Relationships have a huge impact on the human psyche. They can up lift us or drag us down, point the way forward or keep us trapped in the past. As we have seen throughout 2020 and 2021, the effects of social isolation can be particularly devastating for our mental health and overall sense of wellbeing.
Whether we found ourselves separated from our loved ones over lockdown, or suddenly forced to live in close confinement with them, many of us will have will have given fresh thought to what these relationships mean to us and how we show up to them.
Connection to others, friends, family, colleagues and neighbours, is one of the core protections against mental ill health across all age groups. It is through social participation in these different networks that we find meaning and satisfaction, and this participation can come in many forms. While the deep relationships we have with family members and very close friends provide us with support, encouragement and a sense of purpose, other more fleeting social relationships are just as important.
The seemingly more shallow or superficial connections we have with various acquaintances are vital for fostering a sense of community, even if that community is a necessarily diffuse and loosely defined one. They help us feel connected to something larger than ourselves, a space where we occupy roles and subject positions that give us a sense of competency and autonomy within a social context.
Given that both the breadth and depth of social relationships contribute to our mental wellbeing, how do we see this playing out in our own lives? Stop and identify which people fall into each category, think about why you value them, the uniqueness of your interactions with that person as opposed to others, and the different aspects of your personality that are revealed through each.
Choosing to be more active and present in our social life is one key way to contribute to our own mental health and wellbeing. Cultivating our existing relationships need not come at the expense of forming new ones; in fact, every person in our life makes up one little point in the social constellation of our world. We can make active choices about which relationships serve us, and whether they serve us better up close or at a distance.
It is easy to take people for granted when we are caught up in the churn of everyday life, to not work at maintaining friendships or keeping in touch with family members. Yet taking an active role in strengthening and widening our social world can help us attain that elusive sense of inner peace and mental clarity.