You might think that people are lonely because of the pandemic, which is true, but the full truth is that people were lonely way before that. Loneliness has been a chronic problem in our society for several years now, which is confusing because we live during the social media age, arguably the most connected age. Why are we noticing a lot of loneliness and social isolation? Does it have any risks or benefits associated with it? And lastly, what can we do about it? All of this is covered in this episode of The Shift Show.

The importance of social connectivity

It’s inarguable that socially well-connected people usually thrive more than socially isolated people. What could be the cause of this? Well, to start with, human beings are social animals in our primal nature. Connecting with others has helped us thrive throughout our evolutionary history.

Our strength has always been in numbers. We don’t have sharp claws or giant muscles, but our ability to share work and resources is what has brought us to an advanced civilization. Crafts, domestication of animals, and even agriculture are all group activities passed from early man, and they trademark what makes us human.

People around us are gifted in different areas to help us cope with life. So you have a problem today, you’ll probably solve it faster if you asked for help than if you tried to cope alone. This diversification of ability and thought has helped with all the advancements the human race has undergone.

Babies are biologically wired to seek out faces, and that is how they form connections and attachments with the adults in their lives.

So, why is social connectivity important?

  1. It is the most significant mental protective factor. Connecting with other people makes us feel better; it makes us feel supported and protected. Having a positive family or community network is one of those things that helps to foster positive attachment and attitudes to relationships. Isolation is not suitable for the human mind because that is not how we’re wired to operate.
  2. Connection is a source of purpose and meaning. Some examples include church groups and local volunteer organizations; people come together to tackle matters they find collectively important. Doing activities in groups is often more effective than doing them individually.
  3. Social connection is fun. Sharing activities is more fun than doing them alone, be it good or bad. That is why all forms of human connection are essential; from romance to friendships, co-parenting, relationships with pets, and so on.
  4. Dangers of social isolation. Social isolation is a factor in many of the mental issues that people struggle with. This includes but is not limited to anxiety, depression, and addictions.
  5. Improving mental struggles. Social isolation is usually the cause of most mental isolation; it’s interesting to note that social connection is the antidote. By improving your social connectivity, you will most definitely improve your mental health.
  6. It improves your physical health and increases your lifespan. Having strong social connections has been associated with a lower risk of being diagnosed with diseases like diabetes. It has also been shown that social people live longer than isolated people.

How social connections are formed

The most essential ingredient of social connectivity is emotional reciprocity. Sharing and vulnerability have always proven to be the fastest and most effective way to connect with people. We want the company and companionship of people who allow us to be ourselves; it’s almost like they are making room for us to exist.

Most of our social connections come from our immediate environment. We tend to gravitate towards people who are more like us, people with shared goals. That is why people create the most profound and meaningful relationships in church groups, workgroups, after disasters, and even in the military. Such situations usually unleash a genuine interest and intention to reach out.

Things that interrupt social connections

Some things get in the way of forming connections with others. Of course, certain environments and circumstances are more conducive to forming connections. Here are some of the factors that cause a hindrance to social connectivity.

  1. Failing to read or interpret emotions correctly. This can be caused by a lack of healthy examples to model off in a family unit. This often manifests itself through bullying and various forms of misunderstandings.
  2. Heightened emotional states. Borderline emotional disorders are a significant cause for this; they make human interactions unstable. The brain tends to read danger everywhere, thus significantly undermining human connections. Other causes could be addictions, traumatic brain injuries, and autism.
  3. Weak medium for social cues. Human beings need non-verbal communication just as much as they need verbal communication. Body language and tone help you to understand the person better. Some of the hindrances to this in our age include communicating exclusively through text messages and being surrounded by people who are disconnected from each other, particularly as a child. We need context for intimate exchanges. Text exchanges and other low-context environments significantly undermine intimate exchanges.
  4. Fear of vulnerability. We often find ourselves being unable to display emotions because of societal rules and limiting beliefs. A good example is the one where we believe that boys should not show emotion. We hold resentment against people who hurt our feelings to avoid being impolite. Social programming doesn’t help either. We think that if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, people will like us less, while the opposite is true. Vulnerability is magnetizing for people with shared values. 
  5. Focus on survival. Accumulating any form of stress is dangerous for social connection. This could result from a number of factors, including the following: hunger, danger, war, poverty, natural disasters, abusive relationships, and multi-tasking, among many other things.
  6. Burnout. Most people are barely surviving because of internal exhaustion. It is hard to connect with others when you are barely keeping your head above water.
  7. Failure to invest in others or not knowing how to do so. Most people avoid other people because they feel like they have failed in their previous attempts to reach out to others. The more we get stressed about it, the more we avoid it.

Why do we lack social connectivity (degradation of community/family units)

  1. Advancement in technology/hours of screen time. Most of us do not realize that we have this problem until we monitor how much time we spend on our screens. Screens are incredibly invasive; they deny us the chance to build things in the real world and derive genuine satisfaction from them. They also occupy our minds with external messages that are often negative. We need to be very careful with the type of content we ingest and the number of hours we spend on our screens. If we make a conscious choice to minimize screen time, we will find ourselves getting better at social connection.
  2. Work and lifestyle. We are often too focused on securing the bag that we fail to create time for interaction with the people in our lives. Contrary to popular belief, having an endless to-do list does not necessarily make you productive. It is better to plan your work and include time for rest, fun, and human interaction. It takes time and effort to connect with people; you might as well get fulfillment from it. Be intentional about the things and people that are important to you.
  3. Illusions of connection. We live in an age where it is easy to think that you have lots of good connections when in reality, you might not. We need to evaluate the level of intimacy in our relationships and conversations and the barriers to connection. Most adults think that social lives are emotionally balanced; unfortunately, that is rarely the case. It takes intentionality and effort.

How to create social connectivity

  1. Get out there. This can of course be challenging to do so with the ongoing pandemic, but there are lots of ways to foster connection even in these challenging times. One of the most important things you can do is be intentional. Set aside time specifically to spend with others.
  2. Know what matters to you and move in that direction. Allocates some time to reflect on what matters to you relationship-wise and hold yourself accountable to prioritize that. Allocate time for your interactions and do not do them based on your mood, because our moods are highly unreliable. Follow through and be accountable to yourself.
  3. Dare to be vulnerable. You have to show parts of yourself to people if you want real authentic relationships. You don’t have to pretend to be perfect, we know that no one is. Showing our vulnerability makes room for the other person to exist. We can build deeper, healthier, and more meaningful relationships. Pretending to be perfect only erases other people’s ability to exist authentically. That is one way to know whether your relationships are functional or not.
  4. Be of service to others. People naturally connect, despite all our differences; we are not that different from each other. If you realize that someone is struggling in the way that you are, make it your business to reach out and help them. This is one of the most authentic and impactful acts of service you could ever undertake.