the list goes on. There are thousands and thousands of ways to meet new people; it just takes a bit of effort and time combined with a willingness to put yourself out there, so make the effort and take those first steps, because meeting new people helps you to feel part of something much bigger than just yourself.
Don’t rely on social media for your connections — I don’t want to repeatedly bash social media but here I go anyway… you cannot maintain a quality connection with someone just through social media. There, I said it. Look, it’s a great tool for staying in touch and I use it with a number of family members and old friends, but I’d be lying if I said I have a close connection with any of them because I just don’t, which really is a shame. When we first moved to the countryside in 2015 I had already been dealing with depression and anxiety for a few years at that point and I just didn’t have the emotional strength to do anything other than hit like or post some random thought or picture every now and then, so of course the relationships in my life slowly changed as we moved in different directions. If you want to have a quality connection with someone you need to pick up the phone and talk to them (so retro, I know) or video chat with them, or when it’s safe to do so spend quality time with them in person… whatever you do, don’t think that hitting ‘like’ on their latest post or commenting on their Instagram Story is going to do anything other than maintain a more superficial level of connection than if you were to invest quality time in the relationship, because you get back what you put in to your relationships.
If your connection with someone has faded, it may be possible to re-establish it however it will take work and even then it still may not work — what you put in to your relationships is what you will get out of them, so if a connection has faded you can absolutely make the effort to re-establish it… however I think it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes we just grow apart and that’s OK. Sometimes a connection is more about who you both were at a certain time and place, and so I think we should celebrate what was without trying to force it to be something that it’s not. My point is that if you have to force it that generally means it’s not working, and if it’s not working then there’s usually a reason for that… so by all means put in the work to reconnect but if it’s a constant struggle then maybe it’s time to move on. I know that’s really blunt but I’ve had that myself quite a few times where it’s taken a bit for me to go, “Oh! OK, so this connection has faded because it’s run its course so even though I still care for the person, it’s time to let things go because there’s no going backwards”… like I said, sometimes it will work but sometimes it’s about celebrating what was and then moving on.
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to connection and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: what you put into your relationships is what you will get out, and for most of us having human connection is almost as important as food, water and oxygen — we need it to survive. Quality connections make your life better, they improve your mental health, and even contribute to a longer life. Relationships with other people, whether loved one or passing acquaintance, are like plants: if you neglect them, they will wither away; but if you nurture them, water them and treat them with care and kindness, they will grow and thrive.
The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will you make today?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by the American writer and researcher Brené Brown, and it is:
“Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued — when they can give and receive without judgement.”Brené Brown
Next week I’ll be talking about energy. We talk about this idea of ‘energy’ a lot, especially in the context of wellbeing, and it was even mentioned in that quote I just shared… but what does it actually mean? Is there any basis in fact behind the idea of positive or negative energy and, if so, how does it influence your mental health and wellbeing? Well, next week I’ll be talking about what energy is, why it matters for good mental health and how to work with your energy and other peoples’ energy to improve your mental health.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday 21st February. If you’re in Australia, New Zealand or the Asia-Pacific region, it will be available at 7pm; in the rest of the world you’ll have it sometime in the morning depending on where you are.
And join me for Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV on YouTube, with new episodes released every Wednesday following the same schedule (evenings in the Asia-Pacific, mornings in the rest of the world).
Head over to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au for links and past episodes (including audio links and full transcripts) and while you’re there join the Let’s Talk About Mental Health mailing list to have exclusive updates land in your inbox — those of you on my email list receive the full transcript for each episode every week and you also find out about new stuff related to the show and my work at least a week before anybody else, so if you like this show then sign up at the website: letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au.
You can also find Let’s Talk About Mental Health on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as @ltamentalhealth, where I post extra content throughout the week, and if you follow me on Instagram then you’ll notice that I make a point of interacting with as many people as possible there so it’s a great way to continue the conversation!
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.
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Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Because the more we talk about it, the easier it gets.
Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2021 Jeremy Godwin.