The Importance of Human Connections for the Mental Health and Wellbeing

1. Introduction

“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but human connection.” Our ability to foster healthy and meaningful relationships, as well as to feel that we are occupying a valuable place in society, plays a huge role in determining our vulnerability to mental illness and addiction. Having healthy relationships and fulfilling social interaction does not always come easily, and in many cases requires active introspection and a therapeutic approach to heal from past pain. For those that suffer from addiction or mental illness, however, this internal work is necessary and entirely worth it to create opportunities for joy and connection in life.

2. Human Connection

Human connection is certain human capacity or talent that we have inside us to form relationships and to live those relationships. It’s an energy exchange between people who are paying attention to one another. It has the power to deepen the moment, inspire change and build trust. “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to.” We may think we want money, power, fame, beauty, eternal youth or a new car, but at the root of most of these desires is a need to belong, to be accepted, to connect with others and to be loved.

In today’s age, we live busy lives, trying to strike a balance between work, school, hobbies, self-care  and more. Often, our social connections fall by the wayside. But connecting with others is more important than you might think. “People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.”

But the reality is that we’re living in a time of true disconnection. While technology seems to connect us more than ever, the screens around us disconnect us from nature, from ourselves, and from others. Wi-Fi alone isn’t enough to fulfil our social needs – we need face-to-face interaction to thrive. Technology should be enhancing our connection to others, not replacing it.

3. Qualification of Human Connection

Some individuals know thirty people that they call friends, and yet they are still not experiencing genuine connection. Psychological research has found that most people need to experience two types of connection in their lives to heighten their overall sense of wellbeing and satisfaction. The first is a deep connection between two people. This may occur between two friends, romantic partners, or family members. It requires that both parties feel loved, listened to, and understood. It also means that each individual is able to be entirely present in the moment when spending time with one another. It is not necessary to have ten of these deep connections in your life, but instead focus on quality over quantity, and to do the work to grow and maintain at least one of these relationships. The second type of connection is a feeling of belonging to a social group. This may be a group of close friends, a tight-knit group of colleagues, or a religious circle. This group should provide support and guidance in a non-judgmental way, and contain at least a few people with whom you have a lot in common and feel confident asking for help. These groups tend to share common goals and should feel like you have found “your people”—the people you most identify with outside your immediate family. This kind of connection greatly improves a person’s capacity for satisfaction and fulfilment in their life.

4. The Cost of Loneliness

How often have you actually acknowledged your relationship with somebody else or even yourself? No matter who it is whether it is your pet, your family, your friends, co-workers, your crush, your security guard or yourself. How often have you actually consciously made yourself a part of your relationship with them? No matter what your relationship is. How often do you think they have done something like this and how often do you feel that you are a part of something bigger, something more than yourself?

“The same areas of the brain that light up during physical pain are also activated while experiencing rejection.” Feeling unwanted or ostracized is deeply painful, and can lead to anger and depression. This response is natural and has been wired into our brains as an evolutionary survival strategy. Human connection has always been necessary for the survival of the species, and now that we live in a time where it is possible to isolate ourselves almost entirely in our homes and behind screens, our mental health is suffering as a result. Healthy relationships with other individuals and social groups help regulate every system in the body, as well as develop emotions such as compassion and gratitude which have been shown to increase happiness overall. Additionally, addiction has a notoriously cyclical relationship with loneliness. Isolation and loneliness can lead to substance abuse, and substance abuse will almost always lead to relationship problems. To end this cycle, addiction and emotional health issues must be treated at the same time.

Stress due to conflict in relationships leads to increased inflammation levels in the body. Both physically and psychologically, we experience social connection as positive and rejection or loneliness as negative.

5. Coronavirus and Social Isolation

Humans have a dire need to connect. Our brains have learned from brutal evolutionary lessons that social isolation is a death sentence” said James Coan, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia. The power of touch releases oxytocin, the feel-good hormone. Albeit temporarily, the coronavirus has stripped us all of this supposed elixir for the mind. We are a social species and hence it is not easy to NOT touch each other, as so much of our communication is defined by these touches. While technology seems to be connecting us more than ever, the blue-light emitting screens disconnect us from nature, from ourselves, and from other human beings.

