This holiday season, many of us appreciate the value of community more than ever. At the same time, loneliness is an epidemic in the United States, with more people than ever expressing feelings of being subjectively more isolated than they’d like to be. There are many physical and mental health benefits that come with spending time with friends, family and other loved ones, so making changes in life that lead to more connection can have a huge impact.
Read on for some tips on nurturing old connections, fostering new connections and building toward a life with less loneliness (and better mental health):
Time with friends and family
The holiday season is the perfect opportunity to spend extra time with friends and family, which has been linked in studies to increasing your sense of purpose and meaning. Spending quality time with loved ones also reduces stress, which can play a huge role in both physical and mental health. Quality time with loved ones is linked with making other healthy lifestyle choices, such as working out more, eating a better diet and working through painful emotional traumas to improve mental health.
Fostering connections with new people
For people who are feeling lonely, one of the most important and sometimes difficult steps is to foster new connections. This process can take time and—especially for those with social anxiety—feel like a scary change, but the benefits to mental and physical health can make it all worth it. Research suggests face-to-face time is far more valuable to decreasing feelings of loneliness than time spent on social media, which can actually have a negative impact on mental health. Opting for more time spent physically around others is likely to pay off much more than getting social interaction online only.
Studies show even fleeting moments of social interaction can increase feelings of happiness and reduce stress, so taking the extra time to chat with your server at a coffee shop or catch up with the neighbors helps. Increasing your opportunities for random social interaction is also key to fostering new connections. Consider joining a hobby interest group, workout group or spiritual group, or just walking around your neighborhood with a willingness to talk to others. Over time, these small moments of social interaction are likely to become more frequent and more meaningful. One idea for a New Year’s Resolution this year could be to add one social interaction with a stranger or acquaintance each day, so it becomes second nature!
Finding a sense of purpose and meaning
Studies show finding a sense of purpose and meaning creates not only improved quality of life, but a longer life as well. Research consistently finds that people who express a sense of meaning in purpose in their social lives and/or work actually live longer than those who don’t. Those with a sense of meaning and purpose also rated themselves as happier. While not all these factors are under our control, the good news is this sense of purpose and meaning doesn’t have to come from paid work. Pursuing meaningful work through hobbies, interests and volunteer work can create the same benefits. The key is to do something that matters to your personal values alongside people you care about—so sharing gifts with your family and loved ones could add years to your life!
If you’re looking for a new way to meet people and a way to work within your values to increase a sense of life purpose and meaning, volunteering is one of the best opportunities. Volunteering is linked in research with better mental and physical health, decreased life stress, increased happiness, lower depressive symptoms and longer life. The holiday season can offer great chances to volunteer—providing the resources for low-income families to enjoy holiday traditions, making sure everyone has food on major holidays or making it a new year’s resolution to volunteer somewhere in your community once a week are all ways you can get started.
This holiday season can be a great time to think about the ways you can add more connection to your life. Whether it’s by spending more quality time with friends and family, fostering new connections with friends you haven’t met yet, adding more meaning and purpose into your life with a new hobby or volunteering to benefit those in need in your community, your body and mind will thank you. Lower stress levels, increased happiness, decreased emotional pain from trauma, motivation to make better lifestyle changes and a longer lifespan are just a few of those benefits. Going into the new year can be a fantastic time to re-evaluate all the ways you can increase the connection, purpose and meaning in your life.