We have spoken to audiences from adults to youth about connection. We have given out surveys, researched, and initiated conversation with numerous people around the topic of connection and here’s something we’ve learned.
Everyone wants to connect and feel connected.
When we ask what people are noticing about mental health in their context they echo the same problem from schools to workplaces: we want to connect, listen to people who are struggling without judgment, and provide support. When we ask a room full of people to put up their hand if they agree with this, every hand is in the air.
We all agree that everyone is facing a battle, be kind.
We all agree that choosing kindness can do wonders.
We all agree that what the world needs is more love and acceptance.
This is great news. People want connection, which can solve so many of our mental health issues. This means there’s hope to see our mental health crisis lessen significantly!
Where we are struggling is with the whole “people” part. The problem we face with the universal desire to connect is that at the same time we deal with how much humans can suck. “You’re having a great day and then people happen.”
Every single one of us has one thing in common no matter what our background. We all have a need to be understood, and when we’re not understood we become the worst versions of ourselves. People hurt us, misunderstand us, and judge us. As a result, we put on armour and builds defensive walls between us and others. We pick up judgmental attitudes and exclusion, not because we’re jerks, but in order to protect ourselves. Unfortunately, this is where our problems begin.
Self Protection has moved us further away from one another instead of learning how to communicate through offence and misunderstanding. We run from relationships instead of to them. When our trust is broken, it shakes the ground from underneath us. We feel exposed, and vulnerable. It’s easier to build an island around us than to mend the wounds.
Mental HEALTH is produced socially, not individually. So in order to manifest what we all want, we’re going to have to face each other. Someone is going to have to go first in dropping their armour.
We do an empathy building exercise with groups called I SEE YOU to build connection skills. We call up one brave person to stand in front of their peers who then begin to call out what they SEE INSIDE of them. Two things are going on. One, the person standing and receiving is learning to be seen instead of hide behind armour. It takes much courage to stand there and receive without deflecting. Secondly, the participants are learning empathy and how to see the best in someone, even if they do not know them. It is an experiential way to learn interpersonal neurobiology! After this exercise people have walked away feeling encouraged and strengthened inside. Where’s anxiety now? I am fully convinced that one scheduled I SEE YOU exercise a week in a team or classroom could do wonders to bring mental wellness and connection among groups of people.
For team connection times, we like to create circles instead of rows. Circles bring everyone together on the same level where everyone is seen. In smaller groups, a well-thought question that everyone has the opportunity to answer around the circle (unless they choose to pass) can do wonders to create a culture of belonging and vulnerability – especially if you reinforce the rule of no judgment or advice given. For example, some of the questions we have asked in a circle setting have been:
- what are you noticing about mental health from your context?
- who would you be without your emotional pain?
- where do your personal deep rooted beliefs come from?
- who has influenced you to be the person you are today?
These questions allow people to connect on a deeper level and begin to understand more of one another.
CONNECTION HAS TO BE CREATED. It doesn’t happen by chance.
Who creates it? YOU DO.
YOU create it by:
SEEING people, really seeing them. Seeing them without your assumptions or judgements but with fresh eyes.
ENCOURAGING people. You never know who needs your kind words or smile. It could make or break that person today.
BELIEVE the best about people. Have you experienced what its like to have someone believe in you? Someone believing in you can help you make it through any storm of life. How many can still remember the adults who believed in you as a teen? It leaves its mark for decades. You can make that kind of difference in someone’s life.
CREATE TIMES AND SPACES where connection happens. Carve out intentional time in your business, classroom, home where everyone can come together to connect deeper. Use the exercises mentioned above to help get you going. if you don’t make connection a priority, disconnection, anxiety, and depression will replace it.
EAT with people. Gather people in your home or around a table in your context. Don’t think about planning “extra” time for connection. What do we do in our day and week already where more intention can be given to connect people together? Start there.
No mental health degree required for any of the above.
We can’t just hope things will get better regarding mental health. We need HOPE in the form of a PLAN. PLAN to create connection this week where you are. Just by doing that you are a part of the solution.
Join our HOPE MOVEMENT by being a part of mental health solutions! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and say “I’M IN!”