By nature, humans are tribal people. We have traditionally lived and worked in communities, and relied on others for safety, connection and social support. Keeping this vital connection to community can be difficult these days, as shifts in our culture and technological advances provide wide scope to live life in almost total isolation. We can work remotely, shop online, and even exercise indoor by attending a virtual call.
While the convenience that modern technology can bring has definite upsides, our social connections may suffer as a result. While the need for community from a physical survival standpoint has reduced, from a emotional and mental health point of view it is as important as ever. Connections with others are vital, and can have a big impact on your mental health and physical health. Even if you have close contact with your direct family, outside connections with friends are really important. Below are some reasons why finding your tribe is important, as well as suggestions for ways to seek out friendship.
There are many things you can do to strengthen your physical and mental health, such as eating right, exercising, practicing mindfulness and avoiding smoking or drinking too much. However, recent studies have shown social connection to be just as important to our health and wellbeing, if not more so. In fact, having strong social connections can increase life expectancy by up to 50%, and well as decrease your chances of experiencing mental health conditions like depression or social anxiety , or physical health problems like high blood pressure, a weakened immune system or dementia.
These social connections can help you take a break from your daily life, experience new things and even lend a friendly ear when things get tough. Friendships can also serve as preventative protection for heart and head – if you have strong support around you, you’re less likely to be overwhelmed with stress or emotions that can end badly for yourself and others.
“We also know that social connection can makes us feel happy.”
We also know that social connection can makes us feel happy. Turns out there is a scientific basis for this, with researchers finding social connections trigger “feel good” neurotransmitters like oxcytocin, which in turns activates the release of serotonin, which regulates our mood.
Plus, connecting with others can be fun! Below are some tips on how to find your tribe. Don’t worry if it doesn’t happen immediately – it can take years to find people you truly feel deep bond with, and who these people are can change over time.
- Look for people with common interests: Look for opportunities to connect with people who get together around similar interests (such as joining a local tennis club, library group or sporting team).
- But don’t just look for people like you: When you look for friendships with only people who reflect you, or fit to a vision of what you have in your mind as the perfect friendship type, you can limit your ability to grow and learn. Someone may not immediately strike you as “friendship material” but this often changes as you learn more about someone and the unique perspective they bring.
- Connect Online: There are many ways you can form friendships online through common interests like gaming, forums or mobile apps. But also keep in mind that social media and smartphones have been associated with issues like anxiety, depression and poor sleep quality. So, aim to connect with people in other ways too, as this will help lesson those impacts.
- Make the first move: Chances are other people are often as anxious or nervous as you are. Being the first one to make a move takes courage, but simply asking someone for a coffee can have big rewards. If they say no, there’s no harm, just pick yourself up and try again with someone else.
- Help Others: Volunteering and helping others helps you feel more socially connected, as well as happier (volunteering has also been found to trigger “feel-good” neurotransmitters).
- Don’t expect to get it right first time, every time: Building connections may not happen immediately – it can take years to form the deepest connections – start slowly and build up your contacts.
- Life changes: Don’t worry if you used to have more friends, or closer friends, but these connections have lessened over time – things change, people move, people’s time gets spent on family or work commitments, or dealing with health issues. You may reconnect with them later, or you may not – it doesn’t mean the connection you had with them was any less valuable.
- Quality over quantity: A few really good friends is better than heaps of people you don’t feel close to. Look to social media as example, people may have thousands of “friends” on Facebook, but may still feel lonely as the quality of these connections are not strong.
- Don’t be afraid to move on: If you don’t feel the connection you’ve made is right – listen to your feelings and move on.
- Don’t be too harsh on others: Having high expectations of others is fine, but they can’t fulfil all your emotional needs – this includes those in your family. And other people may not always know what you need, or get it right every time. It’s important to look for inner peace, so you can also be your own friend. You may also find the happier you are within yourself, the more you will be able to give to others. Looking after your own mental health needs is the first step so reach out for any support you may need.
MensLine Australia has professional counsellors available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing confidential and anonymous information and support for all relationship issues.