As much as people are struggling with an economic recession, they are struggling with an emotional recession too, due to loneliness. Loneliness is not just a feeling in one’s head; it is a biological instinct to seek out other human beings, just like hunger is a signal that sends a person to seek out food. In a situation where we have to stay at home, all by ourselves, such as the one caused by this pandemic, this feeling of loneliness might escalate for many, with limited ways of assuaging it. Even though in some parts of the world, nations have started to open up, the fear of catching the disease will remain in people’s minds, for a long time to come. The isolation caused by this is proven by science to exact a physical toll on the brain’s circuitry. The confluence of multiple challenges during the pandemic – to health, education, jobs, access to resources has produced a bizarre assemblage of circumstances that increase the risk of depression and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. In times of disaster, we seek respite in the fact that there is an ending to it which can be accurately predicted. But with this pandemic, we see no end in sight, which makes it more traumatic and compounds the negatives.

In a situation where loneliness exacerbates the negative effects of the pandemic, how do we ensure that we connect in a way which is good for us and also reduces the risk of spreading the disease? In our current situation, the need to reduce physical distances, boost social or relational connections, and not see a rise in loneliness and related mental health problems poses a big problem for us. We need a connection culture, which is rich in relational connection while maintaining a physical distance between individuals. Technology has been a big boon for man since time immemorial, and it is this technology that comes to our rescue here. Be it a conventional video call with friends, a virtual cocktail party, gaming sites where people can compete virtually, watching movies and shows with your friends, or any other thing, we have seen a lot of new inventions throughout the course of this pandemic.

So, how does the coronavirus revolutionise human connection and communication? For the past few decades, humans have focused increasingly on earning money and material belongings, which coupled with rapid technological growth led to the neglect of human relationships, at large. But now that we’re stuck in our homes, the best means of surviving psychologically is to interact with people by whatever means possible. But most importantly, we have begun to understand the value of a human connection, a panacea for all mental health issues, that has no other substitute, in its true essence. ‘We realise the true value of anything, only after it is taken away from us’ – asserts a very common saying. Each and every one of us, throughout the course of this pandemic, have felt the importance of a human connection, and it is this realisation in our hearts, which will make us value real connections over materialistic things. And it is this realisation, that finally helps us understand what’s more important: material wealth or mental health?

6. Information Technology and Mental Health

We live in a world where we are constantly being fed information from thousand hundreds and thousands of sources like media, mobile phone calls, newspapers, books and others. This information is constantly telling us that the ideal way to be is to strong and brave and independent which is great but it also telling us that the only way to get through your life without any trouble probably is to stay away from what people call emotional drama. When we say emotional drama what they actually mean is you stay away from getting hurt and hurting people. You don’t get involved in stuff that makes you emotionally weak or emotionally vulnerable. But this in not it!

“What happens when people open their heart? They get better.”

Haruki Murakami

This information that is telling us to not be sensitive and be rational and practical is not the ideal way to go. Because as an entire generation of people who’s getting ready to run this country or probably to run this world; are encouraging, promoting even glorifying a society full of human beings feeling less human beings, who are slowly turning into robots. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert or you consider yourself anything in-between, if that day comes when everybody you know or you don’t know around you has possibly vanished or even died (post-apocalyptic world) and you are walking alone and there’s absolutely nobody and nothing around you, you’re walking down the street and the world is ended.

After a few days of probably enjoying that kind of life you’re gonna start missing things for sure. What you will miss the most? You will miss the interactions not your pay check or your luxury spa day. You’re gonna miss humans. You are going to miss your human connections , precisely with those you are running from or we are currently distancing from. In a more realistic example, let’s say you make it to 70 or 80 years of your age and you’re sitting in a chair and you’re looking outside your window and you’re thinking about things. Let me tell you these are the things the only things that you’re going to thinking about. Your family, your first crush, your friends, the first memory of your parents you remember, your first solo trip, first lie to your parents etc. What do all of these things have in common? Human connections, Humans and your connections to them. But we are slowly and surely getting used to this new trend or life-style of being emotionally unavailable, very unattainable and very cool. Because we are emotionally dead or we pretend to be so.

We are a generation of people trying to be cool because we’re not emotional, not emotional fools as they say. But it actually shows us that we are not cool and very cowardly in a way to be so. Because it is harming us running away from our own vulnerability, is the same thing running away from our true nature or true self. Everybody gets scared and it’s absolutely fine. Being scared is cool but all of this actually shows how worried and weak we are from inside. And the irony is, in today’s world this kind of behavior which is considered strong, is what is considered emotionally competent. And this is really funny. Our inherent need for human connection doesn’t mean that every introvert must become a social butterfly. Having human connection can look different for each person. And if you’re not sure where to start in finding meaningful connection, that’s okay.

