Did you know that loneliness is now considered a chronic illness? Because we are naturally social beings, we need others to share in our joys, accomplishments, and particularly our crises. It is well documented that isolation and lack of social interaction, which lead to anxiety and chronic stress, have been associated with higher risks for obesity, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory disease, and earlier cognitive decline. We humans crave connections—otherwise our physical and emotional health is at risk.
But easier said than done, because simply put: We’re busy. We’re trying to keep ourselves and our families healthy and happy, maintain financial stability, help our aging parents, contribute productively at work, and develop professionally. We have social and community commitments and a workplace commute. We need to consider our financial future. It seems like every day there’s a new demand on our time and energy, and we’re already scrambling to cope.
Where can social connections fit into all this?
With multiple responsibilities clamoring for our attention, maintaining personal relationships tends to get pushed into the “do it later” category. But we can’t afford to ignore our own social connectedness. And it doesn’t need to be overwhelming or time-consuming!
Consider these easy ways for busy people to maintain their personal community every day:
- Break for lunch. Instead of eating lunch at your desk or on the go, invite a colleague (but leave the shop talk at the office!) or a friend or family member who works or lives nearby. Or, pick up your phone and spend your lunch hour connecting with someone over a distance.
- Unplug and engage. Maybe your time constraints don’t allow you to spend as much time with family and friends as you’d like, so make the time you do spend together count. Turn off your phone and focus on the other person. Listen actively by responding to what the other person is saying—or not saying. Don’t act like you’re anxious to leave. If you are investing time in building your relationship, commit!
- Get personal. A short, personal note goes a long way to let someone know you care about them. Send along an article that touches on something you and your friend were discussing last month. Congratulate a former colleague when you hear she published a book. And don’t be afraid to think small! A “thinking of you” text can brighten a loved one’s day. If you’re worried about forgetting, use a schedule to remind yourself—“Have I checked in with this person in the last month?”
- Share your world. Enjoy running, quilting, or singing? Involved in a community initiative that’s important to you? Invite a friend, colleague, or family member to share your hobbies or volunteer alongside you. Working or playing together allows relationships to skip small talk and grow and develop with the interests of each individual.
- Say goodbye to toxic relationships. Don’t waste your time and emotional energy dealing with drama from toxic relationships. Instead, invest in positive, meaningful relationships that build each other up.
We owe it to our circle to stay connected—and we owe it to ourselves. By keeping our social bonds strong and regularly maintained, we’ll be healthier, less stressed, and more focused and productive in our busy lives.