Relationships are hard. If you are reading this article, chances are high that you are a human being, and despite what your large and useful brain is telling you, being human is hard.
Each human contains massive systems of cells, organs, connective tissues and nerves, and up to 5 pounds of microorganisms (known as our microbiome) that live in our mouths, guts, and on our skin.
This human system has diverse needs relating to food, rest, stimulus; and is simultaneously fragile and resilient. It also generates many emotional signals in communication with the world around us.
Each of our bodies are located within a dynamic system of friends, chosen and biological family, school/work, and community institutions. Each of us is continually receiving and processing intellectual, physical, and emotional inputs from other individuals, and everyone is simultaneously instigating and reacting to each other.
I’ve painted this word picture to convince you of two things: First that we are never truly alone, and second — that all of these connections require attention and maintenance. I am trying to remind us that whether we are actually isolated or feeling alone that it is possible to reach out for connection, despite the fact that we live in a time when the number of folks experiencing loneliness has reached crisis level with crushing health implications (read “Together” by Vivek Murthy).
So, why does it seem so difficult to find connection in these times? I imagine your brain is already providing reasons that connection doesn’t work: Political divisions, people moving for work, kids and their social media (joking here), the pandemic. Those are all factors but instead, I suggest two primary factors that create friction on connection. First, the pace of life and change. Second, many of us do not prioritize genuine connection over other activities.
I imagine some people already getting their hackles up. “I totally prioritize connection.” “This is the holiday season.” “What is it all about if not to connect?” I am sure that many of you do prioritize connection and I submit that you have the firsthand knowledge that connection takes effort. It does not simply happen. It needs to be intentional. And maintained. Just as we change the oil in our cars to prevent the engine from failing to start one day.
The pace of change is something we have limited control over. But the pace of life is something that we all have recent experience of how mutable that can be. Remember March, when many of us went home and stayed home for weeks? It was hard, and challenging, and there were many foreseen and unforeseen consequences. And I can not tell you how many people I know who have shared with me that they appreciated that slower pace of life, the time to connect, space to play with the children and, figure out how to FaceTime with the grandparents.
So pick up the phone, text or call a loved one, tell them, “Hi, I miss you and would like to connect.” Ask them to go on a COVID conscious walk together, schedule a video chat or phone call. Let them know you are going to the grocery store and that you can pick up something they need. If you need something, reach out and ask a friend, neighbor, acquaintance. Asking for help is a gift to those who provide that help. By tending these connections we are treating others the way we want to be treated. And we are building the world I think all of us want to live in.
Brendan O’Donnel is a mental health therapist at Mental Wellness Counseling. Brendan offers a safe and supportive environment to explore pathways to balance and well-being. Learn more about Brendan or Mental Wellness Counseling by visiting www.mentalwellnesscounseling.com