Here are some ideas to help you out:

1. If somebody smiles at you smile back at them. (If you don’t want to smile or you don’t want interaction its okay; just acknowledge it. Probably just show that person that yes I got your smile and I appreciate it)

2. Tell your friend or your family or any other person that you appreciate them, you’re thankful to them and you love them. (If you don’t want to say all of these things, its okay, find out a gesture just get through a piece of express. For example, send them a text message, give them a hug and don’t tell them why you hug them because its okay to hug without a reason. Or just pick up a chocolate and give it to them, they will understand)

3.Text, call, email or instagram dm or anything to somebody, just send them a message anyhow just to check how they are. Just ask them if they are okay if they are doing well and tell them you are thinking about them. (If you don’t want to extend this conversation further just tell them that I wanted to check on you but I don’t feel talking more. So that’s cool. They will understand for sure)

4. Appreciate what or who you have. It doesn’t mean you have to go and tell them ‘hey, I appreciate you.’ Just in your head appreciate it and its enough. If you appreciate in your mind it will automatically show in your behavior. People or experiences that you don’t think should be there as a part of your life let them out. Do it in a very healthy way. It will hurt both you and them but later on when you realise that you have moved on from all of this, then you will realise how much stronger you are; how many more memories you have; how much more experience you have when it comes to human connections and its going to be beautiful.

5. If there is somebody who you thing is trying to become a part of your life in any way and you don’t hate that person let them in. They are not gonna suck the life out of you, it actually adds beautiful things to our life. Try these and you will feel so much fresher. You will feel like a fuller and richer version of yourself. Here I am not glorifying any kind of hyper extraversion lifestyle. For example, party all time, talk to a lot of people or hang out, and whatever beach or pee all the time, NO. When you think you don’t need people it’s absolutely cool but the moment you realise that in order to feel the gap, that unavailability of people is creating for you, in order to feel that void , when you start to fill that with things with substances with experiences and you start doing those things compulsively that’s when you should understand something is really wrong and something needs to be change.

You can join a new club, or try out a group activity. Reach out to an old friend you’ve lost touch with. Volunteer for a cause you care about or do a random act of kindness. It will get better and that’s my guarantee.

7. Conclusion

In a world full of people, what can be more beautiful than knowing how to form healthy relationships and establish deeper connections with those around us – to feel socially connected, especially in today’s increasingly isolated world. You must know who you are and have confidence in yourself if you desire to connect with others. If you don’t believe in who you are and where you want to lead, work on that before doing anything else.

Many people who have trouble maintaining relationships and establishing connections have a history of childhood trauma, abuse, or loss. The good news is that there is hope for those who live with isolation and loneliness to work through the pain of their past and begin to build a healthy foundation for relationships to thrive. This process requires the individual to first recognize that there is a lack of connection in their life, and then to seek out help in the form of therapy or group counselling or any other possible solution.

If you’re feeling lonely, know you’re not the only one. And that you don’t have to live in isolation. We live in a world with over seven billion people, and we all need connection, human connection!

Notes and References

  1. Hari Johann, “Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong”, TEDGlobalLondon, June, 2015. (https://www.ted.com/talks/johann_hari_everything_you_think_you_know_about_addiction_is_wrong?language=en#t-868999)
  2. Ramos, Nicole. “A life away from Lively Streets: providing a platform for a multi-faith church to act as a transformative agent for social spaces in the township of Phumula.” PhD diss. (Brene Brown, a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, specializes in social connection.)
  3. Seppala, Emma, Timothy Rossomando, and James R. Doty. “Social connection and compassion: Important predictors of health and well-being.” Social Research: An International Quarterly 80, no. 2 (2013): 411-430. Emma Seppala of the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and author of the 2016 book “The Happiness Track,” 
  4. the power of human connection, cmha.ca, Posted on October 17, 2019, (https://cmha.ca/blogs/the-importance-of-human-connection)
  5. the importance of human connection, blog: renewal lodge by burning tree, AUGUST 4, 2019 BY RENEWAL LODGE IN MENTAL HEALTH, (https://www.renewallodge.com/the-importance-of-human-connection/)
  6. Slavich, G., Way, B., Eisenberger, N., & Taylor, S. (2010). Neural sensitivity to social rejection is associated with inflammatory responses to social stress. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(33), 14817-14822. Retrieved June 19, 2021, from (http://jmielibrary.informaticsglobal.com:2098/stable/25708991)
  7. https://thepangean.com/The-Importance-of-Human-Connections
  8. Brown Donna Pisacano, “The Power of Human Connection” liherald.com., April 27, 2018. (https://www.liherald.com/stories/the-power-of-human-connection,102632)
  9. Kross Ethan, ‘A brain imaging study’ University of Michigan.
  10. UNTAMED TALKS | Episode 1 (Human connections). (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RR2r6X9IucA)

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