A social prescription: Power of human connections

Mental health is very much interlinked to positive parenting. Our mental state affects our children in so many direct and indirect ways. Motherhood and parenthood in general is a time when most people find themselves in a period of isolation from social connections while tending to their growing family.

Today I am sharing something that has been on my mind for long but never found the right words to express. Currently many people are going through high tides of emotions during this time of social distancing, mental health is something to think about and act upon for our own wellness and our family.

Having born and raised for 15 years in a close knit community myself, where a whole village becomes your family.  And being transplanted to another world where human connections were scarce to nil is when I  realized the hazards of loneliness.  I further learned more about the health effects that precedes this when I started working in a community pharmacy.  

This post is all about the insights learned from a great podcast “hidden brain” hosted by Shankar Vedantam. This episode named “social prescription” is an interview with Dr. Vivek Murthy who was a former US surgeon general.

Following is a recollection of an event from Dr.Murthy’s childhood:

“I remember piling back in the car seat along with my little sister as our parents raced through the night in a car”

Viveks parents ran a medical practice in Miami.  His dad was a physician.

“My parents told me that their patient Gordon, had died after a struggle with cancer.  We were driving to a trailer park in Miami where Gordon lived because my parents were worried that his widow Ruth would be grieving alone.  And to this day I will never forget the image of my mother in her traditional sari standing in the moonlight with Ruth as they both cried and cried.  Their lives were so different but in that moment they were family.

In the final moments when only the most meaningful strands of life remain, it’s really our human connections that rise to the top. That’s the clarity that we get at the end of life. But it was my parents who taught me from the earliest ages that we don’t have to wait until the end of life in order to recognize and act on the power of connection”

Dr.Murthy recollects various stories of people he encountered during his time as the surgeon general that prompted him to learn more about this hidden health issue. Based on what he learned, he published a book called “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection In a Sometimes Lonely World”.

In 2018, a survey by Kaiser Family Foundation found that 22 percent of adults in US struggle with chronic loneliness. Thats more than the number who smoke or who have diabetes. People who struggle with loneliness were also found to have greater risk of many other chronic diseases. The number of suicides in young people has also been increasing as a result of this.

Humans are designed as social creatures. Thousands of years ago, when we were hunter-gatherers, being together in trusted relationships increased our survival chances. They would protect each other, and share responsibility like watching over other peoples kids as they go out and hunt for food.

When we were separated from each other, it placed us in a state of danger, and that danger resonated through our body in the form of increased stress hormones. In the long term, this stressful state leads to harmful effects on body and mind.

According to Dr.Murthy, loneliness is a natural signal like hunger or thirst that comes about when we are missing something that we need for survival – in this case social connection.

When one is lonely, they also have a difficult time reaching out and asking other people for help. In fact, most of them don’t know how to reach out.

Loneliness also leads people to withdraw even further and further from other human connections sometimes. Since loneliness is a state of stress, there is a biological phenomenon that causes human to be in a threat level state. In this state, they tend to perceive people and even their acts of outreach with great suspicion. It also causes them to shift their focus more inward. If you think from an evolutionary stand point, this will make sense, when you are in a state of threat, you have to naturally focus on yourself to make sure you are safe. This actually becomes counter productive when they are trying to interact with people and prevents them from forming strong connections.

Another harmful effect it causes is that, it chips away our self-esteem. It makes us think, the reason we are lonely is because we are not likeable or lovable as a person. It quickly becomes a vicious cycle that is not easy to break.

These feelings of loneliness then manifests itself either as anxiety/depression or can also show up as anger or irritability.

What is the solution we can work towards? How can one break this circle?

  • Connect with self first. Learning to connect with oneself will help us to connect with others. When we are connected to ourself, we understand that we have self-worth. We understand that we have value to bring to this world. It will get rid of the feeling that you are not good enough.
  • There are 2 components to self-acceptance: self-knowledge and self-compassion
  • Practice a time of deliberate solitude. Solitude is a powerful tool to quieten the noises around us, and also gives us an opportunity to reflect.
  • Solitude can be experienced in different ways
  • Just five minutes of sitting outside, listening to the wind and bird chirps or even just listening to your breath.
  • Another way of solitude is through gratitude practice, take five minutes to remember and write down three things you are grateful for.
  • Also engaging in a hobby you love is another way of self-compassion.

In this time of chaos in our world, now more than ever its important we find that time of solitude to reanchor ourselves. You dont have to spend an hour in mindfulness practice, just start with 5-10 minutes a day and that’s more than enough

Another solution Dr.Murthy suggests is, if you want to feel more connected to others, don’t ask why others are not reaching out to you but ask how you can be of service to others.

  • Service can be an antidote to loneliness.
  • It is a natural and very effective way of being connected to other humans.
  • Shift our focus from us to someone else and be of service to them. It helps to reaffirm that we can bring value to this world and to someones life.
  • Service is not just volunteering opportunities in the community. It could just be calling a friend who you know may be struggling to balance work and kids. It can be checking up on an elderly neighbor.
  • Sometimes one of the greatest gifts we can give others is just our full attention. Simply being there for them and listen. We can find countless opportunities to do so around us. Simply look around and listen.

Harness the power of relationships. They are not just nice to have, they are necessary to have. They are an essential foundation for our overall wellness.

If you wish to listen, here is the link to the full podcast.

Also check out one of my previous post on self care tips for moms – specific actions you can take towards self wellness and inturn overall wellness

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3 thoughts on “A social prescription: Power of human connections

  1. I am an introvert and someone who enjoys solitude doing something I love. But once moved to different countries away from home and close ones, I truly felt what loneliness is and how important it is to have people who love and support around me. Indeed a sad truth about living abroad!

    I could hardly find anyone is the truth. Most of the friendships were not real or just people looking for benefits. All are so busy these days or they just want to have fun. There are no meaningful friendships where we could share our heart out and find comfort in each other. But, the ones who already were there in my life still calls and messages me everyday. Also, my husband has become my best friend. All these helped me a lot. Well, you don’t need a lot of people, just the right ones 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So so true!! Guess it’s a circle of life..a way of life to make us get to know ourselves better and to be more comfortable with solitude..our journeys sound so similar..so glad I’m not the only one who have felt this way after coming here!!

      Like

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