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Connecting the dots during National Psychology Week 11-17th November 2018
This year’s Psychology Week focuses on the ‘Power of Human Connection’ encouraging people to ‘connect to thrive’. With Christmas approaching, this theme is very timely, providing the perfect opportunity to take a break from the pressures of work and our fast-paced world and reconnect with people around you, your friends, family, neighbours and those within your community.
The Christmas break is for many people a joyous and relaxing time, but for others it can be tough, and feelings of loneliness can be difficult to ignore.
Dr Stan Steindl, Clinical Psychologist, explains; “loneliness is not just about being alone, but rather a lack of meaningful connections with people.
“When you have that deeper connection, you feel a sense of being understood, and a feeling of belonging and affiliation. And with that comes safeness and joy.”
There are strong correlations between loneliness and depression and anxiety with research showing prolonged loneliness negatively impacts the brain and can lead to stress and a range of mental health concerns.  The increasing prevalence of the condition, and the health impacts of loneliness, have recently become a concern of the Australian government, who have announced a $46 million contribution towards the community visitors scheme, designed to reduce loneliness in older adults.
But loneliness isn’t a new feeling, there have always been lonely people in the world. So what is it that has caused this condition to become so prevalent?
Dr Stan Steindl explains; “What’s happened is the world has evolved and the way we interact has changed yet the basic systems of human survival have not.”
“We still have a deep primitive need for human connection but the way we now communicate and live, is less communal, less physical, and more distant, fleeting and impersonal, and so we can quite easily become disconnected from one another.”
It would be easy to point the finger at social media and online communication for our lack of interpersonal connection, but isn’t this just a modern form of human connection? Dr Steindl observes that for many people, online communication is an important source of interaction, while for others it can detract from natural human interaction. He comments, that like anything, there are trade-offs and it’s about getting the balance right for you.
But like most conditions, it’s not as simple as it sounds. More often than not, people who suffer from loneliness find socialising a challenge and forming those true human connections is easier said than done.
Dr Steindl comments, “There are various competencies around communication, listening, understanding and empathy that are key in forming meaningful relationships.”
“Some people have an innate ability to relate while others need help developing these skills.”
“The good news is, with professional help, you can learn how to be more empathetic, how to listen to others and be more understanding, not only of others but of yourself.”
“We have complicated brains that we are born with and some people are more susceptible to certain conditions, like loneliness, and that’s not your fault.”
“We work with people to help them not feel too critical of themselves and their loneliness, but rather take steps towards better self-care, having the wisdom and strength to reach out when you are suffering.”
The Australian Psychological Society has put out a list of helpful ways to work on connecting with others to reduce loneliness. You can find them here along with a range of helpful mental health resources.
Shifting your perspective to values those meaningful human connections rather than counting the amount of relationships or friends you have, is a positive step towards a more confident and fulfilled you. Fostering these true connections by continuing to work on what makes that connection special, will help you both to thrive.