We all do our best to stay healthy. We eat nutritious meals, make time to exercise and try to get enough sleep each night. But did you know that making time to truly feel connected to the people and environment around you may be another key factor in staying healthy? In fact, it may be critical. One landmark study determined that a lack of human connection could be more harmful to your health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.
We have all felt what it is like when we really connect to a person, place or experience. A genuine connection can provide a deep sense of belonging or make you feel truly present in the moment with people and the world around you.
Making a profound connection involves all kinds of communication. Talking is clearly the way most of us think about connecting with others but it can also happen without words. In fact, nonverbal connections can be just as powerful as verbal. A gesture such as smiling and nodding or making direct eye contact while listening to someone can convey your sincere interest in what they are saying. Too often we believe we are listening when actually we are thinking about how we will reply or, worse, just waiting for our turn to speak.
ways to stay connected
Another way to make a powerful nonverbal connection is to write a letter to someone you care about. Letter writing has become something of a lost art in this day of communicating with emojis and text messaging. Not only is receiving a long, newsy letter a treat for the recipient, it has benefits for the writer too. It allows the writer to connect more fully to their own feelings as they share their thoughts and experiences.
If you are looking for ways of increasing your feelings of connectedness to your community beyond family and work, you might want to volunteer. According to research documented in a report by the Corporation for National & Community Service, volunteering can lead to better health. People who volunteer reported that volunteering made them feel physically healthier, and lowered their stress levels. Another study reported that people who volunteered had lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer.
And let us not forget that there is a huge, beautiful world that we can connect with for better health. When was the last time you hiked on a trail, felt water from an ocean or lake on your feet or looked up in the night sky and counted stars? There is an increasing body of research documenting the positive impact nature has on humans. According to Greater Good Magazine, over 100 studies have shown that being in nature, living near nature, or even viewing nature in paintings and videos can have positive impacts on our brains, bodies, feelings, and social interactions. Meaning that even if you live in a city or far from the mountains, desert or ocean, you can still benefit from being connected to the environment simply by watching a good nature video from the comfort of your couch.
ways to increase connectedness
The importance of connection cannot be overstated. Studies have shown that people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. They typically have greater empathy for others and are more trusting. If you are looking for ways of increasing your feelings of connectedness, start with one of these simple suggestions:
- Try a new group activity, a yoga class, lecture or concert
- Reach out to an long, lost friend with a phone call, greeting card or letter
- Volunteer for a cause you care about
- Smile and wave to your neighbors regularly
- Do a random act of kindness
- Spend time in nature
Feeling connected to the people in your life and the world around you can truly make a difference in your health. Think of it as a special gift you give yourself.