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Social Connections Don’t Solve Everything But They Matter, A Lot

I was reading a newsletter recently about careers and job-seeking by Ruth Sternberg. She describes the solution she turns to when struggling with stress or heading into an emotional tailspin.

There’s An Easy Way to Feel Better

And it’s right there, in your phone contacts

Yes, she contacts a friend to chat and catch up. Whether it’s by sending a text or call or simply connecting with another person she cares about and wants to talk to, it changes how she feels.

We know this. The science of human connection is clear. (Those are just a few of the posts where we’ve talked about this recently.)

On the other hand, when we are struggling, our first instinct is often to not get in touch with someone. It’s to isolate. I suspect that is because we live in a world that has been telling us to be positive. That feeling down shouldn’t be shared, lest we negatively influence our friends and be cut out of their lives. (Good vibes only, am I right?)

That’s not the way any of this is supposed to work. I think Ruth’s description is a much better way to be with each other:

I have experienced that going to friends to find out what’s new—dipping into someone else’s life to find out what they are thinking about and what they are dreaming about—can help me get out of my own head.

It can give us a reality check about what’s possible and show us that we are part of that possibility, connected to our community.

That’s the connection we all need. The one that reminds us that we all belong somewhere. That’s the easiest way to impact the mental health of everyone around us.

Ruth’s writing challenges me because I know this is not my instinct. My instinct is to assume I’m bothering people if I reach out. Yet, I know that isn’t true. The challenge is to remember that when I’m struggling with anxiety or stress, I connect with my people. Recently, I had an experience that showed me what a difference this can make.

As many of you know, I work from home. I have, for the last four and a half years, across two different jobs. A few weeks ago, I was going to spend a week in Ohio working from the office. This would be the first time I met most of the team I worked with, and I felt quite anxious about it. I purposely planned to arrive early to get time to see old friends. I purposely scheduled time with one friend on Sunday for dinner because I knew that evening would be the height of anxiety for me, and she is someone I feel comfortable with. Sure enough, we talked about her family and work and how I was anxious about going to the office the next day.

It worked. I felt connected to her and, more importantly, to society in general. We had a few laughs, and I knew Monday morning would be OK because I had just spent time with another human being, who reminded me that I’m someone they value enough to spend time with.

Isn’t that something we all need from time to time?

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