There are three different types of social connection: intimate, relational and collective. Intimate connection is a loving relationship with a spouse or partner. Relational connection is a circle of friends or coworkers sharing common interests, ideas, activites, or lifestyles. Collective connection is our larger community, made up of strangers and acquaintances with whom we have daily interactions. We can have really strong ties to one or two of these types of social connections, and still feel lonely because a different type of social connection is missing. This causes people to stay silent about their feelings, in fear that one of their caring connections may be hurt by our expressed emotions. This circle of guilt and shame leads to loneliness manifesting in withdrawal, anxiety, and anger. When we truly understand that we are social beings and we need all three types of social connection, it is easier to put down the shame and begin working on what areas of our social life need attention or change.
The first step to identifying if loneliness is affecting your mental health is to choose to be vulnerable with yourself. Take an honest look at which social connections are truly serving you and if certain social connections need to be improved. Investigate if you have quality intimate, relational and collective connections. Commit to putting down self judgements or fears of disappointing others and work on building in time for all three of these types of connections. Create a well balanced plate of relationships. What does this look like in a time of social distancing? Be present with your loved ones, on Facetime or in person, by taking away distractions that pull you away from truly listening and sharing. Tap into your creativity by sending a homemade card to a friend. Enjoy a socially distant hike or picnic with a friend. Invite a friend to do an O2 Instagram yoga or pilates class and then chat about how you feel afterwards. Before going out in public, commit to connecting with strangers, at the grocery store, in traffic, or at the post office. We can easily smile with our eyes when our faces are covered by masks. We are responsible for our feelings and our subjective evaluation of our loneliness. When you set mindful intentions to connect with others, you will soon find the trajectory of your happiness and mental health move in a positive direction.
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