“Social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and actually improve our immune systems. By neglecting our need to connect, we put our health at risk.”
JS House, KR Landis, D Umberson (2019)
Social connection can be difficult to do right now as we find ourselves amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic. We have been told we must socially distance, limit our social connection with others to no more than 6 people at any one time and stay in our established support bubbles. We are now told that we are at risk of a ‘second wave’ and socially connecting can seem even more frightening and confusing.
As we continue to live amidst global uncertainty, we may have found our social connections inadvertently diminishing.
So how do we stay socially connected to maintain our mental wellbeing?
Rather than discussing the various means which we are now using to stay connected, such as Zoom, Facebook, What’s App, etc, I would like to explore how we might identify the people in our lives that can help support us through these difficult times. It is very easy to get caught up in our daily lives, trying to get a balance between work, children, school, hobbies, self-care and more. All too easy our social connections fall by the way side and this can have a detrimental impact to our wellbeing.
I would like to draw upon the Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) approach to help explore this. IPT is based on the premise that there is a relationship between the way people interact with others and their psychological symptoms. The focus of IPT is to improve the quality of a person’s interpersonal relationships and social functioning to help reduce distress. Part of the process in doing this is to identify a person’s interpersonal inventory. This is an exploration of the relationships in a person’s life and identifying ways in which these relationships can contribute to a person’s recovery from emotional distress.
What can be useful in the first instance is to consider all your relationships in your life, in particular those that make you feel better. It’s important to remember no relationship is perfect and no one person can meet all your needs so try to be as inclusive as possible. It is also helpful to consider what support is available to you? When we consider support it is not just emotional support that is important, it can also be social, motivational, practical, educational and even financial. Finally, how available are these relationships to you? This doesn’t have to physically be in person. Not everyone is available all of the time and it can be helpful to identify when different people are likely to be available, e.g. in the evenings or at weekends.
Identifying all the people in your life enables you to have an overview of your relationship world – the overall itself might tell you something important, e.g. that you have few people in your life but they are all very close to you and provide a lot of support.
You can draw a diagram of all the people in your life using concentric circles this allows you to show how close you feel to each person (don’t forget to write yourself in the middle). The most immediate circle to yourself would include those that you are closest to – this would typically be the people that you spend most time with and that are emotionally involved with. Just because these are your closest relationships doesn’t mean they are perfect but they are likely to be your most significant.
Try to ensure that you include everyone, i.e. those that you see in your daily lives, family, children, friends, work colleagues, neighbours, those that you don’t see very often but still regard as friends, those that you may share interests or hobbies with, children’s school friend’s parents, your extended family, even pets.
This exercise enables you to identify who is in your life and how close you feel to them, to consider the support those in your life provide and to consider how available they are or when they would be available.
By having a visual reminder of who we have in our lives we can begin to work at reaching out to our social network – Who haven’t we been in contact with for a while? Who can we pick up the phone to or go for a walk with? Who can we arrange a Zoom meet up with or create a What’s App chat with? We might need to set ourselves weekly goals to pick up that phone or send a message to stay connected, or to reach out for support in these difficult times. Just having a chat with someone can have a positive impact on how we are feeling or being in someone else’s company.
It’s important to remember we are not alone and by reaching out to others for support we will also be helping others to feel more connected and supported. Staying connected is fundamental in maintaining our mental wellbeing now more than ever.
(Reference: Chapter 9, Your Interpersonal Inventory – Rosalyn Law, Defeating Depression.)
Rebecca Mead is an accredited, registered and experienced Psychotherapist offering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) to individuals adults. Rebecca is available at our Brighton and Hove Practice.
Further reading by Rebecca Mead –