It’s a cold day here in the Ozarks. It feels like winter might settle in, adding to the intolerable feeling of isolation we’ve all felt over the ‘season of COVID’. A good bit of Ozarks snow is coming down and as winter makes its nest, everyone will stay in a bit more. This is good for slowing the spread of The Rona, but is it good for us as a collective whole?
Today, we continue our journey through the list of ways to practice self-love with “connection”. I’ve been gone a few weeks – practicing a little self-care as I wrote about previously. I’ve been sleeping more and stretching my body while also permitting myself to simply ‘be.’ But, I found I missed my connection to you, dear reader, and to myself. Writing always brings the thoughts swirling in my head back full circle.
I thought about skipping over this bullet point because I wrote about connection – or the lack thereof – back in the fall. But, it felt like it needed to be addressed again for a few reasons.
Some of you know, I also am a massage therapist. It just so happens that I’ve been booked solid for several weeks because people are longing for a sense of connection. Touch is so powerful in many ways – increasing oxytocin and the sense of belonging – and I believe people are missing this right now. I feel good when someone tells me that they feel loved and safe in my space. But, I also feel sad for them. Does this mean they are not feeling loved and secure in the majority of other spaces they inhabit?
Another reminder this week transpired from a quick call from a friend. We hadn’t talked for a bit, and she isn’t the type to simply reach out unless there’s a reason. We used to be in a virtual book club (albeit, that’s a loose definition. There was a lack of books and a lot of wine, so maybe we should have called it a ‘wine club’ but I digress…) and she said: “So, um, I’m missing the book club.” Since, again, there wasn’t much book-reading involved in our little book club, I’m guessing what she truly meant was that she was missing a sense of connection.
Connection is so powerful. It’s more than just being part of a group. It’s about belonging and feeling as if your presence matters in the grand scheme of things. We can think we are connected when, in reality, we are simply a member of a group. I was married for nine years – and they were the loneliest nine years of my life. You can be in a room full of people and still be lonely. Just as you can be part of several groups or part of a big family unit and not feel connected to another soul.
Connection to others is so important. More important than you might think. Social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help regulate emotions, increase self-esteem and empathy for others. Several studies show that feeling a sense of connection can even strengthen our immune systems. In this day and age, we applaud self-sufficiency while we view the seeking of closeness as weak. But, neglecting our need to connect actually puts our health at risk. In other words, we are hard-wired for connection. I’m not great at reaching out to others, but I’m getting better. I’ve learned that my single-most toxic trait is refusing to ask for help when I need it, followed closely by the ability to isolate completely when I need people the most. Again, I’m a work in progress, but here are some things I’ve done to improve connections with others, and I hope they help you:
- Recognize connection needs vary. Everyone has their own sensitivities to feeling a connection or lack thereof. I like it when people remember little things about me (Milk Duds are my favorite snack, Skrewball is my favorite whiskey, May is a shitty month for me, I don’t like loud people, places, or events, etc.). Because of my own experience and needs, I tend to pick up on the little details about others. I may not remember your children’s names, but I know that you are afraid of fireplaces. I may not remember your birthday, but I will remember the date your beloved grandmother died. Other people might find that creepy, so I try to be mindful of this. I realize it could be construed as stalkerish, but really, it’s just my INTJ personality in play. People also respond differently to actions in terms of whether or not it makes them feel connected. I hate hugs; my significant other lives for them. We make this work; it’s called ‘balance’.
- Be present in conversations. It has been said that attention is oxygen for relationships. When meeting with people, get in the habit of being present by giving them your full attention. I have a good friend who is witty and extroverted and just an all-around fun guy. When he speaks to me about his life, I can always tell when we hit on something that hurts. He’ll look down and shrug – and with a soft smile – say, “But whatcha gonna do?” Suppose you listen carefully, observing facial expressions and body cues. People will often “tell” you when they are hurting with their “tells”. In those moments, I beg you: Don’t break the connection by checking your phone, looking around the room, or letting your mind wander. In fact, a squeeze of a hand means more at that moment than any words you could voice.
- Develop the ability to empathize. Mutual empathy is a robust connector made possible by mirror neurons in our brains. Mirror neurons act like an emotional Wi-Fi system. When we feel the emotions of others, it makes them feel connected to us. When we feel their positive emotion, it enhances positive feelings. When we feel their pain, it diminishes the pain they feel. If someone expresses emotion, it’s OK and natural for you to feel it too.
- Develop the habit of emphasizing positives. Psychologist John Gottman first observed that marriages were less likely to survive when the positive/negative interactions dipped below 5-to-1 (or five positive interactions to every negative interaction). People need affirmation and recognition, so get in the habit of looking for ways to affirm and serve others.
- Learn and apply the five languages of appreciation. Some know these a ‘love languages’ but that seems a bit weird in a work setting. The thing is, though, everyone responds to their love language, no matter where you are. I used to be a “words of affirmation” and “acts of service” kind of gal. But as I’ve grown, I’ve learned to affirm myself, so affirmation from others isn’t quite as important now. However, surprisingly for an aspiring minimalist, I have realized that gifts (simple ones – not $8,000 diamond rings – although…never mind.) tend to increase my sense of connection. Yesterday my guy said, “Speaking of love, check the overhead cabinet.” as he pointed to the kitchen cabinet above the sink. I opened it and saw four boxes of Milk Duds. I felt so loved. He also knows I don’t like to cook, don’t have time to cook, and really don’t want to cook. He loves to cook, so he makes extra of just about everything and brings me perfectly portioned meals. It’s like my own personal ‘Blue Apron’ subscription but with sex. I love that guy.
So, I linked to this song in my original post about connection, so I won’t expect you to listen to it. However, I think it’s essential to stress during this holiday season and this season of COVID (my phrase for the months of isolation and stress) that we embrace the simple things. So, I leave you with this old song by Jim Brickman, and I ask…
Are you feeling a loss of connection? What makes you feel connected with others? How do you show others you want / need connection? Please drop a comment or two. I love to hear from you. Until next time…hug more, yell less.